Everyone threw up their arms after former West Point safety Caleb Campbell was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 7th Round of the 2008 NFL Draft and Army Secretary Pete Geren decided to not free him from his 5-year service commitment. Some Campbell supporters pointed to former NBA star David Robinson, who graduated from the Naval Academy, as an example of why the military should allow the few academy graduates who have a shot to play for a professional team to pursue their dreams. The services can then reap the rewards of free publicity.
This year, Campbell will be at Lions training camp after being released from his active-duty commitment. He will instead serve the Army for the next six years in the Individual Ready Reserve as part of the policy Geren signed in 2008. Former Air Force Academy standout Chad Hall was also released from his commitment and has a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. If Hall or Campbell don’t make their respective team’s rosters, they have to return to active duty. Again, it’s all about the free publicity for a military that depends on young men and women, many of whom watch the NFL and other professional sports, to sign up for their services.
Here’s my question, though: Where do you draw the line?
This year, the Army released Cole White, a 2008 West Point graduate who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 42nd round of Major League Baseball’s 2008 draft. A tank platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division, his unit deployed to Iraq this February. White, however, will spend this summer in State College, Pa., playing for the State College Spikes, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Class-A New York Penn League affiliate. At best, the Spikes draw in a couple thousand to a game. No ESPN or NBC television cameras to be seen. So does the free publicity argument work here?
I hope White proves me wrong and goes on to make the Pirates’ roster, but isn’t there a better chance a 42nd round pick gets swallowed up in the Pirates’ organization and never plays a game in PNC Park? He was the 1,254th player chosen in 2008 and hasn’t seen live pitching for two years.
Each academy graduate has their case decided upon on an individual basis by the Secretary of the Army’s office. However, the formula isn’t clear who should be released. At what level of professional sports is it still a benefit to the Defense Department to release an academy graduate of his or her service commitment?
What happens if a female soccer player gets drafted to play in the WUSA? Will she get released after two years? What about the Canadian Football League? Will that football player get the same release as one drafted to the NFL? As more graduates pursue their release, more pressure should be on service secretaries to spell out how they decide who gets released.