American Athletic Conference Media Days

The 28-29 July American Athletic Conference Media Days were always likely to fly below the radar. Never going to draw the national attention of a Bob StoopsNick Saban feud at BigXII or SEC days.

At least the famous clambake should be good for headlines – one of the top two newspapers in Hampton Roads claims “The league’s annual Newport, R.I., clambake towers above all media days.” But somehow peanuts in your cold drink at ACC days might have generated even more buzz at the college football food nexus. (Y’all Yankees really didn’t know about that?). Still, the clambake got some pretty good coverage from the new members of the conference (including  the rehashing of prior crustacean-related coverage).

In the year before Navy’s move, my interest in the event was limited to the important things:

NAVY

It would have been understandable had there been NO mention of Navy at all – plenty of work to do to build buzz for the coming season. After all, three new teams joined this month. However, I found it notable that right after welcoming those new members, Commissioner Mike Aresco talked about Navy.

As you know, Navy joins us in 2015, giving us 12 teams, and I want to recognize and thank Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk for his efforts in positioning Navy to join our conference and for his active involvement and support as we have built this league. I want to thank Vice Admiral Mike Miller, who recently retired as the superintendent of the Naval Academy. He is an outstanding gentleman who was instrumental in our league’s development and I will always treasure my warm friendship with him.

He would later bring Navy into the conversation again, when his narrative was establishing the American’s bona fides in beating so-called “Power Five” conferences. He rattled off 37 teams that have been beaten in the last five years by the 12 American members for 2015 – by my count Navy has four of those scalps. He went on to say “And that does not include multiple wins over Notre Dame.” I would have liked to watch UConn coach Bob Diaco’s face at that second.

Clearly Navy is important to Aresco’s and the American’s plans from 2015 forward.

TEMPLE

Navy does have one 2014 opponent from the American – we play Temple on 6 September for those of you who haven’t looked beyond game planning for Ohio State. With Army-Navy in Baltimore, playing Temple at the Linc allows Navy coaches to tell recruits about playing in four NFL stadia in 2014 (M&T, FEDEX, the Linc, and Qualcomm should we win 6 and go Poinsettia Bowling again). Temple was picked to finish eighth in the conference by the media. Not too surprising, given the Owls’ 2-10 (1-7) record in 2013. However, there are some marquee players: QB P.J. Walker ranked third in the conference in efficiency behind Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles as a true freshman, and Linebacker Tyler Matakevich is on some pre-season watchlists.

2015 AMERICAN WEST

I also tried to listen in on our future West Division foes. Houston looks like the team to beat there – joining ’15 East teams Cincy, UCF, and ECU in the top four. Next, our Gansz Trophy rivals from SMU at fifth. Tulane may have been picked to tie for ninth with UConn, but I will give them two sentences here because coach Curtis Johnson’s entire transcript is posted here for your reading pleasure. Every coach is brimming with optimism in July, but it is certainly nice to see the new arrival, potential cellar-dweller sound like the Commissioner does.

As for Aresco – let me reiterate what I said in my previous post – the senior leaders of the American are intent on being a top conference in college football and in college sports. Twelve months from now, Navy will join the American. It is good to know that the leadership is moving forward.

Oh – and there will be a clambake.

The more things change…

In a college-football climate made uncomfortable by the ever-growing competition of professional football and the withdrawal of more major conferences into round-robin schedules which virtually exclude the independents, these major independents were seriously considering an adventure in Togetherness.

 

There isn’t anything terribly profound about this comment until you consider that it was made in 1959. Navy football is leaving the ranks of the independents and joining a conference for the first time next year, but the question of conference membership has been around for decades.

There are more than a few lines in this old Sports Illustrated article regarding football, academics, and the NCAA that sound like they could have come out of the SI issue that’s sitting on newsstands this week.

Hi guys

You might have noticed that the last post wasn’t written by me. You’re going to see a lot more of that as we head into the new season. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to write nearly as much as I have in years past; the demands of kiddo travel soccer have finally caught up to me. The desire to write is still there, but the time won’t be. I don’t want the blog to fall off the radar, though, so I’m enlisting the help of a bunch of new writers to keep the conversation going. I’ll leave it to them to introduce themselves as they see fit.

In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out ways to contribute on a compressed schedule. I’m not going away, much to the chagrin of Air Force fans everywhere. And you’ll always find me running my yap on Twitter @navybirddog.

American Athletic Conference in 2014…and beyond…

Anyone else holding his breath when Brigham Young head football coach Bronco Mendenhall made a blatant pitch for Big 12 membership? Fortunately, we didn’t have to hold our breath long before Big12 athletic directors firmly stated that the Big12 was not interested in expansion. Navy football fans are spared another white-knuckle offseason of conference re-alignment. For the moment, the college football landscape will remain unchanged.

That’s not to say that the current conference alignment and College Football Playoff will last forever. I won’t predict the exact shape or the timeline, but the five College Football Playoff conferences will likely grow richer and increase their separation from the Group of Five. Until then, the American can work toward success in the current picture.
American commissioner Mike Aresco appears to be committed to fighting for the top of the heap in the Group of Five. The American claims the reigning mens’ and womens’ basketball champions, both at Connecticut, but football remains the straw that stirs the drink. “We’re going to talk a lot about the position of our conference as we move forward because I think we can position ourselves as a power conference,” Aresco said. “I see no reason why we can’t.”

The American closed out the BCS era in style, with UCF beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. In order to start the College Football Playoff era well, the 2014 American Athletic Conference champion needs to be ranked ahead of the other Group of Five champions to get the access bowl bid. The perception and money that comes with that can maintain momentum. A bid to the Fiesta/Chick-fil-A/Cotton Bowl for Cincinnati, UCF, Houston, or ECU will keep Navy and the American as well positioned as they can expect for the next upheaval in conference alignment.

Signing Day

Today is football’s NLI Signing Day. Most schools participate in the National Letter of Intent program, and Signing Day is the first day that recruits can sign those binding letters and fax them off to the schools to which they’re committing. The service academies don’t participate in the NLI program, so their process is a little different. We won’t see the official list of Navy recruits until after I-Day, although Bill Wagner usually publishes a pretty extensive list by the end of the week. Even that isn’t comprehensive, though, since a lot of official visits to Navy come in the weekends after Signing Day. Sometimes guys hold out hope for offers that never come, and wait until then to visit. Of course, the opposite is true too; sometimes a last-minute switch by a recruit leaves a school short, and they offer a scholarship to guys who had given a verbal pledge to Navy. It’s just the way it goes. Hopefully we’re all well-adjusted enough not to take the life decisions of 18-year-olds personally, and aren’t surprised when they sometimes change their minds.

Even though Signing Day doesn’t have any kind of official significance at Navy, it’s still important. High schools around the country have Signing Day ceremonies to celebrate the scholarships earned by their students, and USNA sends certificates for recruits to sign so they can participate along with their teammates. It’s a symbolic gesture, but considering what these Navy recruits are committing to beyond just football, it’s good to make sure that they’re recognized.

That commitment, of course, is to become an officer in the Naval Service upon graduation. It’s a mature decision for someone coming out of high school, and some guys have second thoughts about why they are coming to Annapolis. Is it right to come to the Naval Academy when your primary reason is to play a sport? Critics of Division I athletics (especially football) at service academies are quick to ask that question too, claiming that athletes are admitted over other candidates that are more deserving or more dedicated to a career of service. It’s a reasonable question to ask. To find the answer, though, one needs to look no farther than the school’s mission statement:

To develop Midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.

(For those Navy recruits that end up reading this, do yourself a favor and memorize that now. Trust me. )

The school’s mission is not to admit candidates already dedicated to naval service. The mission is to imbue midshipmen with those ideals after they’ve arrived. Graduates need to be dedicated, not candidates. You might argue that those gung-ho about the Navy at age 18 might be more likely to end up as a career officer, but that isn’t true. They can’t be; nobody coming out of high school understands what being a naval officer even means. There’s a cliche at the Academy about how the guys who’d swear they would be in for life end up getting out as soon as their commitment is up, and the guys who’d swear they would get out as soon as possible end up becoming admirals. There’s some truth to that. You can’t know if it’s for you until you’ve experienced the life of a naval officer for yourself.

The truth is that there is no wrong reason to come to the Naval Academy. Coming to play a sport? Awesome. Like the academic reputation of the school? Sounds good. Chose USNA because it’s free? Welcome aboard. None of those are the same as saying that you’re ready to make a career out of the Navy, but I’d be willing to bet that a large percentage of the 1000+ plebes raising their right hands on I-Day will do so for one of those reasons, just like they do every year. Those reasons are as valid as any. What matters isn’t how freshmen feel on day one, but rather what they think after year four.

Some people will love the Navy or Marine Corps and serve for 30 years. Some will find that it’s not for them, and use their military experience to get ahead in a civilian career. That’s fine too. The important thing is that there are people out there willing to give this Navy thing a shot, and we should celebrate all those who took the first step today.

Beat Army!

Coach Niumatalolo inducted into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame

The induction ceremony for the inaugural class of the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame was held last night in Honolulu. Among the honorees was Navy’s own Ken Niumatalolo, who was enshrined along with other Polynesian luminaries like Junior Seau, Kurt Gouvea, Olin Kreutz, and Kevin Mawae. It’s an extremely impressive list, which comes as no surprise considering the rich history of Polynesians in football. For Coach Niumatalolo to be included in the first-ever class is a real honor, and a testament to how respected he is in the Polynesian community. I had a chance to witness that respect first-hand at the Poinsettia Bowl luncheon in 2007, right after Coach Niumatalolo was named head coach. He had just become the first Samoan head coach in college football history, and every Polynesian player on Utah’s roster wanted their picture taken with him after the event was over. It was a proud moment for this Navy fan to see our coach held in such high esteem.

Coach Niumatalolo wasn’t honored just for being first, though. He was honored because he wins, and does so in a way that gives credit to the school.

Here’s the enshrinement video they played at the ceremony:

Navy’s other bowl game

With 10 bowl appearances since 2003, it isn’t unusual for the Navy team to get a bit of national attention during the college football postseason. This year, though, the team wasn’t the only part of the Navy program to have its moment in the spotlight. While the Mids were in Texas preparing to take on Middle Tennessee State, the building they call home was playing host to Marshall and Maryland in the Military Bowl.

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