WASHINGTON — Top-tier athletes enrolled at U.S. military service academies must, once again, serve out their mandatory two-year active duty stints upon graduation before they can pursue a career in professional sports.
The Department of Defense announced Monday that it had rescinded a policy from 2016 that had allowed some service academy athletes to request to be placed on reserve status, rather than assigned to active duty posts, in order to accept contracts from pro sports teams.
“Our military academies exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and the lethality of our military services,” Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in a statement.
“Graduates enjoy the extraordinary benefit of a military academy education at taxpayer expense — upon graduation, officers will serve as military officers for their minimum commitment of two years,” White added, citing Roger Staubach, Chad Hennings and David Robinson as examples of officer athletes who served their nation before going to the pros.
The change takes effect with this graduating class.
Some academy athletes in recent years have been allowed to be drafted into the NFL and other professional sports leagues prior to fulfilling their commitments — most notably Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft.
Reynolds smashed several school and NCAA Division I records for the Navy Midshipmen from 2012 to 2015, scoring more touchdowns and points in his career than any quarterback in college football history.
“You’ve won back the commander-in-chief’s trophy and beat Army again and again and … again …” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at Reynolds’ Naval Academy graduation ceremony in 2016. “And you’ve earned Rhodes, and Mitchell, Truman scholarships, three Gates scholarships, and even a sixth round selection in the NFL draft.”
Carter noted that Reynolds’ service deferment was approved, “so you can pursue your NFL dreams. Go get ’em.”
The Air Force Academy, West Point and the Naval Academy are all paid for by the Department of Defense. Two other federal service academies, the US Coast Guard Academy and US Merchant Marine Academy, are funded by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation, respectively.
Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette was a candidate to be selected on Day 3 of the 2017 NFL draft Saturday prior to the ruling.
Robinette made a tremendous contribution in 2016 for the Falcons, registering 35 receptions for 959 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 27.4 yards per catch, according to Bleacher Report.