CHANGING COURSE, PART 3: CYNICAL, KNEE-JERK OPPOSITION

For the most part, the news that Navy will be joining the Big East in 2015 was met with a collective “meh” by most of the media. When I said that John Feinstein’s comments carry weight because he cares, I wasn’t kidding; there aren’t too many others voicing an opinion on the move. We did have this flaming bag of dog poo left on our collective front porch by Dan Wolken back in December, though. Feinstein’s comments at least came from someone who has a genuine concern for USNA and its football program; Wolken’s column sounds more like someone who never thought twice about either Army or Navy. Unfortunately, articles like this shape the opinion of casual fans that don’t know any better, so I should probably respond to it now that the move is official.

The premise of the column is that West Point is some virtuous entity above the fray, unwilling to compromise who they are just to compete in the greed-driven world of major college football. Wolken’s canonization of Army is misplaced on multiple levels.

(Again, I apologize for the fisking. It’s a tool of the lazy. Which I am.)

“We are extremely comfortable in our current status,” Corrigan said. “We are a national institution with a constitutional mandate to recruit nationally. Our independent status allows us to develop the type of schedule that helps us showcase our program around the country. Joining any conference would certainly limit those options.”

“It’s very important that we focus on being the best West Point we can be.”

For once, somebody in college athletics has it exactly right.

The “somebody” Wolken refers to is the same West Point that only a few years ago fought for the Alternative Service Option as a way to boost their football recruiting by allowing graduates to dodge their service obligation and go directly to the NFL. They did so while knowingly in direct violation of Department of Defensive directives. To top it all off, once their scam was shut down, they failed to hold themselves accountable for their mistakes and instead blamed the Naval Academy.

Service is what defines a service academy. Service is the actual “mandate.” Yet Army had no problem compromising that for the sake of football. Nobody wants to pick at the ASO scab for the millionth time, but if you’re going to start making grandiose claims about the “last remaining scrap of honor in college athletics,”  you had better look at a hell of a lot more than simply whether or not the school chooses to join the Big East.

Air Force is so excited about the possibility, it’s willing to leave behind a conference it helped create — the Mountain West — and play road games 1,500 miles from its campus in Colorado Springs.

Despite how things looked in December, Air Force has decided not to join the Big East. Instead, they’ve decided to leave behind a conference it helped create — the Mountain West — and play road games 1,500 miles from its campus in Colorado Springs.

Football is part of the West Point experience, but at what point does playing heavyweights week in and week out start to conflict with the development of military officers? Army would have two choices in the Big East: Lose a lot of games or lower standards to get better players. How much integrity is worth sacrificing to compete for a conference title against South Florida and Cincinnati?

How many American institutions have a worse reputation right now than big-time college athletics? The eagerness of Navy and Air Force to dive even deeper into that sewer pit is frightening proof of priorities going further astray.

Well, let’s answer that with a different question: at what point does relegation to a second-rate level of football start to conflict with the development of military officers?

Service academies play Division I-A football not to develop future military officers, but to attract them. That’s not to say that football players don’t learn lessons on the field that apply to military life; it’s just that it’s more of a fringe benefit. The real benefit comes from the mainstream exposure that major college football provides. Boo Corrigan is right when he says that Army (like Navy and Air Force) is a national institution with a mandate to recruit nationally. But that’s true of the school, not the football program. The best way for the school to ensure that it carries out that mandate– by getting its message out in front of as many potential admissions candidates as possible– is to play major college football. The problem, as USNA leadership sees it, is that the growing divide between the so-called “haves” and “have-nots” will ultimately lead to a change in what is considered “major college football.” Maybe Army doesn’t see it as a concern. So be it; everyone is just reading the tea leaves and trying to position themselves as best they can. It certainly isn’t a matter of “honor” either way.

Wolken, as a graduate of Vanderbilt, should know all of this better than anyone. When it comes to losing a lot of games vs. lowering standards in order to compete in the SEC, the Commodores chose the former long ago. Even though the football team would undoubtedly win more games if Vandy joined a less demanding conference, there is also no doubt that the school as a whole has reaped enormous rewards from its SEC membership. Winning football games might be the first priority of the coach and the athletic director, but it isn’t the first priority of the university president. Or in this case, the superintendent.

That assumes, of course, that Navy is destined to lose in the Big East. It’s possible — and maybe even likely — but it’s hardly a given. We’ve heard from so many people over the last several years about how terrible the Big East is, but now that Navy is joining, it’s too much to handle? They can’t both be true.

And yet when government agencies audit the service academies, they consistently find that there’s too much emphasis placed on intercollegiate athletics. The hunger for success leads to too many abuses, too many compromises, coaches with too much power at schools that are supposed to be run by generals. Most disturbing of all, they find that the kids being recruited to play football are less academically qualified than their fellow cadets to get those taxpayer-funded, $400,000 educations and more likely to drop out.

Wolken used write for the Colorado Springs Gazette, and his experience covering Air Force has led him to extrapolate that the same holds true at all three service academies. While he worked at the Gazette, a report ordered by then Secretary of the Air Force James Roche found that USAFA was allowing too many academic waivers for recruited athletes. This was also around the time that the Air Force athletic department was reorganized in the wake of their sexual assault scandal, which I assume is where the “coaches with too much power” line is coming from. Wolken himself wrote about the Air Force prep school, including comments from critics alleging preferential treatment for athletes.

The same cannot be said for Army and Navy. Which “government agencies” have made these claims against USNA and USMA? And not just made them, but made them consistently? It hasn’t happened. Maybe Bruce Fleming is now his own agency. The Department of Self-Promotion?

One school that isn’t clawing over the competition to grab the last dollar it can make on the backs of teenage athletes.

It’s pretty easy to ignore millions of dollars when one-third of of your operating revenue comes from the federal government. Specifically, Army uses appropriated funds for:

(1) Athletic supplies and equipment, including services, rental, and repairs.

(2) Admissions support (similar to that provided prospective candidates who are not athletes).

(3) Mission-related travel expenses of teams, coaches, IAP, and AAA staff personnel to various sporting events and association meetings. This includes admission fees.

(4) Membership dues in sports associations (for example, NCAA, Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference, and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference).

(5) Office and medical supplies and equipment.

(6) Maintenance, repairs, and improvement of athletic fields, grounds, and buildings. This includes the field house, stadium, and multi-purpose sports complex.

(7) Staffing of military and civilian IAP positions (contract coaches and support personnel).

No matter how you feel about using taxpayer money to help fund a service academy’s athletic department, there is no doubt that it insulates Army (and Air Force) from some of the financial worries that other schools (like Navy) face. We can all lament the escalating costs of competing in intercollegiate athletics, but at the end of the day the mission of the school is better served by adapting to the situation rather than taking some quixotic stand. And no, “adapting” is not synonymous with “lowering standards.”

I respect Army’s position to remain independent, but there isn’t anything inherently noble about their decision. It’s a gamble either way.

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30 Responses

  1. Yes, if there is an athletic department out there I want to use as a baseline for an opinion, it’s gotta be Army. They’ve just been so damn successful.

  2. Bruce Fleming, Dept of Self Promotion, is priceless.

  3. Has there been any confirmation orginated from somewhere other than USMA that the Big East was actually interested in Army joining the conference?

    • In the teleconference that announced Navy joining the conference, it was mentioned more than once that the Big East was in contact with both schools for the last 10 years. That’s probably as close to official confirmation as you’ll ever see.

    • I also never knew that Army was ever in the mix for consideration for the Big Least. Certainly they were never mentioned when college names were flying back and forth for a plurality of conferences this past year!

      I think USMA learned their lesson from the failed Conference USA experiment and the football program has no desire to repeat that performance and to become a dooormat for yet another conference. Right or wrong, for whatever lofty or nefarious reasons, “winning and losing” is more important than money to Army. Even if it means playing a lot of MAC teams or BCS teams. Hey, when you are Army and the 119th team in the country and everyone is scheduling you for a cushy game, who do you look to play?

      I also never knew about the unlawful (?) use of government funds. Who polices that, Bird Dog?

      Why this has anything to do with Navy going that route is beyond me. Or is Part 3 just a Black Knight Bashing in disguise. We have already agreed that (1) Army’s experience and failure in ConfUSA has and will have nothing to do with Navy’s success or failure in the BL; (2) Army and Navy have different institutional and football cultures; and (3) ultimately, the decision is and “either-or” (1/0) one of either following the money or focusing on wins and losses. There does not seem to be a middle ground. At least the Bird Dog has not explained such an option. Navy has chosen one way that is in the bets interest of Navy football and Navy sports and Army has chosen (or had chosen for them) to go another way. Only time will tell which school made the better decision for that school. Once again, though, the decision makers will be long gone!

      At least the dog poop on the stoop was not in a burning bag and you stomped on it to extinguish the flames!

    • 1) Army has been publicly discussed as a Big East possibility for months, and has been meeting with the Big East for years. No offense (seriously), but if you weren’t even aware of that much, I don’t know how much you have to add to the discussion.

      2) Nobody said Army’s use of government funds was unlawful. You can argue whether it’s right or wrong, but that isn’t the same as legal or illegal.

      3. The point of the post is not “Black Knight bashing.” Wolken placed Army on a ridiculous pedestal, and in the process he painted a misleading picture of the reasons why Navy is choosing a different path. Knocking them off the pedestal might seem like “bashing,” but it’s necessary to give a more realistic explanation of the factors involved in each institution’s decision.

    • what word did guys use in the 70’s to describe what we now call “butthurt”

  4. I don’t know Dan Wolken, can’t recall having ever read anything he wrote, but that article is garbage. Had it been an individual writing about himself, it would be narcissistic. Of an institution, it’s merely delusional. My real disappointment is that the Army vector spells doom for what had been a wonderful Army-Navy rivalry.

    • A little early to be going that far.

  5. I’m very fatigued at the moment, but he did entirely ignore Army’s foray in CUSA; right?

    • Different era, different circumstances. I don’t think his problem is with joining ANY conference. Just one that actually stands to make money.

    • I really meant that he intimates Army has always been Independent.

    • True. Although to be fair, the people who made that decision are long gone at this point.

  6. I have not read the article you’ve quoted and referenced, and I don’t think I need to. The fact that Navy is going to the Big East in 2015 reflects NOTHING on their service mandate or anything else, especially in contrast to the other service academies.

    Yes, Navy to Big East is a move for power, prestige, income, etc. But the pursuit of those things is not ignoble per se. Independence and conference alignment decisions are always based on meeting one’s own needs.

  7. I was astonished to learn that, indeed, the feds ponied up about one-third of Army’s sports operating budget between 2003 and 2011!

    Looking closer, when one looks at Air Force in the same study for the same period of years, the Zoomies receive between 50 and 63% of its sports budget from the feds and, in total dollars, almost twice as much as Army. Obviously, one gets what one pays for.

    Navy, for some strange reasons, did not provide data for the USAToday database.

    Bird Dog, where do you thing Navy falls? Closer to Army or Air Force? and why? or does Navy — as you imply — “face the financial worries” in another manner? What is the secret to Navy’s financial, non-government funding success?

    • As a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, NAAA doesn’t receive any direct government funding. Navy varsity teams share some facilities with the rest of the Brigade, so the cost of running those facilities is also shared. Being a private organization separate from the school itself allows NAAA to do fundraising that they wouldn’t be able to do as part of a government organization.

    • Unlike Army & AF — Navy has chosen to use FB as a profit center to entirely fund athletic programs.

      NAAA’s 501(c)(3) status shields their financials from public review & makes any comparison of expenses or compensation with Army & AF counterparts impossible. Although a recent USA Today article indicated that Navy’s AD’s compensation nearly tripled his SA counterparts.

      This is a business decision, to cash in on the recent success of Navy FB, for a potential short term finacial windfall.

      No one is suggesting that the recent W-L success will continue, or how a possible losing program will impact future alumni donations, sponsorship value, tv marketability or availability, attractiveness to potential USNA applicants, or morale on the Yard.

      We are just told to take it on faith that this is the best, or only, course going forward.

      Meanwhile, if C-USA & MWC merge, AF will have access to a full sched of many schools that Navy has played successfully in building the recent record of success,

    • That’s right, randy. It’s just faith.

      For more on this and other fine conspiracy theories, please contact randylaxsaltygougerad at laxpower.com

    • Randy being Randy

    • For more on this and other fine conspiracy theories, please contact randylaxsaltygougerad at laxpower.com

      …or just keep reading TBD blog for your latest NAAA spin.
      I’d use your other user id’s, but I don’t wish to circumvent internet privacy protocols.

      Ceepy cyberstalkers have been know to use other people’s user id’s on various forums.

      Keep the Faith.

    • “Internet privacy protocols?” Is that even a thing? Cyberstalkers? One conspiracy theory at a time, please.

      For the uninitiated who don’t know what’s going on, randyrad here is a moderator on laxpower, along with his militant alter egos “salty dog” and “Lax Gouge” (which he maintains so his “randyrad” name can maintain the illusion of sanity). There are any number of things that could be said about the sheer lunacy of that place, but one of the prevailing conspiracy theories entertained there is that any opinion that doesn’t meet the established laxpower narrative is the product of spoon-fed NAAA manipulation. That, of course, is because NAAA is evil. You just don’t see with the clarity that laxpower does.

      Apologies for the sideshow.

  8. Thank you both. Never knew that NAAA is not controlled by HQ, USNA or that it and not the NA funded all of Navy’s sports. Who pays salaries? USNA or NAAA?

    You are unique in more ways than one. Keep up the fundraising!

    • There are some coaches who have other USNA duties, such as swim coaches who double as instructors in the Physical Education Department, for example. That cost is among those that are split. Otherwise they are fully paid by NAAA.

  9. But RandyRad doesn’t want to hear facts.

  10. Because RandyRad is a massive tool who likes tearing down his alma mater because he doesn’t agree with certain decisions.

    • Ok ok, let’s try to get back on topic now

  11. Anonymous alleges that the NAAA’s “501 c3 status shields their financials from public view”.

    Wrong. The IRS mandates that a 501 c3 is required to provide its annual income tax return, in most cases Form 990, to anyone who requests it. That mandate includes any schedules which were used to prepare the return.

    Anonymous is either lazy, misinformed or both.

  12. I think the reason for the decisions both Navy & Army made lies within the football culture and experiences of the two schools as you mentioned. Navy until this year has been winning program since PJ’s second year. They have played with the Big boys the last few years and didn’t embarras themselves. Did you ever think you would see Navy beat ND 3 out of 4 years? I didn’t. The new Big East line up will be a challenge but outside of Boise state is just solid but not as talented as it once was.
    Army’s fans would have fragged their brand new AD if they joined the Big east off a 3-9 record. The Army fanbase has tunnel vesion around certain” non-negotiables” it seems in their minds. “The head coach has to have an Army background. We’re losing because we’re at war and taking the brunt of the fighting so that’s why recruiting isn’t good. C-USA was a mistake, never join a conference “ I don’t think there was any way Boo C could have sold the BE move to his fanbase until they had experienced some success. (7-6 and a bowl win in 2010 doesn’t truely count when you drop both badly to the other SA’s)

  13. NAAA’s finances are public record. Any digging and/or requests can find this data. For instance, Chet earned $712k in total comp (salary, bonus, perks, retirement contribution, etc) in 2010 and Ken made $1.538MM. Their gross revenues were over $35MM and net revenues (or proft) was over $1MM. NAAA has over $50MM in net assets at their disposal. These numbers modestly increase every year, but they make a profit every year.

    I could go on, but the point is that there is very little shielded. If you want to knock them for making money, then go “Occupy Ricketts.”

  14. DJ, Great comment. i will look for “occupy” tents around Ricketts next time I am on the yard.

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