Air Force Academy athletes with designs on professional sports careers can again apply to the Pentagon to have their mandatory active duty service reduced from five years to two, superintendent Lt. Gen. John Regni said this week. Air Force previously operated under that policy, but it was suspended in 2003 as a result of the Agenda for Change, which involved several areas of academy life. Reverting to the previous professional sports separation policy results is a result of Regni’s academy review, which he undertook after becoming superintendent in October. If the request to terminate active duty status after two years is granted by Pentagon officials, an athlete would have to spend six years in the reserves. Bryce Fisher, a Seattle Seahawks defensive end and Air Force’s only alumnus currently in the NFL, serves as a public affairs officer at an Air National Guard base in Washington. Regni’s decision brings Air Force in line with Army and Navy. Academy officials say the publicity from having an alumnus in the pro ranks justifies the policy. For instance, stories about Fisher’s Air Force service appeared in newspapers nationwide during the week of the most recent Super Bowl, which Seattle lost to Pittsburgh. Chad Hennings, a former A-10 pilot who then played nine years for the Dal- las Cowboys, has been one of the academy’s most famous graduates. “When they get in front of the cameras and microphones, they’re talking about the Air Force Academy,” Regni said. Though Air Force coaches don’t sell the program as a route to the NFL, defensive coordinator Richard Bell said the policy “certainly won’t hurt us” during recruiting season against Army and Navy. “If one academy has it and the other two don’t, obviously you do have somewhat of an edge,” Bell said. “What we’re all looking for is a level playing field and since we’ve got that level playing field obviously it will be beneficial.” It still won’t be easy for an Air Force graduate to get to the NFL or NBA or Major League Baseball. Though the policy allows athletes to apply for a reduction of service time, there are no clear guidelines for how the policy would be applied. The decision would be at the discretion of the Secretary of the Air Force. Generally, athletes had to have a pro contract in place to get active duty time reduced in the past. The new policy could impact several academy athletes who will graduate next month. Though it’s unlikely receiver Jason Brown or offensive tackle Ross Weaver will be drafted by NFL teams, they were regarded highly enough by scouts to be invited to the Hula Bowl. A different situation could develop with Antoine Hood, a guard for the men’s basketball team who made the All-Mountain West Conference first team. Though Hood almost assuredly won’t get drafted, coach Jeff Bzdelik has strong NBA connections, which could help Hood get a tryout at the least. Hood is planning to be an assistant coach at the Air Force Academy prep school next year, but it’s conceivable that he could have a career in basketball — in the NBA or more likely a lesser league — after his military service. “If it presents itself and the cards play out the right way I’d be more than happy to pursue it if the Air Force feels it’s a good route for me and our school to get some good publicity,” Hood said. “I came here to serve my country and be in the Air Force and I’m not trying to run away from that by any means. I’m looking forward to taking on that with a full head of steam. If I have the opportunity to serve my country and play basketball, that’s great. So the way I’m looking at it, it’s a win-win situation. I love this school and I want to give something back to the Air Force. If I was able to play and do the reserve thing, that’d be great too, but that’s not my No. 1 focus as of right now.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0258 or email@example.com
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