Services Academies Adjust Duty Requirement For Pro Athletes

July 13, 2016

The U.S. Department of Defense updated its policy on mandatory active duty for service academy graduates after graduation, revising it to allow for the possibility of them proceeding directly to professional sports careers without having to spend two years on active duty.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the previous policy required two years of active service after commencement before graduates could become eligible to play professional sports, provided there was a “strong expectation” that allowing the academy graduate to pursue a professional sports career would be beneficial to the Department of Defense. The current policy, approved in May, allows graduates to request being placed on reserve, but according to Jim Knowlton, the Air Force athletic director, approval would be granted on a case-by-case basis and requires the applicants to have a binding commitment or a secured contract with a team.

Air Force Academy assistant football coaches speaking off the record because they were not allowed to publicly comment, said the change in the rules will be helpful, because the two-year commitment requirement put the Air Force at a disadvantage with some recruits. Only 89 major league baseball players, 79 NFL players, and two NBA/ABA players have come from the military academies. Out of those 170 athletes, only two did not complete a two-year commitment after graduating.

Tom Slear, a retired Army lieutenant, wrote a recent Washington Post editorial criticizing the change in the rules as antithetical to service academies' intended purpose.

"[Service academies] exist to instill young men and women with a mindset of selfless service to the country," Slear wrote. "There is no other justification for the significant public expense that supports them. Professional football, on the other hand, is about service to oneself. It has its place, but not for academy graduates who haven't fulfilled their obligations to their fellow citizens. Each time one of them leaves early, the ethos diminishes a bit, and the taxpayers are cheated."

Knowlton disagrees with Slear's position.

"My view is we recruit cadets to come to the academy to develop over four years as leaders of character and then go out and serve our nation in the Air Force," Knowlton said. "There are many different ways that cadets can serve our nation."

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