Which is scarier? Jason Voorhees repeatedly rising to terrorize counselors at Camp Crystal Lake with a machete despite being vanquished at the end of each Friday the 13th movie? Or the fact that someone thought it was a good idea to make another Friday the 13th movie?
The same question could be asked of Army’s Alternative “Service” Option– the villain in the slasher-flick world of service academy football. Just when you thought the topic was dead, it comes out of nowhere to hack internet conversation to bits and haunt your dreams. (OK, that last part is a Nightmare on Elm Street reference, but they made Freddy vs. Jason, so the judges have allowed it.) At a West Point Board of Visitors meeting a couple weeks ago, the question of the ASO came up. On Tuesday, Sal Interdonato wrote about the responses given by the superintendent, LTG Franklin Hagenbeck, athletic director Kevin Anderson, and new head football coach Rich Ellerson, here. And whoa Nelly there’s some classic buck-passing going on in this one.
The Supe has some hum-dingers. Highlights:
Hagenbeck: “In ’05, we wrote a particular standard in line with OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense). We moved out and had some youngsters go to the professional ranks other than football. Last year, Caleb Campbell was drafted by the Detroit Lions. The spotlight was on him. Another service academy was very outspoken and their view was we had an unfair competitive advantage and had that policy turned around in a blink of an eye…We are all under the same policy and how you look at it and implement it is the question.”
It’s bad enough that Hagenbeck completely dodges any responsibility that he might have had in this debacle, but he didn’t stop there. No, he takes it a step further and decides to blame the Naval Academy. With that, I would like to cordially invite LTG Hagenbeck to screw himself. (All the Army fans that will inevitably read this and feign offense because I told an OMG GENERAL to screw himself can likewise screw themselves). He gets away with it because there’s nothing that some Army fans like more than blaming Navy for their problems. I don’t know where that trend began, but it’s as pathetic as it is absurd. “Evil Navy is a bunch of wimps that don’t fight the real war, so they tell Army recruits’ parents that their kid will die! Evil Navy went to the NCAA about Army player eligibility!” Etc., etc. Maybe it makes some Army fans feel better to think that way, but the result of believing this nonsense is that they fail to hold accountable the people truly responsible for their problems. People like LTG Hagenbeck, who can’t even get his story straight while he tries to play the victim:
Another service academy was very outspoken and their view was we had an unfair competitive advantage and had that policy turned around in a blink of an eye…
They (cadets) could buy out. It was $280,000 and spend their remaining time in the reserves subject to recall. If you didn’t show progress in the pro ranks, Army could recall you back. That was all laid out. OSD came back literally at the 11th hour, actually less than 48 hours when Caleb reported to Detroit to say that definition of active duty for the first two years was not acceptable.
Which is it, General? Did mean ol’ Navy get that policy turned around in the “blink of an eye,” or did it drag on so that you heard nothing until the “11th hour?” You can’t have it both ways. And his claim that he received nothing in writing is suspect. Do we need to go over the ASO timeline again?
2005: Army creates the ASO.
August 2007: After representatives from each of the academies voiced their concerns over differing policies between the services, a memo is promulgated from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) regarding the “Policy for Academy and ROTC Graduates Seeking to Participate in Professional Sports Before Completion of their Active Duty Service Obligations.” The policy orders two years of active duty before a service academy or ROTC graduate is able to apply for excess leave to attempt to catch on with a team. The policy becomes effective Jan. 1, 2008.
April 2008: Caleb Campbell is drafted.
Only three freaking days after the draft: Dr. David Chu, the Under Secretary in question– who has absolutely nothing to do with the Navy or the Naval Academy, by the way– sends out a new memo, “retransmitting” the August 2007 policy and stating that it is “a policy that remains in force and may not be supplemented.” In order to address any claim that playing in the NFL could itself be considered “active duty,” the memo goes on to add that “constructs for ‘active duty’ service should not include arrangements typically unavailable to others in uniform.” This all happened three months, not 48 hours, before Lions training camp.
May 2008: After this new memo is sent, Army begins their “internal review.”
July 2008: Caleb Campbell is pulled away from Lions training camp.
We can deduce from Hagenbeck’s comments that our initial suspicion about the nature of that “internal review” was pretty much dead on. It wasn’t an “internal review” as much as it was weeks of begging and weaseling between Army officials and the OSD, with the former trying to manipulate the ASO into legitimacy. If anything happened at the “11th hour,” it was someone at OSD saying “no means no” for the thirtieth time. LTG Hagenbeck had been told “no” a whole hell of a lot sooner than “less than 48 hours” before Campbell reported to Lions camp. Chu’s “retransmit” memo proves it. For Hagenbeck to say otherwise is nothing but dishonest revisionism.
Did Naval Academy officials complain about the ASO after Campbell was drafted? Of course they did, and they should have. But Dr. Chu obviously didn’t need to hear anything from Navy to smack the ASO down; his reaction was immediate. The facts are simple; the OSD had a policy in place. West Point tried to violate that policy. The OSD didn’t let them. And by fighting the decision until the last minute, Army jerked Campbell around and created a public relations train wreck for themselves. Hagenbeck’s lack of accountability is disappointing. Trying to blame the Naval Academy is just shameful.
(By the way, can you imagine if a cadet went to a conduct board and said something like, “We are all under the same policy and how you look at it and implement it is the question.” I’m sure that’d fly!)