The NCAA made a ruling on March 12 that would change the lives of many young men and women, but leaves military academy seniors behind.

Most of these athletes in their senior years would have a decision to make whether to use a proposed special redshirt by the NCAA or to leave their schools altogether. But in that small percentage of senior classes, there’s the three Division I military academy seniors that will not get the choice. Over the next few years of their lives, these three separate academies will be on the same team — America’s team.

NCAA’s Ruling

As of now, the NCAA has said that they will be allowing special redshirts for seniors and in some cases, graduate students who lost their seasons as a result of the cancellations. Many seniors will come back to their respective schools when the fall semester begins.

This will be problematic for many schools and future recruiting classes as this will only send a ripple effect down the line. Coaches at most programs are worried what the effect will be. That’s not just true for the coaches at Army, Navy, and Air Force.

How Does All This Work?

When people apply to these three distinguished military academies, they need a congressional sponsor. When you are a recruited athlete, you are able to receive an athletic sponsor from the coach. Coaches only have a limited number of them. That’s one way into a military academy.

The other option is to go to a prep school where you do not need a congressional sponsor to get in. You can play in the prep school system, which allows you to play one year without losing any eligibility. During that time, the coach can decide whether he wants to use a sponsor on the player or not.

That prep school year is the military academies’ way of using a metaphorical redshirt. Prep school coaches such as Andy Wolfrum are ever so important at military academies. They mean so much to these programs as they groom the next set of athletes for the varsity program.

So much of their work flies under the radar by other programs. These prep athletes come in a year later after playing meaningful minutes in games and being developed like you would at the academies.

How Do The Rulings Affect Them?

It doesn’t; the only people that this hurts is the seniors that don’t have the option to come back. The only one who does have the option is their academy’s superintendents. Superintendents really have their hands tied when it comes to higher-ups in the Pentagon. They don’t want to keep parts of three graduating classes of military officers in school for another year.

Army men’s lacrosse was off to a 6-2 start in 2020 with two wins over ranked teams. (Army athletics)

The second that bell rings during their junior year, they’ve officially committed to serving in the military. They know that. But, what they didn’t know was there would be a worldwide pandemic during their senior years.  This pandemic would cut their athletic careers short and that’s the sad truth.

When it’s All Said and Done, May it be Said, Well Done

The men and women at West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs are there to learn to serve. You just can’t help but feel for these athletes who trained all their life to get to that point. I wouldn’t call this unfair, but this is not how anyone would want their athletic careers to end.

Take Army’s men’s lacrosse team for example: It was poised to have one of the best seasons in program history. Navy baseball was considered a contender to make another run at the Patriot League title. The Patriot League took that out of their hands by cancelling first and now, the NCAA has assured them they will not be taking the field again.

That goes for all academy seniors who have taken the field, court or track for the last time. They all lost opportunities that they will likely never get back.