Department of Defense scraps policy that gives football players quicker path to pros

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The good news is that prospective NFL players from the Air Force Academy should not feel alone.

Days after the Air Force reversed course on a practice that would have allowed receiver Jalen Robinette and some of his teammates to be drafted or signed as free agents (after they participated in various aspects of the pre-draft process), the Department of Defense eliminated the policy that previously allowed the service academies to determine individually whether to waive the active-duty military service requirement.

Via the Denver Post, Secretary of Defense James Mattis signed on Monday the order rescinding the policy that allows players from West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy to skip out on two years of active duty and play pro football.

On one hand, it’s fair and appropriate to expect students who accept a free education at a publicly-funded military academy to honor the commitment that everyone else attending the institutions embraces. On the other hand, adding that carrot (albeit small) during the recruiting process could get plenty of kids with NFL aspirations at age 18 to go to a service academy and hope for the best, even if only a small fraction ever realize their dream.

Then there’s the question of whether it’s fair, as a practical matter, to pull the FieldTurf out from under the students who were recruited under the previous policy. At a minimum, anyone who signed up with the understanding that an instant pro career was possible should be allowed to leave without serving two years.

Apart from the pros and cons of the changing policy, the decision will have one clear consequence: Kids who want a possible path to the NFL definitely will go elsewhere, which will cause the quality of the Army, Navy, and Air Force football programs to diminish from “not necessarily the best” to far from it.

UPDATE 10:31 a.m. ET: According to a DOD spokesman, the change does not apply retroactively to players like Ravens receiver Keenan Reynolds, who attended the Naval Academy. He will be able to remain in the NFL.

22 responses to “Department of Defense scraps policy that gives football players quicker path to pros

  1. The “new” and previously standard policy didn’t necessarily hinder one, Roger Staubach.

    But keep in mind a young person doesn’t necessarily go to a service academy with the hope of playing professional football.

    The majority of the students are there because they wish to serve their country. Not only do you need the academics to get in you also need a letter of recommendation from a Congress person or other official.

  2. This is so short sited.. The men and women (assuming that this rule applies to all Academy grads to all pro sports) that come out of the Academies are terrific recruiters for the Armed Services. Also, the quality of these players both academically and physically is a major plus to the Academies.

  3. The policy should only be for incoming recruits going forward but an exception never should have been made in the first place.

  4. No one recruited under the now rescinded policy has to have any special consideration. Cadets and midshipmen are not committed to serve post-graduation until the beginning of their junior year.

    The now rescinded policy was implemented last year, so MAYBE some current plebes factored that in to their decision to attend an academy. They can leave with no repercussions.

  5. Good move! These kids receive a $250,000+ military and academic education. When they choose one of the Academies, a military commitment is essential and should and will be required.

  6. I have no problem with the service academies of this country raising men, with rules, regulations and a code. It sure beats the turds the institutions of higher learning are churning out…

  7. At a minimum, anyone who signed up with the understanding that an instant pro career was possible should be allowed to leave without serving two years.
    Guess how many players that is…hint: zero. Too many people are trying to discuss this with absolutely no knowledge of how it works. These guys are not recruiters nor would they be effective ambassadors if allowed to play. The service academies DO NOT recruit football players. They recruit potential military officers. The standards for acceptance are high and the percentage of applicants to actually get accepted to a service academy is low. Nowhere will you find any form of sports potential factored into the process…for the academies themselves or for any potential cadet.

  8. just don’t sign up for the armed forces – let the elites fight their own wars.

  9. If a Kid goes to a military academy so he can have a chance to play in the NFL, it says some things about the kid.
    It says he isn’t good enough to get a scholarship with a college to play football.
    It also says his chances of making it in the NFL from the service academy are very small.
    Further, it says he really doesn’t want a career in the military.
    There are tons of kids playing in universities and small colleges all over this nation who had the dream of playing in the NFL, but will never get a chance. So they are just like these kids at military academies in that regard.
    The bottom line is, it’s an honor to be accepted at a military academy. It is not a football factory and if you want to play football in the NFL, then don’t sign up to go to a military academy.

  10. More than honoring their commitment for the taxpayer funded education, these young men and women have been educated and trained to lead units into battle. Lives depend on the training these young officers will have received. It’s great that some see them as mere recruiting posters, but I’m sure there greatest asset is leading men into battle and bringing them home safely.

  11. If a high school athlete thinks they are good enough to possibly play in the nfl one day they are not going to go to a service academy. Service academies are not meant to prepare professional athletes: they are meant to prepare officers to help lead our armed forces. If a young man wishes to play in the nfl some day they are better off going to a regular university.
    Now with that being said there is nothing wrong with attending a service academy, doing your service and then trying to return to football. Alejandro Villanueva did that and is currently a starting tackle for Pittsburgh Steelers. Now I’m sure this is a rare exception but there is nothing wrong with making the servicemen honor their agreement to the government. The service academies provide a great education cost free in exchange for a predetermined amount of service.

  12. I served under General Mattis in 2000, he is probably the only guy I trust in the WH. This is a good move, football shouldn’t be prioritized over our military.

  13. I think the players should have the option to reimburse the Dept. of Defense for their education should they choose to go pro. Like a $200k fee that is due within one year. That would be fair.

  14. subsailorjoe says:

    This is so short sited.. The men and women (assuming that this rule applies to all Academy grads to all pro sports) that come out of the Academies are terrific recruiters for the Armed Services.

    So put them in a recruiting office for two years. Taxpayers paid for their education not so they could graduate and not serve. They only have to do a mere 24 months in a cushy, safe job. Not 24 years in the infantry like me.

  15. Although current cadets should be grandfathered, they made the right decision to eliminate the athlete exception.

    The policy was arbitrary and specifically benefited a small group. Exceptional or genius cadets in math, computer science, art, etc, had no such opportunity to avoid service and start those careers immediately. If other cadets are not eligible for a service exception, why athletes?

  16. As a 24 year vet I have no problem with these guys trying for a shot at the NFL. If AF told them they could play and the DOD changed the rules then they should still be allowed to play. Yeah yeah I get the purpose of the Academies. I went to senior military college. I had no illusions about playing a sport on a professional level and knew I was headed into the military. A very small number of these kids do harbor that illusion and are good enough…maybe 1 a year from all 3 service academies combined? I also get the other side of the argument. West Point, out of the 3 has no business being a D1 school. Navy and to an extent AF have made a go of it. If they produce 1 kid, let him play.

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