A new ruling from the Department of Defense may seismically change the way Army recruits and the ability of the Black Knights to play at the top level of the FBS.
This policy, as obtained by the Colorado Springs Gazette, says that service academy graduates that have offers to play pro sports will be allowed to serve in the reserves rather than be sent on active duty. This will allow the grad to pursue an athletic career and immediately opens up a path for Army football players to head to the NFL.
Ironically the reason for this huge change was a Navy player. Keenan Reynolds was cleared to go to the NFL after being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens and will serve his military service in the reserves. This is in sharp contrast to the likes of NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, who had to serve in active duty for five years, and former Oakland Raiders running back Napoleon McCallum, who had to take seasons off from the NFL when his service required.
This immediately levels the playing field for Army, Navy, and Air Force. In the past, the Service Academies have had zero shot at even the tier two and three recruits coming out of high school. Basically, anyone with NFL dreams would stay away because there was no obvious route to the league. Now though Army can start to actively chase those top end recruits with the promise of an NFL future if the player is good enough. When you throw in the pomp, history, and pageantry of Army football then suddenly West Point becomes a very interesting and appealing option for high school seniors.
Not everyone is happy with this decision, however. One outspoken critic is Tom Slear of the Washington Post. This is from a piece he wrote after Reynolds was given what at the time as a special dispensation to chase his professional career:
“They exist to instill young men and women with a mindset of selfless service to the country. There is no other justification for the significant public expense that supports them,” Slear wrote, “Professional football, on the other hand, is about service to oneself. It has its place, but not for academy graduates who haven’t fulfilled their obligations to their fellow citizens. Each time one of them leaves early, the ethos diminishes a bit, and the taxpayers are cheated.”
It will be very interesting to see if there is a shift in the Black Knights recruiting process going forward. Will this shift be gradual or will the Army policy chance overnight? Will Army be more appealing as a potential conference member now? Will prospects see the free tuition/NFL path and flock to Army in big numbers?
All these questions will be answered in time, but it is an exciting time to be an Army football fan.