Weird NCAA rule benches ex-Marine

Update: The Associated Press reported Sunday night that Steven Rhodes is appealing the NCAA’s rule banning him from playing football at Middle Tennessee State.

The NCAA always seems to find ways to damage its reputation in the eyes of the public, and it seems to have found a new low with its most recent ruling.

Steven Rhodes just finished a five-year commitment to the Marines, and this summer the 24-year-old approached Middle Tennessee State about playing football for the Blue Raiders.

MTSU coach Rick Stockstill brought Rhodes (6-foot-3, 240 pounds) on as a walk-on and has been using him in practice as a tight end and defensive lineman. Unfortunately, you won’t see Rhodes on the field this fall because of an obscure NCAA rule.

According to the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Rhodes played in a military-only recreational football league in 2012, putting him in violation of NCAA bylaw 14.2.3.2.1.

"Steeped in layers of legal jargon," the Daily News Journal report said, "the rule essentially says that student-athletes that do not enroll in college within a year of their high school graduation will be charged one year of intercollegiate eligibility for every academic year they participate in organized competition."

Because Rhodes joined the Marines instead of going to college right out of high school, and then because he played some loosely — and I mean loosely — organized sports with his comrades while enlisted, he must serve the same penalty as a transfer under NCAA rules.

"Man, it was like intramurals for us. There were guys out there anywhere from 18 to 40-something years old," Rhodes told the paper. "The games were spread out. We once went six weeks between games."

In addition to having to sit out this year, Rhodes originally also lost two years of eligibility under the current rules because the recreational season spanned two academic years. MTSU won a partial appeal to get those two years back, but still, the whole process has been a massive inconvenience for Rhodes.

"This is extremely frustrating. I think it’s unfair, highly unfair," Rhodes said. "I just got out of the Marine Corps, and I wanted to play. For [the NCAA] to say, ‘No, you can’t play right now,’ I just don’t understand the logic in that."

According to the AP, Middle Tennessee State is hoping to hear from the NCAA on its appeal within the next month and that Rhodes is hoping to play this season. The Blue Raiders host Western Carolina on Aug. 29 in their season opener. The NCAA could also grant Rhodes relief from the rule for the time being as it works to tweak the bylaws to prevent such a situation in the future.

It would seem like an easy call to make — but with the NCAA, you never do know.