Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NCF Nation [Print without images]

Thursday, May 26, 2011
Army, Navy and the Big East

By Andrea Adelson

Army and Navy are enjoying life as independents. So it stands to reason that a huge offer is going to have to be made to lure them into a conference.

Could the Big East be that conference? A recent report suggests the league has looked into the benefits of adding the service academies as football-only members. It makes sense for the Big East because both are national programs and would solve the problem of ballooning membership in basketball. But does it make sense for Navy or Army to make the move?

Navy has always been independent. Army was a member of Conference USA from 1998-2004 with disastrous results, going 13-67 so it would stand to reason the Black Knights would be way more skittish about joining a conference again -- especially a league that is even stronger than Conference USA. Consider Army is just pulling itself back to respectability after that failed experiment, making a bowl game in 2010 for the first time since 1996. Joining a conference like the Big East would no doubt set the program back.

Sure, Air Force has made conference affiliation work for it as part of the Mountain West. But it is not easy. The academies are in a unique position. They recruit nationally, and the athletes they recruit are not as big as the ones who end up going everywhere else. In the case of Navy, the program enjoys playing all over the country and would have a difficult time being hemmed into a conference with a set number of league games -- especially since Army and Air Force are locks on the schedule. Navy would want to protect its game against Notre Dame as well, the longest continuous intersectional game in college football. The two schools have met every year since 1927.

Navy has a contract with CBS to broadcast the Notre Dame game through 2016, with an option to extend through 2018. Its contract with CBS Sports College Network runs through 2017-18. Army also has a TV deal with CBS College Sports that runs through 2014. As part of those deals, every Navy and Army home football game is on national television, along with select neutral-site games. Would that be the case if both were members of the Big East? Navy has never played a mid-week home game, either, something that is commonplace in the Big East. Navy and Army also has attractive bowl partnerships in place, another advantage of being an independent.

Then there is the question of the Army-Navy game, now played the week after conference championship games. Both schools enjoy that position on the calendar because they have that Saturday all to themselves. One point to keep in mind -- the schools are not part of a package deal. Each will make its own decisions independent of the other.

None of this is to say that joining a conference would never happen. Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk has had conversations in the past with the Big East and several other leagues about potentially joining up but nothing extensive or serious.

One thing to consider is the changing landscape of college football. There is continued speculation that the AQ conferences could one day split apart and form their own organization. Navy would certainly not want to be left behind, so joining a conference could be its only way to survive. The money that comes with being a part of a conference would be tantalizing as well.

So essentially Army and Navy have to weigh their futures on the FBS level and do what makes sense for their survival. Being independent makes the most sense today, but it may not tomorrow.