Steven Rhodes, a Marine, recently separated from the Armed Forces and wished to see a goal he placed on hold for several years get resurrected. He wanted to play college football at Middle Tennessee State University. Due to NCAA rules, he was initially refused eligibility due to his previous activities of playing the sport “in a recreational league in the military.”

Middle Tennessee State University, by the side of Rhodes, won a partial appeal to the NCAA recouping two years of eligibility. The half-hearted NCAA decision isn’t good enough for Rhodes which is why he decided to appeal their decision in an attempt to gain full eligibility.

The all-volunteer military force founded in the United States is filled with selfless sacrifice. Many of those who committed to that sacrifice did their time abroad fighting the enemy.

They did their time. They fulfilled their obligations. For many veterans, the next chapter in their lives often becomes difficult simply because of outdated, bureaucratically-induced diatribes founded within certain type of "rules" established by specific governing bodies which the veteran finds themselves in the center of.

As a nation, we are obligated to support our military service members during and after their service. Yet time and time again, we seem to slip in those obligations. Rules are set by specific governing bodies which often hurt our veterans, especially those attending college.

Steven Rhodes is not alone with his desires to play collegiate sports. Many veterans who left the service are finding themselves in similar predicaments. Let me introduce you to another “Devil Dog”-- Ryan Martin.

Ryan served his country honorably through the Marine Corps and earned awards of valor due to actions endured while serving two tours in Afghanistan.

 

 

After fulfilling his military obligations, Ryan Martin decided to go back to college. He applied and was accepted to the University of Massachusetts.

College life is filled with opportunities. One of those opportunities is to embrace one of the many “tribes” founded in college life. For Ryan Martin, the tribe he wanted to embrace most was founded in the world of rugby.

Rugby is often considered an “underground” sport here in the United States but if you ever travel the world, next to soccer or cricket, it’s a serious game.

There have been great lengths made to promote rugby in the United States yet every one of those initiatives could quickly get shattered due to a recent ruling by the governing body of rugby here in the States—USA Rugby.

According to USA Rugby Law 4.3.e.(I) and (II) Collegiate Student--Athlete Eligibility, Ryan Martin is not eligible to play the sport at UMASS or any other university for that matter—something he discovered through a letter mailed to him by USA Rugby which deemed him ineligible to play.

Ryan graduated high school in 2006. According to the law set forth by USA Rugby, "Every student--athlete has seven years in which s/he may compete a maximum of five (5) years.”

Now that it’s 2013, Ryan’s rugby days look grim—that is unless USA Rugby changes the rules which, according to their bylaws, have “no exemptions or exceptions.”

Amanda Manjone, President of the Rhode Island Rugby Football Foundation, expressed concern toward USA Rugby’s declaration of Ryan Martin’s ineligibility.

“There is the issue of USA Rugby not recognizing the sacrifices those in the military are making worsened by this ‘punishment’ of not being able to compete once they return home. The fact that this Marine cannot play a sport he loves is an embarrassment to every rugby player in the US.”

She continued by saying, “USA Rugby continually makes playing the sport difficult; despite the appearance of wanting to build its programs. What we are talking about here are rules and regulations governed by actual people who can change them. Unless USA Rugby has a specific, logical reason as to why this rule cannot be changed, they need to get to work and make it possible for Ryan, and all others who have served, or is serving, to have the option of playing this great sport when they return home.” Bryan “Kiwi” Hamlin, a lifetime player and former head coach for Harvard University Women’s Rugby is also disappointed in USA Rugby’s recent decision.

“USA rugby needs to amend this rule within reason.” Hamlin said. “You cannot have a middle-aged man or woman playing rugby with college-aged athletes. But, if it’s immediately after your tour of duty, you should be able to go back and play rugby.

“As a coach, we aren’t getting the opportunity to get a look at our best athletes if they aren’t permitted to play. We will lose them to other sports. This is another example of USA Rugby trying to overcomplicate simple issues. Why are there no exceptions to their rules?”

Why are there no exceptions to the rule? That is the million dollar question.

 

The world is filled with waivers. The NCAA, demonstrating true leadership, recently imposed a waiver overriding an established rule which has allowed at least one military veteran the opportunity to embrace the sport of football on the collegiate level. Surely USA Rugby doesn’t believe they are above the NCAA—or do they?

 

Kerry Patton, a combat veteran and former “rugger,” is author of Contracted: America’s Secret Warriors.