C-USA memories: Why Army, Big East aren't a match

Army football 1998

Army fullback Craig Stucker tries to shed Navy's Bas Williams during the 1998 Army-Navy game. It was the first year Army played in Conference USA (see logo, shoulder) and also its best ... at 2-4. (M. David Leeds/Allsport photo via Getty Images)

As the rumblings of Navy and Air Force joining the Big East as football-only members become more than rumblings, some fans might wonder why Army has been the odd service academy out.

Why wouldn’t the Black Knights want to become a football-only member of a conference without a regional identity? Well, it didn’t work last time.

Army finished 10-2 in 1996, with a 10-1 regular-season record tarnished only by a road loss to Syracuse and an up-and-coming Chunky soup spokesman. The next year, the Black Knights announced they’d begin play in Conference USA in 1998.

From 1998 to 2004, the Black Knights finished 9-41 in conference action. After going 1-11 overall in 2002, they dropped all 13 games in 2003. It’s the worst season possible under current NCAA rules: Teams are allowed 12 regular-season games a year, but can tack on a 13th if they play at Hawaii, to help cover the cost of the road trip.

Army pulled the plug on C-USA membership before its dreadful 2003 season. Superintendent Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr. cited a number of reasons for the move, including an inflexible schedule and the failure to cash in on the C-USA’s guaranteed bowl bids.

Last year’s 7-6 mark was the first time Army cracked .500 since its experiment with conference play. Army Athletic Director Boo Kerrigan didn’t sound thrilled with the prospect of big-time conference college football. It’s not hard to see why Kerrigan and Army faithful would wish the other service academies the best, but stay independent.


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