There aren’t too many examples in the sports world of the three service academies acting together as a single unit. Considering what it takes to make it happen, it’s usually a pretty big deal when it does. And nothing brings service academies together like… the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.
The commission has brought together the three service academies and the Mid-American Conference in a game to be played annually at Cleveland Browns Stadium, called the Patriot Bowl. Rumored for more than a year now, the inaugural First Merit Patriot Bowl will be played on September 1st at 6pm and will feature Army vs. Akron in the season opener for both schools.
First Merit signed a 3-year deal to be the title sponsor of the game, which is scheduled to take place over Labor Day weekend each year. Navy already has games scheduled on that weekend over the next two years (Towson in 2008 and Hawaii in 2009), so assuming that each service academy will rotate through once in the next three years, expect some schedule juggling (I’m looking at you, Towson). The MAC representative each year will be one of the confrence’s Ohio schools in an effort to maximize the game’s attendance. Attendance is a concern, too, since none of the MAC schools really set the world on fire in that category. But the commission hopes to draw 30,000 for the game by inviting teams with a national following (the service academies), and making the game the centerpiece of a weekend sports festival featuring “patriotic, civic events, including a tailgate, Cleveland Firefighters vs. Cleveland Police flag football pre-game match and spectacular halftime show.”
As far as Navy as concerned, it looks like a pretty good deal. We already play a couple of MAC teams every year anyway. If it’s only once every three years that one of those games is played in Cleveland, at a big venue, as part of a weekend festival, and with a trophy on the line (the “Cleary Trophy,” not to be confused with the ECAC hockey trophy of the same name), then it isn’t exactly a big hassle. Assuming, of course, that it’s the MAC team giving up a home date and not Navy. It almost certainly will be, since they’d want to count that attendance figure toward their averages.
No word yet on TV coverage.