The new law changing service academy football, and the coaches pushing back

MOBILE, Alabama. Former Army star Andre Carter II enters the NFL team as a unicorn draft candidate this week. He is poised to become the first army player to be selected above the seventh round in over half a century.

Carter is a 6-foot-6, 255-pound rush end who leads the nation in sacks per game in 2021. , finished second overall in 1947.

Carter’s drafting path could end up being traced all the way to Capitol Hill as the focus on his professional career could become the focus of congressional debate later this year. In December, Congress passed legislation that would eventually strip military academy graduates like Carter of the ability to defer enlistment and play professional sports.

After the rule was passed, Carter and others trying to turn pro both this year and next year inherited the old rule, passed in 2019, which allows for a delay. This leaves officials in the army, navy and air force worried that high-potential athletes like Carter won’t attend academies or transfer early in their careers.

“Why do we want to push away people who want to serve?” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun told Sportzshala. “They want an opportunity in this short, short window that is available to make the most of their gifts and talents. Well, let’s think ahead. If not, then we are not attracting the best because we are building barriers. .”

An act of Congress will most likely be needed to clear the way. Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat, is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. He told Sportzshala he hasn’t decided yet if he will try to push the proposed legislation to try to bring the rule back to the 2019 version.

Smith said that Congress is not obligated to help service academies recruit so they can win games on the field. But he was convinced by the argument that those rare players who actually succeed in academies offer invaluable free publicity. (He thanks Ryan McCarthy, former US Secretary of the Army, and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for giving him special attention.)

“The pertinent argument is that … it really helps the mission of the service academy,” Smith told Sportzshala. “It’s not about winning football games, it’s about recruiting, training and retaining the best America has to offer. easier to recruit at the academy and allows the military academy to fulfill its mission.”

Attention to Carter is growing rapidly. His story has generated some buzz, and while there is some uncertainty as to how high he will go, he should be selected somewhere in the first two days of the draft, which span the first three rounds.

Despite this, after every Senior Bowl practice, a cocoon of media formed around Carter, who happily told the story of early awakenings, rigorous studies, and the duties of a cadet.

“Definitely the USMA just gave me so much,” Carter told Sportzshala. “Exactly how I want to live my life. And I’ve learned so much and met so many wonderful people. This is what I’m going to take with me for the rest of my life. I’m just truly thankful and grateful.”

Carter was only the second Army player ever to play in the Senior Bowl, after the Eagles’ Brett Toth in 2018. Defense Authorization Act. It states that playing professional sports immediately after graduation will be considered a “dereliction of duty”.

Outrage over Carter’s future led to an adjustment almost a week later, essentially inheriting the academy’s high school students. When his story hit the service, it showed how important both the publicity associated with his rise as a draft candidate and the ability to offer athletes the opportunity to play sports professionally are to academies.

“The big difference in recruiting is that the schools couldn’t use it against us right away,” said Jeff Monken, an army coach since 2014. Many kids dream of playing in the NFL and don’t want to wait. [after two years of service], and coaches from other schools tell them they will. For us, this is a means of elimination, because sometimes we cannot even enter into a conversation.

Army Athletic Director Mike Buddy told Sportzshala that few players would actually take advantage of the reprieve. He calculated that every decade there would be a few players from the Army, and from the three combined academies as a whole, there would be a few players who were good enough to get into the NFL.

“For us, it’s all about the opportunity,” Buddy said. “Obviously we don’t get a lot of commitment from four and five star kids. But if a young man comes to the academy and shows an aptitude for medicine, we reward him and send him to medical school. scholarship, we send them to Oxford. For me, it’s a continuation of that.”

McCarthy, a former U.S. Secretary of the Army, was involved in the Department of Defense’s 2019 guidance process allowing a potential deferral for academy athletes. McCarthy has gone so far as to reach out to NFL general managers interested in army prospects, such as Toth (Eagles), John Rattigan (Seahawks) and Elijah Riley (Steelers), to tell the grandmasters that the academies are serious about changing the rules.

“I wanted them to know there was an institution behind this,” McCarthy told Sportzshala. “This is not a trick and will not disappear. We support these young people. Before this whole problem came up last fall, we finally got to the point where teams were going to draft guys. It was real and the teams were going to be behind him.”

McCarthy has expressed disappointment with the legislation passed in December and agrees with Smith, coaches and academy officials on marketing opportunities.

“Every Sunday when Andre Carter puts on his uniform, it will be noticed and mentioned,” McCarthy said. “And every time service academy football coaches visit a high school student in America, they need to see that they have an opportunity if they can get results on the football field.

“It’s very rare. It’s unusual to get into the NFL. I think it can be managed. It’s such a small number, it’s almost negligible.”

There is a feeling within the academies that restrictions on the recruitment of kids that strike academies off the list will eventually limit the level of officers that the academies can recruit and produce. The government isn’t focused on the ability to compete on the field, but coaches say they may end up limiting potential officer talent flowing through the academies.

“Why not let these boys and girls shed some light on military service?” Navy First Year Coach Brian Newberry said. “It’s a win-win. Transfer Portal and NIL have already put the service academies at a disadvantage, and the removal of this opportunity puts all three academies at an even greater disadvantage in terms of hiring some of the best student athletes in the country. “

The only member of the Air Force NFL Combine this year is Kyle Patterson, a tight end star who is one of Calhoun’s most decorated recruits in his 16 seasons there. Patterson had offers from UCLA, Washington, and Arizona, but Calhoun said Patterson committed to the Air Force because of the opportunity to be both an officer and an NFL player.

Calhoun said Patterson most likely wouldn’t have moved to the Air Force if the rule hadn’t been discussed back in 2019. And if it had not been accepted, he could have transferred in two years and played almost anywhere in the country.

“In order to attract top-level talent to the academy and football program, the pro option is a very important linchpin,” said Nathan Pine, athletic director for the Air Force. “Whether they get it or not, most elite athletes believe they can. Opening that door for them is very important for the academies.”

And that door will ultimately be behind Congress. Smith told Sportzshala he “hasn’t really decided yet” if he’s going to be promoting something this year. He points out that “a lot is going on in the world.”

The legislation, passed in December, was introduced by Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican whose conviction is based on the premise he stated earlier: “US military academies exist to train fighters, not professional athletes.”

But McCarthy expressed his disappointment with the December legislation and agrees with Rep. Smith, coaches and academy officials on the strength of marketing opportunities.

“Every Sunday when Andre Carter puts on his uniform, it will be noticed and mentioned,” he said. “And every time service academy football coaches visit a high school student in America, they need to see that they have an opportunity if they can get results on the football field.”


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