NCAA reverses course, says Marine can play college football at Middle Tennessee State

Steven Rhodes initially ruled ineligible

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - A Marine with hopes of one day playing in the NFL believed he was being punished for serving his country, but on Monday, the NCAA reversed a decision that made him ineligible to play college football this year.

"I definitely felt like it was a slap in the face. You serve this country and suddenly you're penalized for it," said Steven Rhodes.

Rhodes, who put his NFL hopes on hold to serve his country, recently left the Marines after five years as an air traffic controller at MCAS Miramar.

He was welcomed at Middle Tennessee State University as a walk-on at the tight end position when he got the news.  

"It's upsetting, really upsetting," said Rhodes' wife, Adrienne.

She was most upset with the reason given by the NCAA.

During his time as a Marine, Rhodes played in a Camp Pendleton recreation league for several months. According to NCAA bylaws, that counted as an organized football activity and made him ineligible for a year.

"It shows the NCAA values his military service as nothing. He trained so hard for this moment, and for them to take it away from him -- it's a huge deal," Adrienne Rhodes said on Monday morning.

It was a huge deal because for Rhodes, who is 24 years old and competing against younger players, a missed year of development could doom any NFL hopes.

On ESPN and in other media, the story sparked a national debate on football and military service.

On Monday afternoon, in a quick reversal, the NCAA said Rhodes can play immediately and they plan to take a second look at bylaws impacting athletes with military service.

"I'm so happy about the public's outrage and how much attention that it's caused, and how the NCAA has finally … made the right decision. We're super happy and excited," said Adrienne Rhodes.

Steven Rhodes' first game is August 29.

His wife, who is leaving the Navy, is making plans to move to Tennessee and she'll be in the stands cheering him on.

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