U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville pressed a high ranking Army official Wednesday to look further into the possibility of the military financing college athletics to help solve its recruiting troubles.
Tuberville’s remarks to Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing represent the latest advancement of a proposal that has circulated among various U.S. military branches for the past two years. The idea, which Sportico first reported in August, is that the military could fund athletic scholarships at schools around the country, and that athletes who accept those scholarships would owe the country military service at the end of their college careers.
Tuberville mentioned the idea in the middle of a discussion dedicated specifically to the military’s recruiting challenges. The Alabama senator and former SEC football coach said the active military component missed its recruiting targets in 2022 by the largest margin ever, and suggested that 45,000 Division I college athletes could be eligible to serve.
“I think we’re missing the boat here if we don’t look at that,” Tuberville said. “It’s not ROTC. It’s a 21st century pathway to service. It’s a strategy and a tactic guaranteed to produce a well-educated, physically capable, coachable and aspiring fighting force every year. ”
Tuberville then asked Camarillo if he would commit to investigating the idea. Camarillo, the Army’s second highest-ranking civilian officer, listed a number of different initiatives underway to improve recruiting, but said he would “look forward” to working with Tuberville to further discuss the proposal.
The idea is the brainchild of Dave Maloney, former CEO of Orchestra Macrosystems, an analytics company and Air Force contractor. In a four-page brief circulated to military leaders in September of 2021, Maloney outlined an ambitious plan that he said could solve recruiting issues in the military and financial concerns in college sports. The brief suggests the Department of Defense offer to replace school-funded scholarships for every sport other than football and basketball at all levels of college athletics—NCAA, NAIA and junior college.
Maloney previously provided Sportico with copies of emails that showed conversation about the idea stretching into various corners of the Pentagon. He also said he briefed at least 25 Congressional offices, with Tuberville’s being the only one that confirmed the discussions. In an interview with Sportico last year, Maloney called the idea a “21st century pathway to service,” exactly the same phrase used this week by Tuberville.
Maloney left Orchestra in September and is now a VP at JPMorgan Chase, though he remains Orchestra’s executive chairman. He didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.
The proposal would require a massive rethink for both the U.S. military and the college sports establishment, and would almost certainly draw pushback from many in and around the NCAA. That’s before the task of convincing high school athletes, an attractive demographic to military recruiters, that a college athletic scholarship is worth a commitment to years of military or alternative civilian service once they have completed their schooling. The military academies already offer scholarships to athletes who have made these commitments, which are typically eight years total with at least five on active duty.
There are already several other options available to high school athletes interested in both college sports and military service. They can compete on varsity teams at a military academy like Army or Navy, or play sports elsewhere while going through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), a time-intensive program on college campuses that offers scholarship money and lets students graduate as commissioned officers.
Tuberville, who was previously the head coach at Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas Tech and Cincinnati, is also involved in other possible government interventions in college sports. He is among the senators leading Congress’ NIL bill negotiations, and recently met with new NCAA president Charlie Baker, according to Sports Illustrated.