Military academy athletes graduating next year could skip their active duty commitments to further a professional sports career under new regulations currently being considered by House lawmakers.

The language, which is included in the House Armed Services Committee’s initial draft of the annual defense authorization bill, is the latest twist in the saga of rules surrounding the academies’ elite athletes, which have been updated numerous times over the past decade.

Under the proposed rules, any student from the U.S. Military Academy, Naval Academy or Air Force Academy who “obtains employment as a professional athlete before completing their commissioned service obligation” would be allowed to transfer to a recruiting billet in the reserves, pending approval from service officials.

That alternative reserve commitment could last up to 10 years, and would require the athletes to “participate in efforts to recruit and retain [military] members.”

Academy athletes drafted by professional sports leagues or signed to free-agent contracts had been able to apply for those waivers in the past. But in 2022, lawmakers rescinded that policy, mandating that those service members complete at least two years of active duty service before being eligible for a waiver.

The provision drew immediate controversy since it appeared targeted at Army star linebacker Andre Carter II, who was projected to be selected in the April 2023 National Football League draft.

After several weeks of debate, Congress passed an addendum to those new rules, making them applicable only to athletes graduating in 2025 or later. Carter received a waiver and eventually signed a contract to play for the Minnesota Vikings.

Two more Army linebackers signed undrafted free-agent contracts with NFL teams last month: Leo Lowin, with the Carolina Panthers, and Jimmy Ciarlo, with the New York Jets. Air Force linebacker Alec Mock signed a similar contract with the Broncos. His teammate and fellow linebacker Bo Richter also signed with the Vikings.

Those athletes will still have to serve time on active duty after their sports careers conclude. The new proposal would drop that obligation for a longer reserve commitment instead.

However, without any rule change, academy athletes who graduate next year will not be eligible for any of those waiver options.

Critics of a direct path from the academies to professional sports note that military students receive tens of thousands of dollars in tuition money, military training and taxpayer support that is essentially wasted if they never serve on active duty.

But in recent years, supporters of a more friendly policy for the athletes have emphasized it applies to only a small number of individuals each year, and that the academies already allow deferred service for other non-athletic, non-military opportunities, such as the Rhodes Scholarship program.

The rule change will have to survive not only committee debate on the topic next week, but also scrutiny from the full House and Senate later this summer before heading to the president to be signed into law.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

In Other News
Load More