Air Force and Navy’s football rivalry could reach a new level as a result of the ongoing conference shake up — their annual meeting could have conference implications in the Big East race.
The Associated Press and ESPN reporter Andy Katz are reporting the Big East is targeting the two service academies to join the conference after Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced they’d leave the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Each would receive a football-only invitation, saving their respective basketball teams the collective embarrassment of playing in the juggernaut hoops conference — not to mention saving the Air Force cross country and volleyball teams some brutally long bus rides to the East Coast.
Even though the Big East looks like the sad girl sitting in the corner after the rest of her friends (i.e. ACC and SEC) were asked to dance following the super conference earthquake, a potential invite by a league that owns an automatic Bowl Championship Series birth is quite an honor and sign of the progress both football programs have made.
Just ten years ago Navy didn’t win a single game, firing their coach in the middle of the season. Alums and academy leaders started to talk seriously about moving the football program down to the I-AA level. But the following year Paul Johnson was hired and he soon turned the program around to point where Navy has now played in eight straight bowl games.
Air Force currently plays in the Mountain West Conference. Navy has remained independent since it began playing football in 1879. A transfer to the Big East stands to make both programs a serious amount of money, which is what has motivated all of these conference shakeups. The Mountain West is respectable but it doesn’t have a seat at the dollar-line BCS table. And for now, depending on how this shakeup ends, the Big East does.
Adding Air Force and Navy makes sense for two reasons for the Big East. First, both service academies garner a national audience for the conference. There’s a reason the college football big boys agree to schedule the service academies even though they tend to ruin BCS dreams with their triple-option attacks (ahem Notre Dame). Navy and Air Force are recognizable names no matter how good their team is, and each pose an interesting story for the media outlets to tell. Poor service academy quarterback has to learn the playbook, wake up at 5 a.m., lead fellow Mids, and (gasp!) actually attend real classes. Not to mention coaches must sell recruits on a five-year service commitment.
Second, both teams are actually good. Air Force and Navy have built football programs to be reckoned with. Both have played nationally ranked teams tough and typically spend their Christmas vacations at exotic bowl locales.
So is this a flirtation or is an invitation forthcoming? Could Air Force and Navy soon be playing against each other for trophies other than the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy? I say yes.
It makes sense on both sides if the two academies join as football-only members. The Big East needs to improve its football reputation and both programs provide that — more so than even one of the teams that bolted for the ACC, Syracuse.
For the academies, a move to the Big East would provide both more national acclaim and attention, which is good for recruitment. And as for financials, the money made from the shared television deals would more than make up for additional travel to the East Coast. The academies, including their athletic programs, are not immune to the budget pressure felt across the military. The extra bump in funding would go a long way to helping keep coaches like Ken Niumatalolo and Troy Calhoun around for years to come.
I find it interesting, but not surprising, the name West Point hasn’t leaked out as another possible program to join the Big East. Part of the reason may be because in the past decade Army has had the least amount of success of their service academy brethren. And Army had a terrible experience when they joined Conference USA as a footbal-0nly member in 1998, forcing them to retreat to independent status in 2004.