Calhoun advocates for pro options for academy athletes

JAKE SCHALLER Updated: May 22, 2009 at 12:00 am • Published: May 22, 2009

Air Force senior tight end Travis Dekker was signed by the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent and last week participated in the team's rookie orientation camp.

No matter how much Dekker impresses the Packers, however, he won't be able to play for them immediately. A Department of Defense rule stipulates service academy graduates who wish to play pro sports must first serve at least two years of a five-year active duty service commitment.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun thinks that rule should be altered. Not just because it would offer Dekker a pro opportunity immediately, or because it might help his program - "the ultimate drive can't be to make your football team better," he said.

Instead, Calhoun argues that by leaving slightly ajar the door to an immediate pro opportunity (or other job with public relations benefit to an academy) academies would be more attractive to potential recruits. Thus the pool of applicants would become even stronger.

"Are we losing literally hundreds upon hundreds of outstanding officer candidates that will not consider going to any of the service academies because they have no chance to pursue a possibility?" Calhoun said. "I think right now we're deterring a good chunk of young men and young women just because of a door that's immediately shut."

NFL teams often are scared off by the two-year commitment and will not draft service academy grads.

This became a lightning rod issue a year ago when Army's Caleb Campbell was selected by the Detroit Lions in the NFL draft. Campbell was expecting to join the team because of Army's "Alternative Service Option" program that allowed West Point grads to play pro sports while working as part-time recruiters.

The day before Campbell was to report to training camp, however, Army announced it would follow the Department of Defense policy, putting Campbell's NFL hopes on hold.

Calhoun believes all graduates should serve on active duty. But he thinks a way can be found so those who can play professionally - or do something else that could benefit an academy from a public relations standpoint - could postpone their service or do it over an extended time period (initially during the offseason, then full time when a pro career is finished).

"It's going to be very, very rare that it occurs," Calhoun said. "You'd lose one out of 800 or one out of 1,000 - and I don't think you'd lose them, just the way you structure the terms of service has to be a little different.

"The drive at a service academy has got to be how do we improve even more so the officers that we churn out of here. And if we look at it from that standpoint, I think we will. ...

"Now instead of having one Travis Dekker, are there two more? Instead of one Chad Hennings, are there one or two more?

"All of a sudden instead of one David Robinson, are there even more?"

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