Air Force athletes may once again have a clear path to professional sports.
President Donald Trump said Monday he is considering a waiver that would allow service academy athletes to play professional sports immediately after graduating.
He floated a plan while presenting Army with the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy that would allow athletes to “serve their time after they’re finished with professional sports.”
If this is enacted, it would be a reversal of a reversal for the administration.
This comes less than 25 months after Trump’s former Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis halted a policy enacted the year before under President Barack Obama that allowed athletes to serve their time on reserve status and play immediately.
The longstanding policy before Obama’s administration eased the rules — prompted by the collegiate success of Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds — required two years on active duty before requesting to serve out the remainder of the five-year commitment as a reservist. Mattis’ change restored that policy.
Air Force tight end Garrett Griffin, a 2016 graduate, was among the few able to capitalize on the one-year window of flexibility. He is serving on reserve status and will enter his fourth season with the New Orleans Saints next year.
The Class of 2017, which included draft hopefuls Jalen Robinette, Weston Steelhammer and Ryan Watson, had their pro dreams put on hold for two years when Trump’s administration reversed that policy as the NFL Draft began.
Trump’s new proposal adds the wrinkle of delaying service time as opposed to serving on reserves.
Trump described the potential change as “a great idea” and “really fair.”
“Can you imagine, this incredible coach with that little asset?” Trump said, referring to Army coach Jeff Monken. “Because I would imagine that would make recruiting a little bit easier.”
The impact of recruiting remains to fully be seen.
Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun downplayed the effects of easing of rules when the initial change happened in 2016. He noted that the number of athletes who would be in position to earn spots on pro rosters would be negligible.
Another coach, speaking off the record, said a rule change wouldn’t hurt, but wouldn’t be program-altering.
“In reality, we don’t get that type of recruit,” the coach said.
Others at the academy said it would present a best-of-both-worlds scenario in which athletes could pursue a military career without betting against their professional future should they develop to that extent in their sport.
“If you don’t make the NFL, then your career is there,” three-star recruit David Cormier told The Gazette in Feb. 2017 after signing under flexible rules. “If you do, you can go right away and live out your dreams.”