MTSU Looking to Help More Athletes Than Just Rhodes

The Daily News Journal in Murfeesboro, TN is reporting that Middle Tennessee State is not simply trying to get former Marine Steven Rhodes eligible for the 2013 season. The school is trying to change NCAA policy:

MTSU submitted its latest appeal on Sunday afternoon. Its three paths to gain Rhodes’ eligibility include:
(1) Get the NCAA office to revise bylaw 14.2.3.2.1 to exclude military organized recreational competition from eligibility penalties in intercollegiate athletics. The bylaw previously included such an exception, but the clause was lost over time and through numerous revisions to the rule.
(2) If the NCAA office denies the bylaw’s revision, MTSU can then appeal for immediate relief from the rule in Rhodes’ case.
(3) If the NCAA office denies Nos. 1 and 2, MTSU can take its case to an NCAA subcommittee for legislative relief to grant only Rhodes’ immediate eligibility. The NCAA could then revisit a possible rule revision later, but Rhodes would be allowed to play this season.

Without knowing the exact posture of Rhodes’s case, parsing those options is somewhat difficult. Based on this tweet from the NCAA and other reporting on Rhodes’s eligibility, it sounds like he has received an initial decision from the student-athlete reinstatement staff and MTSU is now filing their appeal to the Committee on Student-Athlete reinstatement. But they may also be asking the NCAA staff to change the bylaw itself.

The staff members in Indianapolis can and do change legislation through proposals called editorial revisions. Most of the time editorial revisions are clarifications or rewording of bylaws that do not change them in a meaningful way. Sometimes though, editorial revisions do change NCAA rules. ER–2013–11, adopted at the end of July, removed a requirement that institutions wait until the calendar day after a prospect signs with the school before sending text messages. A small change, but an actual change nonetheless. Turnaround can be quick. LSDBi lists the date of submission for ER–2013–3 as May 21, 2013, with the proposal being adopted a day later.

Failing an editorial revision or other emergency change to the bylaw, MTSU’s appeal of the student-athlete reinstatement decision will continue. Should that fail, it sounds like MTSU plans to submit a waiver application as a last resort.

What is not mentioned is the idea of a blanket waiver. Typically issued by the Subcommittee for Legislative Relief, blanket waivers apply not just to the school(s) which requested the waiver but to all Division I members. Blanket waivers are typically used to address situations like Rhodes’s, where it appears some omission or error in drafting the legislation caused it to be applied incorrectly. Blanket waivers are typically time-limited as well, often for one academic year, giving the normal governance process a chance to correct the legislation.

Given the history of the delayed enrollment rule, the attention drawn to the case, and the likelihood that this will come up again, the NCAA would be unwise to not fix this issue. While changing penalty guidelines or creating a standard waiver would get the job done, it would still bring unneeded uncertainty and bad press to an issue that used to be taken care of right in the bylaws.

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