Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Eligibility Of Sgt. Rhodes

Even if you're the most anti-Middle Tennessee State fan out there, you're still going to have to root for Steven Rhodes this fall, right?

Actually, are there anti-MTSU people out there?

There must be, right? For every school, there has to be someone who is a fan of its biggest rival and therefore hates that school, no?

For instance, TigerBlog is reasonably sure that people hate Princeton, despite the fact that there's no easier school in the country to actually root for than Princeton. Well, at least from TB's perspective.

Google "Middle Tennessee State arch-rival" and you find that the top three stories that come up list three different schools as MTSU's "arch-rival." The three, by the way, are Western Kentucky, Troy and Tennessee Tech.

Of course, TigerBlog has asked the question for years of who is Princeton's arch-rival.

Is it Harvard and Yale, as in the H-Y-P rivalry? Or is it Penn, fueled by decades of men's basketball dominance between the two, as well as physical proximity?

Is it someone else, depending on the sport? In men's lacrosse, for instance, Princeton's traditional rival in the league has been Cornell. If you were to ask a men's lacrosse alum who Princeton's arch-rival was, he'd be tempted to say Cornell, no?

If you asked someone who knows Princeton hockey who Princeton's biggest rival is, you'd get back Yale, or possibly Cornell. Even in football, it's not completely cut-and-dried. Some would say Harvard. Some would say Penn. Some would say Yale.

So is that how it works at other schools?

Auburn is Alabama's big rival, no? But right, in football, it's LSU.

Are there sports at North Carolina or Duke where the other isn't the biggest game of the year? How about UCLA-USC? Or, egads, Army-Navy?

Anyway, where were we? Oh year. Steven Rhodes.

If you missed the story, Rhodes is the 24 year old who spent the last five years in the Marine Corps. He is now a freshman at MTSU, a 6-3, 240-pound freshman at that. One who can play tight end or linebacker.

Except his eligibility became an issue, because he had played in what the NCAA considers to be an organized league while in the Corps. And because athletes who don't enroll in college directly out of high school are docked a year of eligibility for each year they play in an organized league, well, Rhodes was looking at missing two years of eligibility for what he described as "intramural" type games.

Originally, the NCAA said only one year of eligibility would be lost, even though the games stretched across two academic years.

Then came the public outcry, which was predictable.

Here was the big bad NCAA, picking on someone who had served his country. Did the NCAA not have a soul?

This morning, the NCAA changed its mind and allowed Rhodes to be immediately eligible and retain all four years of eligibility. 

Once again, the NCAA is in a no-win situation.

The NCAA rulebook is massive, and not one of those rules came from the NCAA organization itself. They all come from NCAA members.

And why do these rules get made?

Because someone somewhere saw something that wasn't a rule and tried to exploit it. The only way to stop it was to make yet another rule that anticipates some ridiculous situation that someone else will try to take advantage of.

It doesn't matter what it is. Someone somewhere in college athletics is out there now trying to figure out a way around it.

That's why the rulebook can't be simplified.

Oh, and TB is sick of hearing about paying athletes, especially those who are on full or partial scholarships. Perhaps those athletes who feel they should be paid should ask the average kid who graduates from their school what it's like to have student loan debt.

Anyway, the NCAA made the right decision in this particular case. Maybe the organization did it because of the public backlash. That's probably what happened.

And what happens? The NCAA gets ripped anyway for not doing so in the first place.

Still, the NCAA is the adult. The coaches out there trying to exploit every possible advantage are the children.

It's not always easy to be the parent.

As for Sgt. Rhodes, it's a great story. Hopefully he makes a real impact at MTSU and has a great four years and then graduates. The man served his country honorably during a time when it was difficult to do so, and he has earned the right to play football and pursue a college degree.

TB will be rooting for MTSU. No offense to its arch-rival.

Whoever that may be.

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