The insanity of conference realignment in college football may have reached its peak last week when reports named Army, Navy and Air Force as possible future members of the Big East. The scenario had the service academies joining the conference as football-only members. It allows the Big East to fill vacant spots left by the bolting of Pittsburgh and Syracuse (as well as turncoat TCU, and probably Connecticut and West Virginia too), and gave the service academies a coveted spot in a BCS conference.
In any other year, the idea of the service academies playing football in a major conference would sound absurd. Hell, all you have to do is look to last weekend’s results — Air Force getting clobbered at unranked Notre Dame, Navy being pummeled at home by unranked Southern Miss and Army losing to previously winless Miami (Ohio) — to get a vision of how bad it could be some years if the acadamies added more BCS teams to their schedules.
But in the current scramble to form super conferences and not be left out of the BCS money pile, anything is possible. Navy and — to a lesser extent — Army may have thrived as independents. But the landscape of college football is changing, and the non-BCS members may end up getting totally left behind both money-wise and prestige-wise.
So far both Navy and Air Force have indicated serious interest in joining the Big East, with the Falcons appearing to be almost a sure bet to leave. The Falcons were a founding member of the Mountain West, but that conference is crumbling. So a weakened Big East doesn’t seem like a bad deal at this point, no matter how strange it sounds.
In the midst of this madness, it appears that Army appears to be holding its ground. Athletic Director Boo Kerrigan says West Point is fine with being an independent, and will not be joining the Big East.
“Clearly we’re following everything right now, but we are very comfortable where we are as an independent, and we are comfortable with the Patriot League,” Corrigan told The Washington Post. “We have great respect for the Big East and John Marinatto. But as we look at things today, we are comfortable where we are.”
This should be good news for Army fans. West Point went to a bowl last season, but it was the school’s first winning season and bowl appearance since 1996. Football dollars — and wins — aren’t the primary concern on the Hudson, and Corrigan is saying as much. Even if Army continues to improve under third-year coach Rich Ellerson, the Cadets would have a hard time competing week after week in the Big East — or just about any conference. Army, due to the nature of the school’s mission, will never be a football powerhouse — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Daily’s Dan Wolken wrote a good column on Army today, saluting the academy to sticking to its principles. It’s worth a read, and there’s a passage at the end that pulls no punches about the consequenes of Army’s decision:
It’s comforting that Army has no aspirations of making that leap, even as it recognizes the financial and competitive implications if its brethren are in the Big East. You think SEC recruiting is cutthroat? Every year the academies fight over the same small pool of players, and West Point with its more rigorous lifestyle and higher likelihood of wartime combat has always been the hardest sell of the three. If the other academies can promise the opportunity to play for a BCS bid, that gulf gets even wider.