Remember in the second Austin Powers movie, when Austin goes back in time and lands in the middle of a party at his apartment? There’s a woman there who was sent by Dr. Evil to kill him. She ends up getting stabbed. And shot. And hit with a bazooka. And dropped out of a window. Each time something happens to her, though, she keeps talking. “You can’t win, Powers!” Irritated, Austin Powers finally exclaims, “Why won’t you die?!”
That line pretty much sums up my feelings whenever I see a story about Navy joining a conference for football. I guess people don’t like seeing independents out there; everyone seems to have their own favorite pie-in-the-sky conference realignment master plan. Over the last four or five years I think I’ve read speculation of Navy joining the MAC, Conference USA, Big East, ACC (lol), and, after a mystery meeting at BWI, forming its own conference of “academic” football schools. The talk never seems to go away; it really is the never-ending story. It’s popped up again this week, courtesy of Mitch Vingle and the Charleston Gazette.
Of all the conference rumors, the ones involving the Big East are the most persistent. I wrote two years ago why I think that joining a conference is a bad idea for Navy. My opinion hasn’t changed, so I won’t rehash all that. But the Big East is a special case. The Big East only has 8 football schools, meaning that their conference schedules are unbalanced. A ninth football-playing member would allow each Big East school to play four home and four away games each year. That means that those athletic directors would only need to find three out-of-conference home games to fill each year to get to seven, which everyone wants in a 12-game season. So while other conference rumors come and go, Big East talk sticks around.
I don’t know if this latest chatter is something that the Big East is seriously considering or just the ramblings of a local sportswriter, but it isn’t a new idea. Basically, Army and Navy would split a “membership,” with each team playing four Big East games. This would solve the conference’s scheduling problem. As a fringe benefit, they’d get to slap a Big East logo on the field at the Army-Navy game and add a couple of teams in the Big East’s geographic footprint who at least have name recognition, even if they aren’t powerhouses. That’s all nice, but these rumors always talk about how great it would be for the Big East. Nobody seems to want to talk about it from Army or Navy’s point of view.
While I’m against conference membership in general, I wouldn’t discount this possibility too quickly. It’s important to know what exactly constitutes “membership.” Is it really a membership, or just a scheduling agreement? There’s a huge difference if you’re talking about what good this arrangement would do Army and Navy. There are a couple of things that both schools would have to get out of this deal if it’s going to be taken seriously. As with anything, money is the top priority. If Army and Navy were to have a split Big East membership, does that mean that they’d split a share of the conference’s BCS money, too? People say that Army is in no rush to join another conference after their Conference USA disaster, but if the rumors of their athletic department’s debt are true then BCS money might be enough to change their tune. Bowl game access is also important. Would Army and Navy be eligible for consideration by Big East-affiliated bowl games? Without those two concessions (at the very least), this alignment wouldn’t be worth it to the two service academies.
And there’s the problem; with those two concessions, it wouldn’t be worth it to the Big East. The whole reason that schools want seven home games is for the money. Right now, Big East schools split their BCS take 8 ways. Does the ease of scheduling 7 home games make it worth splitting BCS money 9 ways? I doubt it. As for bowl game access, with the arrangement that they already have with Notre Dame I doubt that Big East ADs are in any rush to add another chance for one of their bowl games to pick someone else.
Navy isn’t in the financial dire straits that Army allegedly is, but it’s still prudent to listen when money-making opportunities present themselves. If this “membership” is just a scheduling arrangement, though, then forget it. There’s no reason to obligate ourselves to Big East scheduling whims when we could just go out and get home & home series individually. Even a bona fide split “membership” probably isn’t worth it. Navy showed last year that it was plenty capable of grabbing Big East bowl bids on its own, and the Big East won’t offer enough money to make it worth being relegated to “half-member” status. Money is valuable, but not as much as self-determination. It isn’t like it’s some great privilege just to have any association with the Big East.
One last thing to remember is that it’s important to consider the long-term effects. Navy right now could probably be competitive in the Big East. There is one reason for that: Paul Johnson. Once Coach Johnson is gone, then what? Playing in the Big East might sound appealing to some people now, but it isn’t something that we want to be stuck with in the long term.
I actually have a soft spot for the Big East. Schools like Pittsburgh and Syracuse were on Navy schedules for generations, and there would be a nostalgic appeal to seeing those schools as regulars on Navy schedules once again. Nostalgia isn’t enough, though. Nobody has presented a convincing argument for why Navy should sign up for any kind of Big East “membership.” Until someone does, it’s best to let the idea fade away in a Charleston newspaper. Having four fewer games to schedule isn’t reason enough.