Army-Navy is played on the second Saturday in December. Conference championship games are played a weekend earlier. When Navy elected to join the American Athletic Conference, it created the possibility for the somewhat unusual scenario where Navy could still have a regular season game to play after already appearing in a conference championship game. (It’s unusual for football, anyway. It happens all the time in other sports, like lacrosse). Other than the timing feeling a little weird, it isn’t really an issue since Army-Navy will be a non-conference game.
The creation of the College Football Playoff adds another layer of complexity to the whole equation, though. Not only are conference championship games played the weekend before Army-Navy, but the New Year’s 6 bowl pairings are announced as well. This could potentially create a problem. Navy, by being a member of the American, would be eligible for the New Year’s 6 bowl slot reserved for the highest-ranking Group of 5 conference champion if the Mids win the league. But how can you name the G5 representative if one of their conference champs still has a game left to play?
Pretty easily, actually. All it would take is a little bit of contingency planning.
Let’s say that the G5 bowl berth came down to Navy and Boise State as the champions of their respective conferences. This is assuming that Army-Navy even matters; it’s entirely possible that, say, a 1-loss Navy team would get the G5 nod from the committee regardless of the Army-Navy result if the other G5 champs have 3 or 4 losses apiece. But let’s assume for now that Navy and Boise State are close enough in the committee’s eyes that they’ll want to know the result of Army-Navy before deciding on the G5 representative. In that case, the two conferences and their bowls can simply work out an arrangement. If Navy wins, they can head to the Peach Bowl or whichever NY6 bowl is in the rotation, and Boise can head to the Las Vegas Bowl. If Navy doesn’t win, the Boise can go to the NY6 and Navy can head to Vegas. Piece of cake, right? The schools can even begin selling tickets to either one, and just give refunds for the game that doesn’t come to pass. It’s possible that one conference’s bowl games wouldn’t want to take another conference’s champion; a bowl contracted to the American might not want a west coast team, for example. In that case, each conference’s bowl partners can simply offer conditional invites. The AAC operates the Miami Beach Bowl anyway, so I’m sure they’d have no problem making the necessary arrangements. It’s not that hard.
Craig Thompson doesn’t want to hear that, though. He’s the commissioner of the Mountain West. You remember the Mountain West, right? They’re the conference that made special arrangements so Boise State’s home games would be sold as a different television package, all to the detriment of the league as a whole. Somewhat ironically, Thompson doesn’t want any accommodations for Army-Navy:
“All games should be done by Selection Sunday for those teams to be considered for a College Football Playoff bowl,” Thompson said.
But why? He wasn’t quoted as giving a reason in the article. Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson is also said to take issue with Army-Navy, but he’s probably only latching onto this to make his conference seem like a bigger player than it is. The two strongest conferences in the G5 are clearly the American and the Mountain West, making Thompson the likely driving force behind this story. His conference has the most to gain, and despite any reason he might give in follow-up articles on the subject, this is his true motivation.
The simplest and most reasonable course of action here would be to simply have the aforementioned contingency plans in place. Other commissioners have raised concerns that perhaps other schools would want to schedule games on the second Saturday of December, but that’s easy enough to get around. Just make a rule that nobody else can start scheduling games that weekend. Army-Navy could just be grandfathered in, since the game’s second-Saturday date precedes the creation of the College Football Playoff. It’s not as if Navy gains any kind of advantage toward gaining the G5 NY6 bowl berth by playing that weekend. If anything, playing Army-Navy the week after a conference championship game is a competitive disadvantage.
For Thompson, that’s not really the point. His “play it as it lies” stance is completely self-serving. The Army-Navy Game is a threat to his conference, and to Air Force in particular. With Navy joining the American, Army-Navy is about to become a showcase game for that conference. It’s something that no Mountain West game even comes close to matching. Not only is this exposure for the American, but it will add tremendous value to that league’s television package when it comes up for renegotiation (the AAC’s ESPN deal happens to end at the same time as Navy’s CBS deal. That’s not a coincidence). Once the true value of the total AAC TV package is realized, the MWC’s Boise-or-bust arrangement is going to look even worse than it does now. It will be harder for his conference to be competitive from top to bottom. Not only that, but Air Force clearly feels threatened by the Army-Navy game; their coaches’ Twitter accounts make that rather obvious.
There are three likely outcomes from this, with two of them being favorable to the Mountain West. If the CFP decides that Navy wouldn’t be eligible for an NY6 bowl, Thompson will have succeeded in potentially eliminating his strongest rival’s champion from consideration, paving the way for his own. If Army-Navy is forced to move, he will have succeeded in hurting his competition’s television value while scoring a recruiting win for one of his conference’s members. These types of tactics are par for the course with Thompson and the Mountain West, who you might recall worked to break up the WAC in order to prevent BYU’s athletic department from having a place to land after they left the MWC.
Thompson didn’t succeed in retaining BYU then, and he shouldn’t succeed in his transparent efforts to hamstring the Army-Navy game now. Army-Navy is the traditional end of the regular season. It’s a staple of the college football landscape, and certainly much bigger than whatever quibbles Thompson wants to raise. The third possible outcome– just having a contingency plan in place– is far more reasonable. Regardless of whatever jokes people want to make about college football and common sense, I expect sanity to prevail.