Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has ended a year-old policy that allowed elite service-academy athletes to immediately play professionally.
The ruling means Air Force football star Jalen Robinette and baseball star Griffin Jax will serve in active duty two years before applying for the chance to play professionally.
The Army, Navy and Air Force academies, Mattis said in a statement released by the office of The Secretary of Defense (OSD), “exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and lethality of our military services.”
Mattis, 67, is not an academy graduate. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve at age 18, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant after graduating from Central Washington University in 1971.
“During their first two years following graduation, officers will serve as full-fledged military officers carrying out the normal work and career expectations of an officer who has received the extraordinary benefits of an ROTC or military academy education at taxpayer expense,” the OSD statement said.
The statement ended a policy that had been in place since May 2016. The previous policy stated an athlete could “request to be tendered an appointment in the reserve upon graduation and satisfy their commissioned service obligation in the Ready Reserve."
On Thursday evening, Robinette was preparing for the NFL draft. He had led the nation in yards per catch and was projected to be selected between the second and fifth rounds, with the fourth or fifth round most likely.
At about 7 p.m., he was informed by Air Force Academy officials he would not be able to immediately play in the NFL. After the new ruling, Robinette was not selected in the NFL draft.
Jax, a former Air Force pitcher, signed a $645,000 contract with the Minnesota Twins in June after he was selected in the third round (93rd overall) of the MLB draft. He pitched in the summer of 2016 for the Twins’ Rookie League affiliate in Elizabethton, Tenn. He gave up his senior year (the 2017 season) of eligibility for Air Force’s baseball team.
Air Force Academy released a statement Monday afternoon that detailed Robinette’s and Jax’s future.
“Air Force Academy cadets Jalen Robinette and Griffin Jax look forward to graduation and commissioning in May,” the statement said. “Their conduct exemplifies the character and dignity one would expect from a soon-to-be Air Force second lieutenant. Both of these cadets remain in excellent standing at the Academy and should have an opportunity to pursue their professional athletic goals after serving two years as officers in the Air Force should they choose.”
A handful of academy athletes benefited from the brief change in military rules that took effect in May 2016.
Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was a sixth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2016 NFL draft and earned a roster spot. Chris Swain and Joe Cardona, who played alongside Reynolds at Navy, immediately pursued NFL careers.
The service academies have, the OSD statement said, “a long history of officer athletes who served their nation before going to the pros.” The statement named Navy quarterback Roger Staubach and basketball center David Robinson and Air Force defensive lineman Chad Hennings.
Robinette declined comment when reached by phone Saturday morning. Air Force athletic director Jim Knowlton, superintendent Michelle Johnson and football coach Troy Calhoun were not made available Monday for comment.