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Army Alters Controversial Policy

Published: July 23, 2008, 11:33 pm, by admin

Army has revised its policy regarding graduates participating in professional sports, bringing it in line with the Department of Defense’s take on the issue.

Now, like graduates of Air Force and Navy, Army graduates must serve on active duty for two years before pursuing a pro sports career.

This immediately and specifically impacts recent Army grad Caleb Campbell, who was chosen by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of this year’s NFL Draft. Campbell, who was set to start training camp tomorrow with the Lions, now will not be able to play professionally immediately. Here’s a link to a story about Campbell.

The down-the-road/broader impact of the change is that Army will not have what many perceived as a recruiting advantage over its service academy rivals. All three academies typically are recruiting from the same pool of athletes, and only Army had been able to tell a kid, “You can go to the pros immediately after graduation.” Now all three academies have to play by the same rules.

Here is a statement from the Army on the policy change:

“The U.S. Army revised its policy related to Soldiers participating in professional sports. The policy change now allows for a request for waiver of service after two years of active duty. This action was taken to uniformly apply military service obligations for all members of the U.S. Army. Once those affected complete two years of active duty, they are eligible to pursue professional sports opportunities.

“Once 2nd Lt. Campbell completes a minimum of two years of active service in the Army, he may apply for release from active duty for the purpose of pursuing a professional sports career. Clearly, 2nd Lt. Campbell deserves the well-earned recognition he’s received for his outstanding football career at West Point and subsequent selection by the Detroit Lions. He is an outstanding athlete who displayed the dedication, determination and discipline required of a champion. He has the qualities we expect of our leaders, and is the kind of leader our Soldiers deserve.”

Campbell had been drafted (and the Lions expected him to be available to play this season) because of Army’s controversial Alternative Service Option policy, which said grads who made pro rosters could play immediately after graduation while serving as part-time recruiters.

The problem was the Army was using the policy to circumvent the Department of Defense’s policy, which clearly stated service academy grads had to serve two years of active duty before going to the pros.

Once Campbell was drafted and a light was shined on Army’s policy, David Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, sent a letter to the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force to clarify the Department of Defense policy. The letter reiterated the policy and made it clear that playing pro ball while doing some part-time recruiting did not qualify as “active duty.”

When I first learned of the memo from Chu, I thought Army would revise its policy and get rid of the Alternative Service Option, as it has. However, I thought Campbell would be grandfathered in and allowed to play with the Lions immediately. It had to be tough on him to find out about all this on the night before training camp. But kudos to Campbell, who took the news without a trace of bitterness.

Check out this quote from him that appeared in the story that I linked above:

“When I got drafted, I told people that I was going to have the best of both worlds,” Campbell said. “I was going to be in the United States Army, and I was going to have a chance to play professional football. Now, I have the best of one world and I’m very positive about that. It’s all going to work out. … I’m in great shape and I’m going to stay in great shape. I’m going to fulfill my duty to the United States Army and do what I’ve got to do. One day, hopefully, I’ll get another opportunity to play in the NFL.”