Air Force cornerback Zane Lewis will graduate on April 18 and then test the military’s new policy for pursuing professional sports.
Lewis and baseball center fielder Ashton Easley submitted application packages under the guidelines set by President Donald Trump’s administration. Lewis is awaiting final approval, while Easley pulled his paperwork after the Olympics were postponed and instead intends to pursue baseball through the World Class Athlete Program.
According to the policy obtained by The Gazette, applications must include an endorsement from the Secretary of the Air Force stating the professional career will result in “significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national level recruiting or public affairs missions.”
Lewis would graduate and receive a bachelor’s degrees but not a commission as an officer. He instead would enter into an eight-year enlistment in the Individual Ready Reserves while playing football. His commission, along with a five-year commitment, would then come after submitting a request to the Secretary of Defense, presumably when his playing career is finished or attempts to break into the NFL have been exhausted.
Some provisions of the policy call for a reenlistment for eight years in the reserves if the status has not yet changed, annual reviews to revisit status, the military’s right to recall the athlete into active duty should it deem it necessary and a possibility to earn points for retirement and promotion through the execution of a communications and marketing plan. Also, the athlete would repay the cost of their academy education, estimated at more than $250,000, if they are in breach of the agreement or if they do not serve five years on active duty or in an equivalent civilian position with the military (if they are not able to be commissioned for medical reasons).
It appears to be that possible threat of repaying an education that has led to hesitancy on Air Force’s part to call this a carte blanche pass to give sports a try. Multiple conversations with Air Force personnel have indicated that pursuing sports under the new policy would prevent the opportunity to serve as an officer. The Gazette’s examination of the language in the policy finds no mention that a delayed commissioning would be jeopardized, assuming the agreement is followed.
Others have pointed out that the annual review could cost an athlete their status if those making the decisions don’t consider all variables.
“That kind of turned me away from wanting to go to play basketball,” senior forward Lavelle Scottie told The Gazette last month after reading the policy and deciding to follow through with his military commitment after graduation. “I wouldn’t want to get in a bad situation. I’d rather just take the safe route.”
With a few short-term exceptions, the policy regarding professional sports has long called for service academy graduates to immediately serve two years after graduation and then apply to finish their commitment in the reserves while playing. This was the path taken by Navy graduate David Robinson in basketball, Air Force grads Bryce Fisher and Ben Garland in football and multiple others.
The policy will not impact arrangements for those who graduated prior to this year. Air Force graduates Garland, Austin Cutting and Garrett Griffin were on NFL rosters last year; with Cutting and Griffin not having served two years on active duty because of different situations. In baseball, Air Force has Griffin Jax, Nic Ready and Jake Gilbert on minor league rosters. Ready and Gilbert are serving as part of the World Class Athlete Program, which will presumably allow them to serve in an extra year in that capacity as the Olympics have been pushed back 12 months.
Lewis was an honorable mention All-Mountain West selection this past year. He ranked third in the conference with 15 passes broken up as a senior and intercepted two passes in his career, returning both 99 yards for touchdowns. He worked out for about 12 NFL teams at Air Force’s pro day in March, running a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and recording a 33-inch vertical.
Despite a senior season ended early because of COVID-19, Easley finished his career tied for third in Air Force history with 59 stolen bases, fifth with 15 triples and had a slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) of .301/.364/.512. He also threw 95 mph on the mound and was used as a closer. He could be a position player or pitcher at the next level.
“There’s no doubt he’s a professional baseball player,” a source told The Gazette. “He’s maybe the best athlete Air Force has ever had in its baseball program.