After going through the pre-draft process, Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette will not be playing professional football in 2017 — and he has plenty of good company.
Add in every other aspiring service academy athlete who was hoping to immediately turn pro in any sport.
That became official on Monday when U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis signed an order to rescind the government’s pro sports policy for service academy athletes. The policy went into effect last July and allowed an immediate path to professional sports for this group of athletes, but didn’t survive a full calendar year.
“Our military academies exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and the lethality of our military services,” Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White said in a statement Monday, via the Denver Post. “Graduates enjoy the extraordinary benefit of a military academy education at taxpayer expense. Therefore, upon graduation, officers will serve as military officers for their minimum commitment of two years. The department has a long history of officer athletes who served their nation before going to the pros including Roger Staubach, Chad Hennings and David Robinson. The change takes effect with this graduating class.”
Prospects Robinette and and Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer went undrafted and unsigned after the Air Force informed the Academy on Thursday that it wouldn’t approve any Ready Reserve requests, meaning neither could play professionally in 2017. Mattis took it a step further Monday, removing the possibility altogether by rescinding the policy and requiring all cadet athletes to fulfill their active duty requirement before competing full-time professionally.
Supporters of the decision will point to Staubach, the Hall of Fame quarterback who played for the Dallas Cowboys, and San Antonio Spurs legend Robinson, while opponents will gesture toward Keenan Reynolds, who was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2016 after his playing days at Navy came to an end. Reynolds is currently on the Ravens‘ practice squad as a wide receiver.
It’s reasonable to wonder how this decision will also affect the academies’ ability to recruit competitively at a Division I level, which remains yet to be seen.