That’s right, independence. Liberty. Self-determination. The animating contest of freedom. Founding principles of our nation? Or prescription for Navy football success?
Army, Navy, and Notre Dame are anomalies in the framework of college football, and for some reason it bugs the hell out of people. You can’t go to a blog, message board, or news site without some joker proposing his grand conference realignment plan. None of these brilliant arrangements include independent teams. No, people don’t want exceptions to conference rule. Everyone must be put in their place!
Screw that. Conferences are for schools that don’t kick enough ass to be able to make it on their own. Everyone would be independent if they could handle it, but they aren’t bathed in awesome like Navy is.
Why is being independent better for Navy?
Money. Navy is able to generate enough operating revenue from playing Notre Dame, the Army-Navy game, television contracts, bowl games, and one-off events like Maryland and Ohio State. They don’t have to split this income eight ways, either, like they do in communes conferences. Maybe they don’t get any money from the rest of the communal pot either, but they don’t need it. NAAA makes enough money to fund football and 29 other varsity sports.
Scheduling control. Football scheduling is hard; a lot harder than people realize. It’s basically football diplomacy. You have multiple parties looking to use other parties in order to achieve their own ends. The object of this diplomacy is to either convince teams to come play in your stadium, or convince them to pay you a lot of money to go play in theirs… All while making sure you win enough games to meet your postseason goals. Conferences are the peace treaties of the scheduling diplomacy world, with similar (in theory) schools coming together to guarantee a number of home games for each other every year. Navy, as an independent, has no such guarantee. There’s no doubt that the schedule-makers in Annapolis have to work a bit harder to fill 12 games every year, but Navy fans see the fruits of their efforts.
First, we get a manageable schedule. There are only two other programs in I-A that face the kind of constraints that Navy does; any alignment with any other group of schools puts Navy at a competitive disadvantage right off the bat. Being independent means that Navy has more control in crafting a schedule that has the right balance of competition to challenge the Mids, but not make their hopes of a bowl game unrealistic.
The other scheduling benefit that comes from being independent is variety. Who wants to play the same basic schedule every year? Since 2000, Navy has played at least one team from every conference, including independents. By the end of 2009, the Mids will have played in this decade:
Big 10: Northwestern, Ohio State
Big 12: Texas Tech
ACC: Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, N.C. State, Duke, Maryland, Boston College
Big East: Rutgers, Pitt, UConn, Temple, Boston College
Conference USA: Tulane, Army, Rice, TCU, Tulsa, ECU, SMU
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky, North Texas
WAC: TCU, Rice, SMU, Louisiana Tech, Hawaii
Mountain West: Air Force, New Mexico, Colorado State, Utah
MAC: Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Toledo, Ball State, Temple, Kent State
Independents: Army, Notre Dame, UConn, Temple
I’m not going to go through ten years’ worth of 120 I-A schedules to verify this, but I doubt there are many other teams in the country, if any, that can make that claim. With the next decade including games with Syracuse, UNLV, San Jose State, Baylor, Troy, Ole Miss, and others, it’s a trend that is going to continue. Getting around the country like that is good for recruiting, good for the mission of the school, and good for entertainment. It’s also a lot harder to do without the schedule flexibility of independence.
Television. Next to Notre Dame, Navy might have the best television package in the country. All home games are on CBS College Sports for the next 10 years. CBS is also going to broadcast Army-Navy through at least 2018. CBS picks up the Notre Dame game every year it’s a Navy home game. Navy is a popular draw when they hit the road, too; every game was televised in 2008, with ESPN networks picking up three games (not including the EagleBank Bowl). How would conference membership make this any better? It would just make it worse.
Bowl Games. Most bowl games have some sort of conference affiliation. Once upon a time, that was a problem. Not anymore. After incredible fan turnout at the 2003 Houston Bowl and 2004 Emerald Bowl, bowl games have been looking for ways to take Navy. The Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte took advantage of a hiatus in their contract with the Big East to grab Navy in 2006. The Poinsettia and EagleBank Bowls were both created with Navy in mind, and both have invited Navy back in future years. The Texas Bowl will invite a bowl-eligible Navy team in 2009, and the Armed Forces Bowl is lined up for 2013. By understanding what bowl games want– fans and their money– Chet Gladchuck has carved out bowl security for years to come without any need for conference backing.
So tonight, when you pull out the Do-It-Yourself Revolution Kit you picked up at the fireworks stand next to the freeway, light a roman candle or two to celebrate Navy’s independence too. Hopefully nobody does anything to screw it up.