Navy faces questions in rivalries

Now that Navy is set to join the Big East for football in 2015, several big questions face the academy as it considers the future of its long-running rivalries.

Among the biggest is where the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy fits on the program's priority list. Would the Trophy, given annually to the winner of the series between Navy, Army and Air Force, take a back seat to winning a Big East title?

"To me, moving into the conference, our first goal in our program is always to beat Army. Then our next goal should be to win the conference," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Tuesday in a phone interview.

"If it gets to the point because of scheduling conflicts that we can't play everybody and the schedule is going to become an issue, the Army game will never go anyplace. I'd rather keep Army and Notre Dame and not worry about the Commander-In-Chief's trophy. We're in a conference now. So we need to try to win a conference championship."

Niumatalolo emphasized he speaks for himself on this topic, and it has not come up during discussions with athletic director Chet Gladchuk or Superintendent Rear Admiral Michael H. Miller.

"That's me as the head football coach talking. I know our athletic director and our superintendent will say that will never happen. If it gets to the point where they force our hand and we have to drop some of these games, I would say Army and Notre Dame don't go anywhere."

There is no need for concern at the moment. When Navy joins the Big East for football only in 2015, the plan is to continue nonconference games against Army, Air Force and Notre Dame.

But how long the three remain on the schedule remains to be seen. No decision has been made about whether Big East teams will play eight or nine conference games in the future.

Though the Commander-In-Chief Trophy carries a huge amount of significance, Air Force did not play an annual series with Army and Navy until the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy was created in 1972.

Navy has won 12 of them -- including a record seven straight from 2003-09.

The Notre Dame-Navy series is the longest uninterrupted intersectional series in college football, having been played every year since 1927. And Army and Navy have faced each other 112 times.

Niumatalolo said that if Navy had to drop one of the games, he would prefer to keep Notre Dame on the schedule ahead of Air Force for recruiting reasons.

"For us I think (playing Notre Dame) helps our program," he said. "That has always been a big lure for us. We play Army in every sport here at the academy. In everything we do, we compete against them whether it's ping pong to football, we're going to compete against them.

"Air Force -- we play them in different sports and they're a major rival for us but if we get to that point, for me, keeping Notre Dame on our schedule is such a huge recruiting tool for us," Niumatalolo said. "When you think of college football, every kid thinks about the lure and mystique of Notre Dame. We can tell kids every other year you're going to South Bend."

That's not a battle Niumatalolo expects to win. But he says that the move to the Big East is going to require creativity.

"We're going to have to think out of the box a little bit. There might be some alumni that get mad, but I'm looking toward the future for us to compete in the Big East," he said.

"Notre Dame is a big part of keeping our program vital. It allows us to recruit people that otherwise might not look at us. They're a powerful institution. For our program, now that we're in the league, in my mind that becomes our No. 1 goal.

"If we have to give one of them away, it's not the conference championship. I'd say the Commander-in-Chief's trophy wouldn't be as important. I know I'll be getting a ton of email and phone calls on this. But I think it would be in the best interest of our program to keep those two games against Army and Notre Dame."

Andrea Adelson writes about the Big East for ESPN.com.