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NCAA reverses decision, grants MTSU Marine immediate eligibility

U.S. Marine Steven Rhodes is immediately eligible to play for MTSU. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images) U.S. Marine Steven Rhodes is immediately eligible to play for MTSU. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

By Zac Ellis

The NCAA didn't take long to undo its latest PR blunder, announcing on Monday afternoon that a Marine previously deemed ineligible to play football at Middle Tennessee State will be granted immediate eligibility.

Steven Rhodes, a Marine sergeant fresh off five years of active service, was planning on walking on to the MTSU football program this fall when he received an unusual notice from the NCAA. Rhodes would be deemed ineligible to play with the Blue Raiders because of his participation in a military-only recreational football league in 2012.

According to the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tenn., NCAA bylaw 14.2.3.2.1 states that student-athletes who do not enroll in college directly out of high school will be docked one year of college eligibility for every year in which they participate in organized competition. Rhodes' participation in the military football league was considered "organized competition."

Rhodes told DNJ on Sunday that the news came as a shock for an activity that barely resembled organized sports.

“Man, it was like intramurals for us. There were guys out there anywhere from 18 to 40-something years old,” said Rhodes, chuckling and shaking his head. “The games were spread out. We once went six weeks between games.”

In a statement the NCAA credited its "continued review" of the situation for the organization's change of heart:

As a part of its continued review of Steven Rhodes’ eligibility, NCAA staff determined he may play immediately. Additionally, he will maintain all four years of his eligibility.

[...]

As a part of the ongoing review of NCAA rules, our members will examine the organized competition rules, especially as it impacts those returning from military service.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Rhodes has been working out at tight end and defensive end for MTSU thus far into fall camp.

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