NFL draft path cleared for Andre Carter II due to bill provision

After an outcry over the future of Army star linebacker Andre Carter II, politicians scrambled to alter the language of a recently passed Congressional bill that clears his path to the upcoming NFL draft.

New language formally filed Tuesday morning in a piece of end-of-year legislation will restore the opportunity for Carter and other current academy upperclassmen at Army, Navy and Air Force to defer military service to pursue professional sports.

A provision has been included in the Omnibus Appropriations Measure, expected to pass this week, to make Carter and other current academy upperclassmen eligible for a waiver that will allow for a legacy exception for a 2019 ruling that allowed deferred service to play pro sports. This provision appeared on the Senate appropriations website Tuesday morning.

A bill that passed the Senate last week would revoke that 2019 ruling. Carter, who is projected by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 22 pick in next year’s NFL draft, finished the final regular-season game of his career on Dec. 10. The amended language that emerged Tuesday morning reads that the recently passed amendment “shall only apply with respect to a cadet or midshipman who first enrolls in the United States Military Academy, the United States Naval Academy, or the United States Air Force Academy on or after June 1, 2021.”

Soon after an ESPN report published on Friday revealing the disappointment by both Carter’s family and Army officials over the timing of the ruling and the impact on Carter, a bipartisan effort began in earnest in Washington to figure out a way to exempt Carter from the ruling. The new language provides an exception for Carter and others, who went to Army and other academies expectating to be allowed a deferral of service.

The language, which was added to the much larger Omnibus Appropriations Measure, could be passed and approved by the president as soon as Friday. The inclusion of the new language sent a wave of relief over Carter’s family.

“Thank you to the members of congress who stepped up, spoke out and worked expeditiously in support of Andre and other service academy cadets and midshipmen who made decisions in reliance on the 2019 policy allowing deferral of service,” Carter’s parents, Melissa and Andre, wrote in a text message to ESPN. “The goodness we saw in people this past week will forever be imprinted upon us.”

Carter is poised to be the highest-drafted Army player in more than a half-century. Carter is universally regarded as a top-50 draft prospect, which would make him the highest-drafted player from the academy since 1947.

Carter said he elected not to transfer after leading the country in sacks per game in 2021, in part because of the policy passed in 2019 that allows athletes at academies to pursue professional athletics immediately after graduation and defer their service requirements.

Carter’s family had worried that he’d not only have to leave Army without graduating, but also have to pay back $400,000 to the government. Carter had already “affirmed” with Army, which means he’d committed after two years to both serve and pay back any tuition costs if he didn’t graduate.

Army coach Jeff Monken, former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Carter’s parents all spoke to ESPN last week about the lack of fairness in the timing of the ruling, with Carter on the cusp of going pro.

Sources told ESPN that word of Carter’s story rippled quickly through Washington on Friday, grabbing the attention of the highest-ranking officials at the Pentagon and members of Congress such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell and Richard Shelby.

“It’s not normal for an issue to be highlighted and less than 10 days later have an opportunity for a bill to go through the House, Senate and get a presidential signature that quickly,” said a source familiar with the legislation.

Carter has committed to play in the Senior Bowl and will participate in the NFL scouting combine, and he promises to be one of the draft’s most intriguing stories.

“We are grateful for the support, time and energy of the United States Military Academy leadership, the Long Gray Line, and so many others throughout the country who offered their expertise and influence to quickly reach a resolution,” Carter’s parents told ESPN.

While this is an important short-term exception for Carter and others, the passage of the bill still looms as a significant obstacle for the football programs at Army, Navy and Air Force, which compete at the highest level of the sport and already have significant headwinds.

There’s a philosophical argument raised by Carter’s situation: Is it wiser to have a handful — perhaps one at each academy — of players drafted professionally each year and bask in the publicity, or have a policy that honors the importance of military service but loses that publicity?

This initial bill was introduced by Mike Gallagher, a Republican congressman from Wisconsin’s eighth district. While the pressure surrounding Carter’s situation sent Gallagher to quickly support the amended language, he remained staunch about the bill being passed.

“U.S. military service academies exist to produce warfighters, not professional athletes,” Gallagher said in a statement to ESPN last week.

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