Air Force athletes won’t have to wait two years to launch a professional sports career any longer.
President Donald Trump, following through on a pledge he gave to Army football coach Jeff Monken in early April, has directed his Acting Secretary of Defense to develop a policy to allow service academy graduates to immediately play professional sports after graduation.
Trump signed a memo giving Mark Esper 120 days to develop the policy.
“Highly talented cadets and midshipmen who receive the extraordinary benefits of an education from an academy or through a ROTC program at taxpayer expense should be able to both take advantage of the short window of time during which playing professional sports is realistically possible, while also honoring the commitment they have made to our Armed Forces and our country,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, as reported by The Hill.
“Once implemented, the president’s policy will empower our cherished academies to compete even better in sporting activities against other colleges and universities, benefiting student-athletes and the Armed Forces,” Sanders said. “The president wants our military to be strong in all respects, even in athletics.”
While the details of Trump’s policy haven’t been made clear, he insinuated in May that he would like to defer service time for athletes who explore their professional sports options. That would be a new wrinkle to the shifts in policy in recent years.
In 2016, President Barrack Obama’s administration allowed grads to immediately apply to serve their time on reserve status to pursue sports.
The policy had previously required athletes to serve at least two years of their five-year commitment before submitting that application. In 2017, the Trump administration returned to the two-year wait on the eve of the NFL draft in which Air Force receiver Jalen Robinette was rumored to be eyed with a pick in the top four rounds.
When the policy shifted to let athletes go pro in 2016, Air Force coaches saw it as a “huge” shift that “immediately levels the playing field.”
The Falcons football team set what was then a record for three-star recruits the following winter under that more-lenient policy, and baseball pitcher Griffin Jax was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the third round.