Conference power play: Why it mattered to America's service academies

Navy might want to make a pitch for some Big Ten-type dollars. (AP photo)

Navy might want to make a pitch for some Big Ten-type dollars. (AP photo)

The storm clouds that lurked over the Big 12 have dissipated and the NCAA’s current conference setup has remained, for the most part, intact. Just a month ago it looked like the Pac-10 and Big-10 would pick the Big 12 apart. In the end, though, only Nebraska and Colorado bolted the Big 12, while the Mountain West Conference’s Utah dashed off to the Pac-10. The month-long muscle flex by the respective commissioners told us a lot about who has the power in college sports and it could help show where the three service academies stand.

First and foremost, we learned that football has all the power. We aren’t breaking any news here, but it was evident how a college’s basketball program — or any other sport for that matter — never came up in the discussion. Sure, the NCAA makes a pretty penny off its March Madness television contract, but it’s football that sits in the power seat.

This means something for the service academies because besides Army, each one boasts a respectable Division 1 football program. Air Force and Navy are regulars on the bowl circuit. And while Army remains a distant third, they were only a game away from a bowl game last season. It also helps that all three have national followings and campuses near major television markets. At least one Seattle Time columnist suggested the Pac-10 add the Air Force Academy in its football grab.
It’s not crazy to think a major conference might see potential in featuring a service academy.

The second lesson is that money is all that matters. For all the boasting by each conference commissioner that a college football playoff system would never work because it would get in the way of the student-athletes’ academics, they didn’t seem to worry about the travel the “student-athletes” would have to do if Texas joined the Pac-10. The Big 10 is the envy of all the other conferences with its new television network. This matters to Army, Navy and Air Force because although they are funded by the U.S. government, some extra money coming from a rich TV contract would help at a time when budgets across the Defense Department are tightening.

Army and Navy remain one of the only independents in the NCAA for football while Air Force belongs to the Mountain West. The Mountain West is a legit football conference and Air Force has proven a service academy can hang with the big boys. Maybe it’s time for Army and Navy to test its own mettle and collect the check that would come with it.


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