The football team has wrapped up fall camp and has moved on to game preparation for Maryland, so it’s only natural that I should do the same. Today’s Maryland question:
Should Navy and Maryland play every year?
It seems like such a no-brainer for the Mids and the Terps to face off every year. The two schools are only 20 miles apart, so if nothing else they’d save on travel costs. Both coaches seem to be on board with the idea:
“I think it’s huge – especially for us,” Maryland Head Coach Ralph Friedgen said of a rivalry. “I know Navy is a big rival with Army. But to have an in-state rival, I think it just helps the whole state.
“I think it just brings the whole state together and having it in Baltimore just accentuates that. … I think anybody that went last time will want to come back this year because they know it’s going to be a great show.”
“We need to play more,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got two great institutions that are so close together. There’s a history involved. Hopefully we can continue this series going on.”
Coach Niumatalolo is right in that there is a history here, although most of that history revolves around the fact that Navy and Maryland haven’t played each other very much. We all know the story; Jerry Fishman has a couple of late hits that draw boos from the Brigade, the Brigade gets into Fishman’s head, and Fishman gives the Brigade the finger. </series> for the next 40 years. The two teams finally met again in 2005– much to the chagrin of Fishman, who seems to resent being reduced now to a historical footnote (as evidenced by his somewhat pathetic attempt to buy his way onto the field before the game). While Fishman relished being the guy that ended the series, in reality his act was just the last in what was already a contentious relationship between the two schools.
Navy-Maryland wasn’t an annual game even before the series went on hiatus. In the nascent days of Maryland football, the Mids would occasionally use the Aggies (as they were known at the time) as a tune-up for games against the Ivy League powerhouses on their schedule. They would also run up the score, including a 76-0 trouncing in 1913. The games became more competitive in the 1930s as Maryland grew. In 1934, a late Slade Cutter field goal gave Navy a 16-13 win. Maryland protested the game, however, after their coaches watched film and accused Navy of using an illegal play. That led to the first break in the series; this time, it was Maryland that refused to play Navy for 16 years. A last-minute schedule opening brought the teams back together in 1950, and the series continued off and on for a few more games marked by rough play on the field and mischief off of it. Navy’s 19-7 win in 1965 would be the last time the Terps and Mids shared the same football field until coming together in Baltimore in 2005. Now, with a second meeting in six years, it appears that bygones are bygones. Well, sort of. Even this game seemed to be on the verge of falling through after Debbie Yow’s brinkmanship. But Yow is now the athletic director at North Carolina State, and her departure has led to an apparent thaw in the schools’ relationship. The handshakes and smiles make it seem likely that more Navy-Maryland games are in our future. How many is a matter of speculation.
There’s no doubt that playing Maryland is fun. M&T Bank Stadium will be packed, and both schools will reap the financial rewards from ticket sales and television. Navy’s season ticket sales even see a bump when they can add marquee games in Baltimore to the package. I’m not sure that’s enough to justify an annual meeting, though.
Coach Friedgen talks about the appeal of playing an in-state rival, and he’s right. Rivalry games energize fans and get them excited about both programs. Unfortunately for Maryland, they don’t have a natural rival. Virginia and West Virginia sort of fit the bill, but they both have bigger rivalries with other schools. Virginia fans might not like Maryland, but Virginia Tech is the game they circle on their calendar. The same goes for West Virginia and Pitt. Things wouldn’t be any different with Navy, obviously, since Army, Notre Dame, and Air Force will always get top billing on the Mids’ schedule. Perhaps the thinking is that there might be a little added spice due to the schools’ proximity. Other than fitting the geographic criteria, though, Navy and Maryland don’t exactly fit the in-state rival profile. Navy fans come from all over the country, spend four years in Annapolis, then go back out all over the world. This isn’t a situation where both teams’ fans pick a side at birth and spend a lifetime sparring with neighbors who chose the other side. Rivalries that don’t evolve out of that kind of grassroots origin are usually the product of the same kind of bad blood that got this series cancelled to begin with.
Still, even if the Navy-Maryland series doesn’t turn into everything that Coach Friedgen envisions, the financial reasons alone would probably be worth it for Maryland. Navy’s situation, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. The Mids are already locked into annual games against Notre Dame, the other two service academies, and soon, SMU. One could argue that Maryland has more appeal than SMU, but Navy tries to play a Texas team in most years for recruiting purposes anyway. Add the Terps to that list, and nearly half of Navy’s schedule would be set each year. One of the advantages that Navy gets from being independent is scheduling flexibility. They can schedule whatever games they see fit for recruiting, money, and competitive balance. The more games that Navy commits to, the less flexibility they have. That’s especially true when scheduling a BCS team like Maryland that has resources and a recruiting pool that no service academy can match. That doesn’t mean that Navy can’t beat Maryland, but it does mean that in most years, they won’t be favored. Notre Dame is already on the schedule. Does it really make sense to make the schedule any more of an uphill battle than it has to be?
Perhaps there will come a time when Navy doesn’t have a choice. The Army-Navy game has been the program’s golden goose for years, but ratings have been declining. They improved after the game was moved back a week in order to once again have a Saturday to itself, but now there’s nowhere else for it to go. If networks aren’t willing to pay as much for the game’s television rights, Navy will have to find some other way to generate that revenue. This summer’s conference expansion bonanza showed us how much money other schools are making from television. Navy might have to find additional revenue streams just to remain competitive, regardless of what happens to the Army-Navy game. Maybe that’s already happening, with big-money games against Penn State, South Carolina, and Ohio State on the horizon.
We can cross that bridge when we come to it. I like playing Maryland, but it might be best to only schedule them every 3-4 years or so. That way, every class has a chance to square off against the Terps, but the Mids aren’t stuck with a scheduling albatross.