Even If It Was to Avoid Bad Publicity, NCAA Made Right Call with Former Marine

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterAugust 20, 2013

Photo: Yahoo! Sports
Photo: Yahoo! Sports

Thanks to its mishandling of the Miami (Fla.) case, selling replica jerseys on its website and seemingly haphazard enforcement of its rules, the NCAA has come under scrutiny lately to a point where anything it does is met with immediate skepticism.

This time though, it got it right...eventually.

The NCAA announced on Monday that Middle Tennessee State defensive end Steven Rhodes—a 6'3", 240-pound Marine vet—will be able to play immediately and maintain all four years of his eligibility with the Blue Raiders.

As George Pogue of Fox Sports Tennessee reports:

From nearby Antioch, Tenn., the 24-year-old Rhodes had just spent five years serving his country as a Marine Sergeant and he now wanted to follow his dream of playing college football. But because he had played in a military-only recreational league in 2012, the NCAA deemed him completely ineligible to play college football.

Initially, MTSU appealed and the NCAA granted Rhodes two years eligibility and then recently added two more for the full four years. But the NCAA also ruled he could not play this coming season and that he be forced to take a redshirt year because the military recreation league spanned two academic years.

"Ecstatic. I am so happy to know I am playing," Rhodes said in a statement released by MTSU. "It was in the middle of practice. I was getting ready to go out on the field and they told me. It was a blessing."

As a result of the incident, the NCAA will review its bylaws.

"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," vice president of academic and membership affairs Kevin Lennon said in a statement.

So did the NCAA cave to bad publicity? Of course it did.

Rhodes' story made national news on Monday, and it was the NCAA's own doing. This isn't a case of the NCAA making a bad decision because it's disconnected from reality. It's more a case of the NCAA's bylaws taking precedent over common sense.

In the end, though, it got it right. For that, the NCAA should be applauded. 

But it's still the reason the 24-year-old walk-on made national headlines to begin with, adding another point of conversation to the evolving narrative that the NCAA is in desperate need of reform.

After all, according to John Infante of the Bylaw Blog, the rule that initially rendered Rhodes ineligible wouldn't be applicable had he played ice hockey or been a skier. 

If that isn't an indicator that the system is broken, nothing is.

The NCAA got in its own way and created a public controversy in a situation where common sense should have prevailed from the outset. But it did get out of its own way, and whether it was due to public backlash, a true review of Rhodes' situation, or something in between, that is progress.

Baby steps.