I had a great conversation with Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk earlier this afternoon, and he confirmed there is strong interest in joining the Big East.
But -- and this is a big one -- he wanted the league to get its house in order before coming to any decision.
Gladchuk confirmed that the academy and the Big East were in serious discussions about football-only membership before Pitt and Syracuse left for the ACC. But no invitation was extended. I asked what he would do if the Big East extended an invite today. He said:
"I think right now I'd be more comfortable making certain they're comfortable with themselves, and they've got a little bit of work to do."
Gladchuk said it was disconcerting to read about UConn, Rutgers and West Virginia not making full pledges to remain in the Big East. That is one of his biggest concerns moving forward.
"The Big East is in more of a reaction mode with what's happened with Pitt and Syracuse," he said. "What's critically important for the Big East is they need to stabilize the membership first and make certain the people there now will remain the core of the membership moving forward. It's awfully disconcerting to read, and you never know what's right and what's speculative, where UConn is still threatening, West Virginia still is uncertain, Rutgers is lobbying and yet the Big East is trying to make a statement with regard to its unity.
"That's really a challenge that John Marinatto has, to get everybody in the barn and really make certain that everyone is legitimately committed. They did that with the ACC. They put some conditions on membership that forced everyone to step up with fiscal penalties. Right now, I'm still feeling there's some gray area and some uncertainty with the membership. That's going to be an important dimension for us at Navy to make certain if we were to join the Big East what you see is what you get and not all of a sudden you become a part of something different down the road."
Navy also is in a unique position in that it already has its future schedules locked up for the foreseeable future, has a TV deal with CBS that runs through 2018 and comes with nonconference scheduling parameters that would involve Navy, Air Force and Army. One thing I did not mention in the story was whether or not he had concern about the future success of the football program as a member of a conference.
Army, for example, was in Conference USA for a time but did not fare well. One thing must be said: Navy is in a much better position now than Army was when it joined that league.
"It's heavy artillery, no question," Gladchuk said. "We’ve been able to massage our schedule in a way where we play four, five Big East caliber teams a year, maybe six, and others that are like us and that gives us strength of schedule. With that coming down the turnpike every Saturday, it would make it more challenging for our guys, but they always rise to the occasion and what it does, in joining the Big East, it would give the Naval Academy an even broader pool from which to recruit. We would be able to develop greater depth on our team, greater quality depth and we've seen it here even this year, we've had a number of injuries and we played South Carolina down the wire last weekend. Joining the Big East would make us better as a program, and allow us to take the next step."
Finally, I asked him to explain some of what Navy would have to work through to join a conference.
"I’ve had wonderful discussions with John Marinatto," he said. "There’s a check list of things we've gone down. We have issues as an independent that would be burdensome for the Big East. It's a two-way street. We carry the Army-Navy game, bring along the Navy–Notre Dame game, the importance of the Commander-In-Chief trophy. There's certain things that we do that can't change because it’s part of the fiber of what we’re about. We've got television now with CBS, and not ESPN, which is an issue, contractual issues with bowl games. So when you take a look at what John is dealing with, which is what we would say right the ship, when you take a look at what we've been able to generate as an independent, those are some issues and handicaps that need to be addressed before you can be talking about any conference affiliation."