American commissioner: Get pumped for Navy-ECU football rivalry

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The American Athletic Conference: Home of the Navy-East Carolina rivalry.

It’s to be expected that in a recent ESPN interview with the head of the American Athletic Conference, the word “Navy” appears only once.

After all, the league begins official operations in just a few days, and commissioner Mike Aresco has 10 current members to worry about. Navy won’t join until 2015, and even then, it’ll be a football-only member.

It’s the context of that one mention of the Mids that might make Navy fans shake their heads. When Aresco proposed a few rivalry games that could become cornerstone events for the conference, he led off with South Florida and Central Florida, then offered three regional showdowns: Houston-Southern Methodist, Tulsa-Memphis and East Carolina-Navy.

There’s ample evidence that Navy will play a big role in the branding of its new football home — just look at the red, white and blue in that logo. The league even made a special, long-form version, at least in part to keep the Mids from having to paint a massive “A” on their field that might remind some of an Army logo.

But any discussion of “Navy” and “conference rivals” should probably stop before it starts. The Mids have played ECU four times. Ever. And even if that rivalry somehow becomes one of the hottest in American Athletic Conference history, it’ll be fourth, at best, for Navy fans, behind Air Force, Notre Dame and that other game at the end of the season.

Navy’s played more football games against Notre Dame (86) than it’s played against every AAC school (61, if you count Tulsa, which starts American play in 2014). The gap gets wider for Army (113).

Sure, future conference rival Tulane cost the Mids an undefeated season in 1956 (everybody remembers that), and Navy’s still angling for revenge after that 35-0 drubbing by Houston in the 1980 Garden State Bowl (throw out the record books when it comes to the Garden State Bowl), but the history just isn’t there. And unlike other schools that might have relatively blank slates when it comes to football tradition (USF football didn’t exist until 1997), Navy’s dance card comes pre-punched.

That’s not to say conference play is unwise or unnecessary — Navy officials are quick to point out the scheduling benefits and bowl tie-ins that result from a stable slate of opponents. And eventually, years from now, if the league stays stable, Navy fans will get used to seeing foes like East Carolina on a regular basis, track their progress and, slowly, begin to dislike most everything about them.

Especially their nicknames. Mids vs. Pirates, after all …

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