Nothing You Haven’t Already Heard

By far the longest-running debate among service academy sports fans is whether or not players from USNA, USMA, and USAFA should be allowed to pursue professional sports careers after graduation. That scab is getting picked once again as Army safety Caleb Campbell and punter Owen Tolson participate in the NFL Scouting Combine, hoping to catch the eyes of NFL scouts and general managers. Campbell and Tolson, if they are indeed drafted, will be eligible to play right away. That little nugget is thanks to the Army’s “Alternative Service Option,” which went into effect in March of 2005. A recommendation from one of the panels that USMA put together to figure out a way to resurrect its football program, West Point describes the Alternative Service Option like so:

ALTERNATIVE PROFESSIONAL OPTIONS: Army cadet-athletes now have options to pursue professional athletic opportunities thanks to the U.S. Army’s Alternative Service Option program. If cadet-athletes are accepted into the program, they will owe two years of active service in the Army, during which time they will be allowed to play their sport in the player development systems of their respective organizations and assigned to recruiting stations. If they remain in professional sports following those two years, they will be provided the option of “buying out” the remaining three years of their active-duty commitment in exchange for six years of reserve time.

This reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart has a vision of the future. In this vision, Lisa has been elected President and needs to raise taxes due to a budget emergency. Fearing the unpopularity of a tax increase, she decides to call it a “refund adjustment.” “Alternative service” is the same kind of euphemism. Let’s be real, here; playing ball full-time for two years while shaking hands at a couple of recruiting events isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when people think “service.” It’s apparently good enough for West Point, though, which strangely has the most lax policy of the three Division I service academies despite the Army’s much-publicized manning challenges. How they are making this work after the new Department of Defense policy for all three schools took effect, I have no idea. But it’s clear that Owen Tolson believes that he’ll be playing pro ball if he gets drafted:

When Caleb and I make an NFL roster it will be the result of  the work the West Point administration has gone through to ensure that Army Football, West Point, and the United States Army are represented in professional football…

…I hope that Caleb and I can pave the way for future Army football players and other service academy football players seeking to accomplish their goals; the same goals we all have growing up as kids: playing professional sports. 

Army has already had a couple of baseball players take advantage of this opportunity. Like it or not, it appears that Army is now firing up their pro football pipeline. And with that, the old debate begins anew. I’m sure you can already tell by my tone where I stand on the issue.  

The argument in favor of allowing service academy athletes to turn pro is simple: good publicity. Professional sports, people say, offer tremendous exposure. Even the DoD policy talks about the “potential recruiting or public affairs benefits for the Department.” But how much exposure are we really talking about? Everyone points to the David Robinson example, but Robinson was one of the greatest players in the history of his sport. Before Robinson ever set foot on an NBA court he was already a world champion, Olympic medalist, Wooden Award winner, and winner of the US Basketball Writers’ Association and Naismith College Player of the Year awards. Robinson would go on to be a 10-time NBA All-Star, league MVP, 1990 Rookie of the Year, 1992 Defensive Player of the Year, 2-time NBA champion, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, Olympic Dream Team member and 2-time gold medalist, and 2001 NBA Sportsmanship Award winner. In 1996 he was named by the NBA as one of the 50 greatest players in league history. He even had a video game named after him. Now that’s exposure, and a far cry from being some anonymous punter or a pitcher for the Everett Aqua Sox. No comparison to David Robinson is even close to being valid until we see copies of Owen Tolson’s Hang Time Punting for Playstation showing up at your local Circuit City. Service academies have actually had quite a few players in the pros over the years, but you never hear of them unless they get arrested (Bryce Fisher) or have a classmate smear them in the newspaper (Kyle Eckel). And even then some of you who aren’t die-hard service academy fans probably don’t know what I’m talking about with those two. The only player in recent memory who remotely approximates Robinson’s level of exposure is Air Force’s Chad Hennings.

Hennings won the Outland Trophy as college football’s most outstanding interior lineman in 1987, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He would go on to earn three Super Bowl rings as a member of the Dallas Cowboys after spending four years on active duty flying A-10s. He was a definite favorite of television broadcast teams, who loved to talk about Hennings’ experience flying Warthogs over Iraq. There is no doubt that Hennings’ time in the NFL was a tremendous boost for Air Force recruiting and public relations.

But there’s the rub. Hennings wasn’t praised for simply attending the Air Force Academy. He gained attention for what he spent four years doing on active duty. That’s why he had credibility as a recruiting tool– his experience reflected what Air Force officers actually do. How can someone who has done nothing but play baseball have any value as a recruiter? What good is it to be seen when you aren’t doing anything that resembles the work that recruiters are trying to sell to potential candidates? Without the exceptional athletic achievement of Robinson or the military achievement of Hennings, “exposure” benefits from pro athletes are just a myth.

Not recruiting duty.

Not only that, but the Department of Defense policy linked above requires two years of active duty service prior to joining the reserves for a reason. Service academy graduates aren’t exactly polished fighting machines the moment they throw their caps in the air at graduation. They usually attend a follow-on school to train for their chosen specialty, then move on to their first duty station to carry out what they’ve learned. Except for flight school (which takes longer), this process usually takes about two years. If you put someone into the reserves before then, or if they’ve done nothing but play football for their two years of active duty time, then they won’t be qualified to actually do anything if they get called up. That’s what the reserves are supposed to be ready to do, right? Provide trained citizens ready to fight when called upon? It’s that whole “trained” part that suffers when a player turns pro.

I’m not so sure that all of the exposure would be positive, either. If you think about it, what the Army is doing is really the opposite of the Pat Tillman story. Tillman left the life of an NFL athlete to join the Army because he wanted to make a difference after 9/11. When compared to this example, the idea that there’s good exposure to be had from service academy graduates trading their active duty obligation for NFL fame is extremely questionable. Someone is going to contrast the two situations, and it isn’t going to look good.

The coaches want to allow players to pursue pro careers because it would make their recruiting jobs easier. Very few college recruits will move on to the NFL, but most of them think they have a chance. Coaches would love to be able to tell them that they can have their shot even if they come to a service academy. But there could be some unforseen consequences in that sales pitch. Do we really want to convince kids to come to a service academy based on the ways they have to avoid active duty? Yeah, no problems there. Talk about a recipe for bad attitudes.

Make no mistake– winning is important. It increases coverage of the school, brings in money to the athletic department through increased attandance and television, and projects an overall image of excellence. But as important as it is to win, some costs are just too high.

57 thoughts on “Nothing You Haven’t Already Heard

  1. Rob

    What I MIGHT support is players refunding the four years at the academy plus the present value of the remaining time of their commitment, whatever that may be. As an example, say the bill is 1 million. If an athlete is good enough to have a team come in and write a check to the .Gov to buy him out, I can stomach letting him go. I can handle watching TV and the announcer saying that the Dallas Cowboys paid the government 1 Million dollars to buy out his military service. I would argue that under this policy, the only Navy professional players would have been David Robinson and Napoleon McCallum.

  2. The 17th Goat

    While I respect the Woops initiative to improve its program, it’s shameful that the Army isn’t even considering letting any cadets transfer to another service this year, yet they are fully prepared to let two go to the NFL.

    Two more IAs for you, Navy.

  3. Navy86

    Great post; surprising Army policy. I would have bet money that something like this would have come out of Colorado Springs instead.

    It’s an interesting debate. On one hand, what’s the impact of one or two players using this policy every three or four years?

    On the other hand, as The 17th Goat pointed out, it seems to be in conflict with other opportunities for graduating cadets.

    As a football fan, I’d love to see all the academies offer their players an immediate shot at pro ball. However as a grad (and taxpayer), I don’t want to see cadets and midshipmen trying to avoid their service for a game.

  4. NavyFan

    Ask any coach at any one of the service academies and they will openly admit that 99% of their players come in because of the opportunity to play Division 1 football. Pat Tillman was a grown man when he felt his “calling” not a 17 year old kid. As long as the government is reimbursed (as Rob suggested) this should be seen as a positive not a negative. Also, I believe Chad Hennings only served two years while David Robinson served one.

  5. thebirddog

    There’s nothing wrong with coming to play Division I football. I’ve written as much. But they also come with the understanding that they have a commitment when they’re done. There is no comparison here, and I don’t see what age has to do with anything.

    You can only reimburse money. You can’t reimburse the wasted time and effort that was spent educating someone, especially when you consider how many qualified candidates get turned down each year. And that’s for “positives” that are suspect at best.

    Hennings graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1988, spent four years on active duty, and played his first season with the Cowboys in 1992. Robinson graduated in 1987 and played his first NBA season in 89-90.

  6. Rob

    Bird Dog,

    Actually, you can reimburse wasted time and effort spent educating someone and the lost opportunity of the 2 candidates per decade that would have got the slot that the bought out midshipman occupied.

    You can price that. The education is worth 250K tops and I added another 750K to capture all the costs you pointed out. I think it is fair. Your not going to have great players that are NFL bound all of a sudden showing up at the Academy.

    Speaking of missing slots……You can tell me with a straight face that there is no unsuccessful candidate more deserving of an appointment than any of the football players from NAPS that never get off the JV team and spend their 4 years going to ac-boards?

    Guys that don’t get scholarships elsewhere can come to the academy and play knowing that if they turned into some All-American player and an NFL team ponied up 1 Million, they can go to the NFL. That’s all.

    A good football team is important for morale

  7. thebirddog

    You can put a price tag on it, but that doesn’t mean you’ve truly reimbursed the Navy. No lump of cash is going to stand the midwatch. The Navy needs officers, and they’ll be getting one less after giving up one of its valuable appointments to create a pro football player instead of a naval officer.

    I don’t know what point you’re trying to make about unsuccessful candidates.

  8. thebirddog

    I actually disagree with that. The manning needs are different for each of the services. IMO it should be on a case-by-case basis and at the discretion of the individual service secretary.

  9. Rob

    “especially when you consider how many qualified candidates get turned down each year. ”

    That is what I mean about unsuccessful candidates.

    I’m trying to make the point that people are being turned down right now for football players that wouldn’t normally get into the academy and yet will not see 1 minute of Div 1 playing time.

    “No lump of cash is going to stand the midwatch.”

    This is a lazy arguement. We are not short officers. If anything, there are too many.

    Let’s just say we are short officers. 750K can put 6 kids through ROTC or 3 through the academy.

    So if you let the player out, the Navy is short 1 outstanding football player that can go right into the NFL and long 3-6 officers that will matricualte in 4 years.

  10. NavyFan

    “they come with the understanding that they have a commitment when they are done.”

    Agreed, but 17 year old kids also come with hopes and dreams which is why comparing a high school football playing senior to Pat Tillman is unfair. The percentage of college players who make it to the NFL is miniscule (something like .8%) but if one of those select few happens to come from Army or Navy or Air Force so be it. Let’s celebrate their success and take advantage of the recruiting opportunities that will come our way because of it. Not only is a good football team important for morale, the revenues pay for all other sports combined.

  11. thebirddog

    I know that people are being turned down for football players. Being a football player is part of the whole person concept and is a good thing. As long as those football players end up serving their obligation, I don’t see what the problem is. My point in what I said is that we would be turning away people who want a chance to serve in favor of someone who will not.

    As for my (admittedly) lazy argument… You are making a fine case for reducing the size of the school more than letting “excess” grads go after 4 years. And if we are faced with a time when we are truly short on officers, I would make the argument that one officer ready to serve now can be more valuable than 3 who will be ready 4 years from now.

  12. thebirddog

    NavyFan, it’s about perception. It doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not, and frankly I don’t even think it IS unfair.

    How much of the allure of the Army-Navy game is because the seniors in that game are playing for the last time before serving together? How much of Navy’s national appeal is derived from the fact that they will all serve? You’ll be throwing away a lot more than you think.

    And again, the “recruiting opportunities” are a fairy tale.

  13. Has there ever been the idea of a policy based off deployment and not years? That is to say after graduation you go to your school, then to your unit, do a deployment, and then your case is reviewed?

    This debate aside, Campbell had a good combine today.

  14. thelegacyx4

    Now I have a simple question. How did Robinson pay back his time? Wasn’t he a recruiter? Was that ok just because he was really good at basketball and these Army guys are in positions that aren’t looked highly upon?

  15. Rob

    Bird Dog,

    Football is part of the whole person concept. I don’t disagree with you, but be honest, you know football counts much more than squash, track, or tennis when constructing the “Whole Person” for admission decisions.

    We either let the truly good ones go or we are going to constantly be subjected to unpleasant situations as these guys try to shirk their commitment.

    I think their should be a price tag. I think West Point should tell their punter “Good luck in the Combine. If you can get a team to write the Gov a check for $1 Million, we’ll let you go play football.” Teams will draft anybody on the off chance they turn into something. Charge a million dollars, and they will only pick the good players.

  16. thebirddog

    Robinson made a special arrangement with the Secretary of the Navy. He spent two years on active duty in the Civil Engineering Corps. Once he started playing for the Spurs, he was active in public affairs and recruiting. I still remember some of his TV ads… “I’m not just NBA All-Star David Robinson. I’m also Navy Lieutenant David Robinson! And I couldn’t do that on drugs!”

    The difference between Robinson and these Army players, other than sitting out for two years, is that Robinson was almost a household name. His words carried weight. He played on the US National Team while still a midshipman. It was clear that he was a once-in-a-lifetime talent that the Navy could capitalize on. You can’t say that about a couple of guys just hoping to get drafted.

  17. Rob

    “It was clear that he was a once-in-a-lifetime talent that the Navy could capitalize on. You can’t say that about a couple of guys just hoping to get drafted.”

    Which is why you make the price of shirking your commitment very high. Teams will pay for Robinson talent. They won’t pay for Army punters.

  18. thebirddog

    Rob, I still don’t see the connection that you’re trying to make. Yes, football gets more “blue chips” than squash or tennis. But the team is also a hell of a lot bigger. Football is definitely not the only sport that gets blue chips with the admissions board. And I mean more than just basketball and lacrosse, too. But what does that have to do with what we’re talking about? There are “unpleasant situations” with athletes and non-athletes alike. That wouldn’t change even if your proposal came to fruition.

    Besides, your proposal might even be illegal… How can the government charge $1 million for an athlete to buy out his contract when a regular mid only gets charged $250K?

  19. thebirddog

    By the way, Rob–

    Get your own damn blog, and you can say whatever you’d like to, too. It’s my long-standing policy that anyone who disagrees with me isn’t a real Navy fan.

    Sail safe!

  20. NavyFan


    We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this point but please don’t dismiss the Army players as just “a couple of guys hoping to get drafted.” As high school athletes these guys were willing to put in the amount of time necessary to reach a high enough level to be considered viable candidates for a Division I school. They also had to be excellent students to meet Army’s admissions requirements. Then they had to excel at the Division I level be invited to the NFL combine. Those invites are hard to come by considering 3,000 football players are leaving college this year and the combine only invites 300. I hope that the success of these two Army football players reflects favorably on the quality of recruits that the service academies are able to bring in (the perception is that we get the players no one else wants) as well as on the quality of coaching they receive once they get here.

  21. football dad dan

    Rob, … Having spent about 6 years as a volunteer Blue & Gold Officer (while still serving actively), I can tell you that there were lots of “more qualified” USNA candidates that missed out on an appointment due to lesser qualified kids getting the nod (to meet racial/gender “quotas” and political favors) than just due to the football players you have targeted in your argument. That’s opening a Pandora’s box that probably is best left covered in this forum. Of course, when you state “more qualified”, … is your reference point those candidates with the highest possible GPA’s & SAT scores? … Because if so, that would’ve made ADM Rickover happy, but it’s not in keeping with the “whole man” concept the SA’s are looking for –> Future Leaders of men @ sea!
    In that light, … Football players & other team athletes are considerably more qualified than most H.S. validictorians. Where else in the modern age high school environment can LEADERSHIP better be displayed/evaluated than in team sports (especially on the gridiron)??? In addition to the physical fitness aspect of playing sports, … the leadership potential evident is why the Academy tends to focus on H.S. sports as a big positive in screening candidates, … and why the Navy coaches try to find those “diamonds in the rough” recruits who can handle the academic side of the Academy as well.
    tbd is right —> The vast number of Navy athletes understand the service committment coming in, … and the very small percentage of those that opt to leave prior to the start of 2nd Class year tell you they overwhelmingly chose the post graduation service obligation that is owed the country. That is, and should continue to be the foundation of the Service Academies. What West Point is doing w/ this “pro-plan” & what the AFA has done with this “permanent” coaching positions undermines that foundation.

  22. football dad dan

    thelegacyx4 … To answer your query, David Robinson had to also serve in the inactive Navy reserves a number of years (I think 6?) in addition to his two years of active duty to complete his service obligation. If he was still under that inactive reserves “window” during this curent Iraq conflict, he would have most likely been recalled to active duty as part of that committment.

  23. Rob

    I said that they can pay it back.

    You said: ” You can’t reimburse the wasted time and effort that was spent educating someone, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU CONSIDER HOW MANY QUALIFIED CANDIDATES GET TURNED DOWN EACH YEAR.”

    You are clearly bringing in the idea that if you let someone attend the Academy to play football and they get of the commitment, one more qualified candidate that could be standing watch would not have gone to the Academy.

    To which I responded that the Academy already turns down qualified candidates to make space for lesser qualified football players. Football players who get separated academically at a pretty high rate. I don’t have the stats and neither do you, but I know what I saw when I was there.

    Look, I support football. I like the idea of having a good team. I like how it generates revenue and pays for other sports and it doesn’t particularly bother me when a player gets out of their service as long as they pay up. If it was tiddly-winks it wouldn’t care as long as they paid their 250K

    I don’t understand what you are trying do here. In your last comment you said “A regular mid only gets charged 250K.” So why is it ok that a regular mid can pay 250K and take off but it is bad when a football player does it to play in the NFL?

    What I’m arguing is that the Navy shouldn’t try to accomodate the players. Pay your 250K and your out. Don’t pay 250K and you are a regular officer, have fun in the Persian Gulf. If they are actually good enough, teams will pay for them.

    This is your gripe with USAFA and USMA, right? That their services accomodate players without making them buy out of service.

    Or is it that you can’t tell your friends that Service Academy football is about the purity of the game and all these players have decided to serve their country instead of play in the NFL?

  24. Rob

    Bird Dog, I’m not trying to be rude. You run a great blog and I am too lazy to write one myself.

    It’s just that there are scams all over the place. My own roomate hurt his shoulder. Still get flight school. Hurt his shoulder again the first week and spent the next 2 years in P-Cola TAD and rehabbing. Navy gave up and sent him to Swos for 6 months. Finally gets to a ship and does 9 months before he is picked up for the Law program. 3 years of Law school paid by the Navy while they are still paying him a salary. 6 years and change of salary and 3 yrs of Law school tuition for nine months of work.

  25. NavyFan

    Any of you that have served on AD understand that we do not serve in cookie-cutter services. There are Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen in all types of programs and assignments that have them less than decisively engaged. It does nothing to detract or demean the services to allow these athletes the opportunity to pursue a professional sports opportunity. By the way, what percentage are we talking about here, less than 1/2 of 1%?

    Some of you may feel that it’s chipping away at the cultural foundation of military academies, but I disagree.

  26. I like it. It’s will effect only 1-2 players every few years. The SA’s offers deals to grads who want and qualify to pursue doctor, law and Rhode scolarship degrees. I think it’s great when an SA academy represents their schools like Staubach, Robinson, Mc Callum and Henning did in the pros. I prefer they represent themselves as Navy grads (If the navy adopted this) than opting out like Max Lane & Wahl did. There is no downside as far as I’m concerned since it will effect so few and offer more athletes the chance to “be all they can be “. I’m not a service academy grad but my cousin graduated WP. He likes it since he thinks there are too many “geeks” in today’s WP and not enough jocks. Again it will effect so few I think it should be adopted by all SA.

  27. jgish92

    I am a fence sitter on this one. I have stated on the gomids board a number of times that the only reason that I attended USNA is because I watched David Robinson and asked my father what this “Naval Academy” thing was all about. I was one of those people who, while growing up, thought Army-Navy game was between soldiers and sailors. I had no clue. Had no exposure to the place; didn’t grow up dreaming of being a pilot or astronaut. So, who knows, maybe there is a 13 year old kid in Boston area, wearing a Patriots hat, asking his dad what this “Naval Academy” thing is all about.

    I think offering a buyout is a Pandora’s box. Particularly in a time of an unpopular war where military folks are dying. Do we offer a buyout for a midshipman (or, more likely, an AF cadet) who is an exceptional ballet dancer and has an offer to tour with a Russian ballet company? How do you define exposure?

    I think it is best left to the judgment of SecNav on a case by case basis.

  28. thebirddog

    “You are clearly bringing in the idea that if you let someone attend the Academy to play football and they get of the commitment, one more qualified candidate that could be standing watch would not have gone to the Academy.”

    That’s right. But I’m not worried about the front end. I’m worried about the back end. If these players go on to graduate and serve their commitment, then there isn’t a problem.

    And you are wrong about all these football players failing out. The last NCAA report on graduation success rate had Navy at 98%. There is no way that the Brigade at large graduates at the same pace.

    Click to access 726.pdf

    In the end, it looks like you want to maintain the status quo. Which is what I want. So what the hell are we talking about?

  29. thebirddog

    “The SA’s offers deals to grads who want and qualify to pursue doctor, law and Rhode scolarship degrees.”

    Yeah, but after they get them they aren’t allowed to go practice law full-time while “recruiting” in the reserves.

  30. 85er

    My problem with Army’s 2-year deal is that it really eliminates one of the things that makes service academy football so great. Football players at these schools don’t just share a school with their classmates, they share a profession.
    For these ball players, there are (or should) no illusions about the future. These guys are not playing for a spot on an NFL roster. Football is, for most of them, a game — a game to be played while they pursue a common career of service.
    I didn’t play football at Navy. My classmates and future shipmates did, and quite frankly, I am convinced that the football experience made them better officers and men. I am proud to have served with each of them.
    Yes, I know that each football player may play for a different reason. But players at the service academy should be under no illusions of why they are called midshipmen or cadets.

  31. Rob

    I’m not saying the graduation success rate is wrong, but I would like to see how they calculate the service academies. The NCAA considers an athlete receiving tuition assistance as a student athlete. By that definition, we have no student athletes at the SA’s. Also, I believe that transfers that eventually graduate at other institutions are considered successes. Comparing this to the student body as a whole at 87% which includes people who quit, got kicked out for drinking, got hurt, etc… isn’t really apples to apples. In my four years there, there were 7 academic separations within my company. 3 of those were football players.

    This is just an anecdote: I failed my only class first semester, firstie year. Thermo. I had to take it over the second semester. The class was me and 4-5 other regular mids and the rest was football players. The prof gave us all the questions before the tests and quizzes. Before the common final, the prof said to us “If there is anything on the exam that you don’t think I covered, just skip it and write ‘not covered’ in the answer blank and I won’t grade it.” Everybody got an A. I got an F in the fall, came back next semester, took this class, did less work and ended up with an A.

    I also seem to remember football players getting preference scheduling classes….

    I’m not against football. I think having a good football has quite a bit of intangible and tangible benefits to academies. I also think they have a harder time at the Academy than the rest of us between practices, lifting, game film, etc…

    It is what it is though. Academics are lighter and professional requirements are lighter. There is only so much time in a day. I’m also very interested in seeing the graduation success rate underlying data.

  32. thebirddog

    Football players have a high profile in the Brigade. When one of them goes to an ac board or gets kicked out, it’s a lot more visible than when the same happens to Joe Mid.

  33. Parent of 2008 Recruit

    I am the parent of a new “direct entry” recruit. I discovered this blog when I googled Navy Football – the link came up and I saw my son’s name. I’ve been a Birddog fan ever since and especially enjoyed reading “Life on the Outside”. But “Nothing You Haven’t Already Heard” hits very close to home so here are my thoughts – for whatever they’re worth.

    After almost two years of recruiting madness my son held four Division I offers – one of which was Navy. So we took four visits and while my son liked the other schools well enough, Annapolis just blew him away. He verbally committed to Coach Niumatalolo before leaving to come home and he never waivered. Thus, on Feb 6 he signed a letter of intent (academy version) and officially became a Midshipman.

    He is so excited, I can’t begin to tell you and his rationale for chosing Navy over the other Division I programs was this:

    1) A better fit. He liked the facilities better, the coaches better, and the other players better than at any of the other schools.

    2) An extra-ordinary college experience. He didn’t want school to just be playing football and going to classes.

    3) A great career IF he doesn’t make it to the NFL. He knows what the odds are.

    My son is delighted to see the “Army Guys” at the NFL combine. He is rooting for them. He hopes to be one of them in four years representing Navy at football’s highest level of competition.

    Who am I to dash his hopes? He is an overachiever (you have to be to make it direct entry to the Naval Academy) and if he makes it to the NFL he will do you all proud. If he doesn’t he will have received the best education possible and will have career opportunities that no other school could provide.

    Looking forward to the 2008 season. GO NAVY!

  34. The 17th Goat


    Congrats on your future plebe. In a little over two years, he’ll sign his name on 2 for 7 night under these and other poignant words:

    “I further understand my service obligation is commencing during a period when our nation is at war. I am committing to serve upon graduation as a commissioned officer in a capacity where my capabilities will best serve the needs of the service. ”

    There is nothing in that document that addresses NFL exclusions.

  35. thebirddog

    Thanks for posting. I’m glad I haven’t said anything dumb enough to drive you away yet!

    If I was an Army fan, I’d be rooting for those guys too. Mike Wahle was my classmate, and I love seeing him succeed. I cheer like hell for Kyle Eckel. I am not criticizing these individual Army players. I criticize the policy that allows them to classify the NFL as “service.” I also think that the argument that a pipeline to pro sports is of benefit to the armed sevices as a whole is ridiculous.

    I think that whatever short-term gains there might be for the football program are outweighed by the long-term consequences for the school. It would disturb me to see people choosing a service academy and seeing active duty as merely something to fall back on if something better doesn’t work out. I also think that to claim we don’t need each of these midshipmen/cadets, and that we can spare a few each year, plants seeds that question the very existence of the school. Yeah, I’m a tad melodramatic. But that’s how these things start.

    I knew that my stance would be unpopular given that this site is geared towards Navy sports and read by people who want to see our teams win. And there is NOBODY who believes in the value of sports to the school and in society more than I do. But that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to facilitate a pipeline for service academy graduates to pursue ofther careers because we can “spare them.”

  36. Rob

    I’m sorry my above post was inaccurate.

    My old roomate informs me that he spent 1 year at Pensacola and 3 years at sea on two ships with three deployments. Then he went to Law school. That is a big difference.

    Sorry for the bad gouge.

  37. thebirddog

    Well like I said, this is probably the longest-running debate between Navy fans. I don’t expect it to be resolved here, no matter how cool teh internetz is.

  38. A Navy Mom

    Didn’t David Robinson grow while he was at the Academy and then exceeded the height limits for the Navy or is that an urban legend?

    I’m glad Parent 2008’s son is coming but I’m concerned about his reasons for choosing Academy…where is the part about wanting to service his country? The other part that troubles me is “a great career is the NFL doesn’t work out” . Seems to me he thinks going to the NFL is an automatic option

  39. thebirddog

    Robinson did have a growth spurt at USNA. I think he was only 6’3″ his plebe year. His height is part of what led him to CEC.

    I don’t think that people coming in to USNA have to be gung-ho about service to the country. They should, however, understand that it is the price of the education that they will receive.

  40. football dad dan

    Navy86 has the correct gouge on Dave Robinson’s “growth spurt” while a midshipman. He was in one of my EN-100 classes that I instructed, … and was listed @ 6’7″ as a Plebe.

    Football players get scheduling preferences so they can try to schedule their academic week to minimize classeses in the afternoon/late in the week to account for mandatory practice/meeting times + travel to away games. When you see (and appreciate) the time, arduous physical effort & dedicated committment those players make daily … then still hit the books later that night, … How can one honestly claim they “have it easy”??? The greatest source of Brigade pride & greatest positive light shone by the Naval Academy comes from the face & efforts by our football team. The negative actions of a scant few should not diminish the overall accomplishments & dedication of the team/program.

  41. Another Navy Fan

    There is no reason there can’t be a signed agreement between the DOD and NFL, NBA, MLB, etc. that provides a “campaign plan” to bolster awareness for those guys/gals that prove worthy of a professional roster.

    That’s the problem now with the Army, in particular. People tend to think as narrow minded as they can until someone proves them wrong. That is not a sign of the critical, adaptive, and creative thinkers we need in our senior leaders. A guy going pro doesn’t HAVE to be a detriment to the Army’s mission. In fact, if we make it a priority, it can be a huge gain.

    I know there is a policy in place, but guess what, policies are meant to be re-evaluated, revised, and re-written as the situation dictates. Any of you who have had the priviledge to serve as a Commander (at any level) knows that one of the first things you did was establish your policy. If there was something that didn’t make sense, or needed to be adjusted, you did the right thing and changed it.

    You tell me which one makes a greater impact. a)CC showing up at high schools across America talking to kids about the best choice he ever made, or b)LT/CPT/or MAJ Snuffy talking to the same crowd about why WP is so great? It’s apples and oranges. It’s just like in theater. We give lip service to the true effectiveness of IO until we see how effective it is against us. Let’s get ahead of the power curve now.

    There are plenty of smart, creative people who can figure this out. Let’s not look for the tactical answer (near-sighted), but look for a strategic answer (far-sighted) that creates a situation that benefits the SAs long after draft day.

  42. thebirddog

    It most certainly is apples and oranges. Campbell would be asking high schoolers to do something he didn’t do himself: serve. Unlike LT Snuffy, Campbell would have no credibility. Unless you think all those high schoolers are all going to the NFL too.

    Maybe some policies were meant to be changed. That doesn’t mean they were meant to be ignored.

  43. Parent of 2008 Recruit

    If you’ll bear with me one last time………..

    In my opinion the recruiting benefit is in terms of educating high school athletes about coming to a Serivce Academy. The NCAA runs ads during games saying how 99% of it’s student/athletes will go pro in something other than sports. Campbell can use that to advantage by telling a kid: Look, if you are one of those players that truly has the size and skills to play at the next level, you can get there from here. If not, you’ll have a great future ahead of yourself with all the opportunies a degree from WP has to offer.

    It’s a fact that a lot of high school athletes who get those sports recruiting questionaires mailed to them do not return the ones that come from the Service Academies. I am glad my son was more open minded and yet a fair number of people have questioned his decision considering the other offers that he had. I would like to see that trend reversed.

  44. thebirddog

    What you propose is the exact opposite of those NCAA ads. Campbell wouldn’t be one of those guys that the ads talk about. He can’t use that to his advantage at all. Look at what you’re saying. You want to dazzle these kids with an NFL player who will use the allure of the NFL as a carrot to persuade them to go to a service academy. It’s borderline unethical.

  45. Parent of 2008 Recruit

    Not persuade them to go there, just to at least consider the possiblity of going there. If they visit the place, tour the facilites, talk to the coaches, talk to the instructors, talk to the other players (the 99% who will be doing something other than playing in the NFL) then they can make an informed decision as to whether or not it’s a good fit for them.

    I think this thread demonstrates the imprecision and bulkiness of internet discussion. At this point, I have enjoyed the exchange, I have posted what I think are valid points, I don’t have more to add, and I will have to leave it at that.

  46. thebirddog

    I understand what you are trying to say. I just think that coming to USNA because someone dangled the NFL carrot in front of you is wrong. I understand that not everyone is gung-ho about military service. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is wrong for anyone’s goal to be to work hard to get the chance to avoid military service. And it’s even worse to encourage that by putting NFL players in the spotlight.

    I apologize for maybe being a little too enthusiastic in my responses, but I feel VERY strongly about this issue. In my opinion it gets to the very core of why the service academies even exist.

  47. goat7ed

    parent…a little advice to pass on. I’d keep the NFL dreams secret when someone asks “why are you here?”

    “to serve my country…”
    “fly jets…”
    “be a marine…”

    would probably be answers that would make for an easier and more quiet time. Best of luck to him, and hope he can achieve his goal after his commitment.

  48. Navy Fan

    Re-read TBD’s I-Day Manifesto. I think he said it best:

    “It is not the job of the high school senior to be dedicated to a career of naval service; it is the job of the Naval Academy to motivate him to do so.”

    In other words

    “to play football…”

    is considered an acceptable plebe answer!

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