The United States Military Academy (Army) and the United States Naval Academy (Navy) are meeting today for the 119th version of the Army-Navy Game. This year, they are playing the game in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field.
The game is traditionally played after all other FBS football games have been played, just in case Navy, as a member of the American Athletic Conference, qualifies for its conference championship game, which they did in 2016. This season, however, was a down year for the Midshipmen, and they enter the game with a losing record.
The Army Black Knights enter the game with a 9-2 record, while the Midshipmen are 3-9 (2-6 American). Both teams rank at the bottom of the country in passing (Army is 128th, Navy is 129th) and near the top in rushing (Army is 2nd, Navy is 3rd), remaining among the few teams that use the run option.
I’m not really going to go over all the stats because this game doesn’t really matter in the national football picture. It’s a quaint rivalry game between a couple of teams with a long history – and an ancient history filled with legends of the game – but teams that haven’t mattered in the national discussion for a long time. (Though if Army wins this game, they’ll clinch the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the second year in a row).
Instead, I want to talk about what the service academies should represent as football teams, especially if they are going to continue to play football at the FBS level (but not really compete for the College Football Playoff). The first step is to remove them from conference affiliation, especially in football.
Army is currently a football independent (they play in the Patriot League with Navy in most other sports), so they’re already on the path I’ll outline in a moment. Navy plays in the American Athletic Conference for football, while the Air Force Academy belongs to the Mountain West in all sports. While a conference affiliation eases the scheduling burden – and can increase the quality of teams played some seasons – it also limits the ability of these football teams to be used for what should be their true purpose: community outreach about our armed forces.
I get that independence is hard; I have made the argument that it has ruined BYU football. It’s also the reason why Army’s last two games were against FCS opponents from the Patriot League, as it becomes difficult to find late season opponents that are free from conference obligations. But if Notre Dame – albeit a premier program with a scheduling agreement with the ACC – can make it work and play a schedule full of major conference teams. Some years they get lucky with teams that are having off seasons and go 12-0, like this year. Other times, they are the team that has an off year, or they play Boston College or Michigan State when they are really good.
A Solution of Sorts
To ease late schedule seasoning, I think it is reasonable to have a scheduling agreement with other, regional conferences similar to Notre Dame’s arrangement with the ACC. You could even use it as a means of bowl qualification at the end of the season – though I have another proposal regarding service academy bowl games. But the service academies should be “independent” in football.
I’d propose that you set it up like this: Air Force remains a member of the Mountain West in all sports but football, and they have an agreement to schedule 4-5 games against Mountain West teams every season. The same goes for Navy (American Conference) and Army (MAC or Conference USA). This would allow for Air Force to play some of those long standing rivalries going back to the WAC days (I really miss the WAC, by the way), while also providing the flexibility for the next part of the “fix.”
Football as Morale
Let’s say each of these teams now has seven games to schedule outside of these conference arrangements. Two of those games will be filled by playing the other two service academies as part of the annual competition for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. The other five games should be used as morale events at military bases around the world. It’s cool to see the teams play in front of their cadets in their home stadiums (though odd that Air Force played a Friday game the day after Thanksgiving at home this year with all the cadets home for the holiday), and the academies will still get 5-6 home games a year from the conference affiliation games and other games.
But I don’t know why the academies don’t do cool things for the troops stationed around the world. Why can’t Navy play Washington in front of the service members and their families in Japan? Or send Army and some east coast team to Germany or Italy to play in front of the troops there? I’m not saying that we send teams into war zones, but I think it would be neat to see service members in uniform in the stands cheering on a football game live, something that they don’t get to do away from the United States.
Finally, scheduling could be used as a means to get these teams in front of interested parties near large military bases in the states. Army can play a game versus Texas-El Paso near Fort Hood and invite the soldiers from the base to the game for free. Navy could play in San Diego or Air Force in Dayton (Wright-Patterson AFB) to involve their communities in the games. They don’t necessarily have to be games against those colleges either (though that would help with filling the stands beyond the local base).
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what a possible schedule for a newly independent Navy could look like:
- Week “0” Game against Washington in Japan
- Week 2 at home against American Conference team (midshipmen!)
- Week 3 at San Diego State (the fleet!)
- Week 4 (first weekend of October) – neutral site for Air Force (rotate the game annually between Denver (AF) and the capital region (Navy)
- Week 5 at home against Notre Dame
- Week 6 road game against Hawaii (Pearl Harbor! The fleet!)
- Fill out the rest of the schedule with remainder of American Conference obligation and “fleet” games (Norfolk, VA; Jacksonville, FL; etc)
- Week 15 – Army
I would also reserve three bowl games for the service academies every year, and they automatically qualify should they meet qualification standards (or don’t end up in a fancier bowl elsewhere):
- Navy – Maybe put this one in front of the midshipmen in Annapolis, or travel around to be near bases that don’t have games earlier that season
- Army – I’d play this one in North Carolina (Fort Bragg) or maybe Louisville (Fort Campbell).
- Air Force – Maybe Georgia? (Warner Robbins AFB) or South Carolina (Shaw AFB) if you want warmer weather, or southern Illinois/St. Louis (Scott AFB) for a larger population.
Like the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, they could be sponsored by defense contractors. Or, to stick with the morale and family theme, USAA, Navy Federal Credit Union, or a veteran or service member charity, like Wounded Warrior Project could as well. Just a thought.
Back to today’s game as I end.
Army has won the past two Army-Navy Games. This came after losing 14 games in a row to the Naval Academy, so Army wants to keep their little streak going. I was in the Army Reserve from 2000 to 2011, and Army won one time against Navy. ONCE!
Navy can’t go to a bowl game this year, so this is like their bowl game on the year. Army, on the other hand, will be heading to Fort Worth to face Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl in two weeks. I thought for sure that they would have to wait until a possible win against Navy to reach 8 wins against FBS opponents this season before they got an invite, but apparently they didn’t want to wait.
The best team Army beat this season was a 10-3 Buffalo Bulls team that just lost the Conference USA title, and they managed to force Oklahoma (12-1) to overtime before losing 28-21. Otherwise, their other FBS opponents had an overall record of 40-45, a 0.471 winning percentage. As bad as Navy’s season has been, at least their non-undefeated opponents (Notre Dame and UCF) had an overall record of 61-49 (0.555), partially explaining the Middies issues this season.
All that said… GO ARMY BEAT NAVY