It’s all over. The topic that has created more hate & discontent than any other on this mediocre blog has reached its conclusion, and it’s glorious. The Army, in a move as smooth as concrete, plucked Caleb Campbell away at the last minute as he was to begin training camp with the Lions. Somewhat shockingly, the careers of their baseball players are over too, with Nick Hill and Milan Dinga ordered to report to their respective Officer Basic Courses once their seasons are complete. It’s hard not to feel for these guys as they’re being jerked around; few feelings are worse than that of uncertainty. But one way or another, the right thing has happened; West Point is no longer sending graduates straight to the pros. The Alternative Service Option is dead.
To their credit, Campbell, Dinga, and Hill have said all the right things since the news broke. Not that you’d expect otherwise; they’d only be hurting themselves if they made a fuss over it. Besides, there’s no need to make a fuss when the media is doing it for you. And ho-lee cow are they ever. What the Army tried to sell as a PR goldmine has turned into a PR nightmare. The stories are too numerous to count (or link), but most of them contain phrases like “shattered dreams” or “unfair treatment” and whatnot. So rather than fulfilling the Army talking points about how the ASO will be good for recruiting, “regular” Army service is instead being portrayed almost as a punishment– with the added bonus of Army leadership being shown as untrustworthy. Way to go, Army. This outcome was about as predictable as low scores from East German gymnastics judges. And frankly, the Army deserves every bit of the bad PR it gets from this.
There are really two different elements to this story. First is the core idea of whether or not service* academy graduates should have the opportunity to play professional sports immediately upon commissioning instead of “regular” service. We can hash that one out again if you’d like, but I’m pretty sure we’ve already said everything that there is to say on the subject. But the second part of this debacle, and the one that the media seems to have completely missed, is that the Army completely brought this upon themselves by violating a DOD directive. The Army failed at the beginning of the whole Caleb Campbell affair when it ignored a direct order and allowed Campbell to pursue an NFL career. So while Campbell’s course change might be news now, everyone– everyone— should have seen this coming. The Army was counting on the ignorance of the public and the apathy of the Secretary of Defense in enforcing directives issued by his office. That should have been enough of a clue that their policy was shady. The Army got neither, and now they’re left with a mess.
Some may look to defend the Army now by saying that it was DOD action, not the Army’s, that led Campbell to be pulled from training camp; but that’s hogwash. The DOD made their ruling on January 1, when their directive went into effect. It was the Army that chose to violate that directive. It was the Army that told Campbell– as recently as a week before he was to report to camp– that he was still good to go despite knowing otherwise. And it was the Army that strung this out for months after a second memo was released by OSD in April that unquestionably stated the office’s intent to enforce the original directive. You might read sites like The Big Lead that want to blame this on the other service* academies. Or you’ll read sites complaining about the timing of the DOD’s decision. But that’s all crap. This train wreck has been brewing for months.
Surface Warfare officers are taught that ship collisions at sea are a result of a chain of bad decisions. At any point in that chain, if someone had stepped in and said, “wait a minute,” the mishap would have been avoided. That’s what we have here. The Alternative Service Option was one of the recommendations made by the “expert panel” put together by West Point to examine its football program back in 2003. The idea gained traction within the athletic department. And who could blame them? An AD’s job is to act in his department’s best interest, and that means doing whatever he can within the rules to make money and field winning teams. Let’s not pretend that Navy and Air Force’s athletic departments wouldn’t want the same thing. (Hell, Air Force still has their Combat Coach program!) But as some people are charged with the best interests of the athletic department, others are charged with the best interest of the school. Still others, the service. And at these levels, nobody stepped in to change West Point’s course. They ran straight into the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the bigger ship won. The law of gross tonnage isn’t something to be trifled with.