Hi. I’m The Birddog.

You might know me from such blog posts as “UNAPPRECIATED WARRIORS” and “Five Myths of Paul Johnson’s Offense.”  Then again, as infrequently as I’ve been posting lately, maybe you don’t remember. I would apologize for my absence, but somehow I think you’ve all been able to go on with your lives. But still, what kind of blogger would go silent for so long when there’s so much happening? My lazy ass, that’s who. I guess that’s what happens when the paying job gets in the way. In my defense, I actually have been working on the blog… Just not on anything you can read yet. I have quite a lovely post all dolled up and ready to go, but to truly unleash its greatness I need video. Which means I either need to fix my desktop machine or get a new one. It’s looking more and more like the latter, which makes my bank account weep the tears of an infinite sadness. Fortunately, the glory and the heaps of cash that come from having a blog more than make up for it.

Anyway, there’s a ton of stuff to get to. The biggest news that you already heard is that UNC’s search for a lacrosse coach has come to an end. UNC is a team that has had a reputation for having exceptional talent that never reached its potential. Richie Meade is a coach with a reputation for getting the most out of the talent he has on hand. And he’s a UNC alumnus! A match made in heaven? Apparently not, as Chapel Hill’s overlords chose instead to nab another Tar Heel, Ohio State coach Joe Breschi.

So why didn’t Richie get the job? In his own words:

“We both saw that at the present time I wasn’t a fit,” Meade said. “I went down there with a lot of respect for everyone at North Carolina and I now have an even greater respect for them. At the same time, I very much appreciate my athletic director, Chet Gladchuk, and his willingness to let me investigate the opening. He encouraged me to do it, and not because he wants me out the door. He was interested in me professionally.”

I’m not sure I buy the “mutual decision” thing, but I don’t really care. I’m just glad that Richie isn’t going anywhere. As much as I worshipped Paul Johnson, I always figured that he would eventually leave. But with Coach Meade I’ve allowed myself to fall head-first into “true believer” mode. You know… As in, “OMG MY SCHOOL IS SO SPECIAL AND UNIQUE WHY WOULD HE WANT TO LEAVE!!!” I just never envisioned the possibility of Coach Meade coaching anywhere else. Now that I’ve been whacked back into reality, I’m happy that things turned out the way they did.

The other big news is on the football side, with the Texas Bowl announcing that they’ve reached an agreement with Navy for the 2009 game. Or maybe it’ll technically be the 2010 game if bowl organizers achieve their goal of securing a New Year’s Day time slot. Along those lines, the game’s director took a shot at Navy, probably without even realizing it:

“If we have a situation where we can sell out a game with the eighth selection from the Big 12 against a Conference USA team or Navy, just imagine what we can do if we have two Top 10 teams playing each other every year,” Texas Bowl director David Brady told The Chronicle.

Really, dude? “If we can sell out with these scrubs, imagine what we can do with the teams we actually want!” I mean, I know the point he’s trying to make, but geez… It’s obvious that Texas Bowl organizers want Navy because they know that the Mids will provide their half of a sellout crowd. While the Texas Bowl is technically a different event than the Houston Bowl that Navy went to in 2003 (the Houston Bowl folded when it lost its sponsorship– this is a different ownership group), I’m sure T-Bowl organizers are well aware of the 20,000+ tickets that Navy sold for that game. Everyone else in the bowl world is too. No need then to make us out to be some anonymous upstart with no following. You aren’t fooling anyone.

But putting all that aside, and assuming that Navy will even be bowl-eligible in 2009 (the likelihood of which we’ll have a better idea of once the revised schedule is unveiled), it’s another good deal for Bill the Goat’s minions. If you get DirecTV, anyway, since the game is broadcast on the NFL Network. But you don’t need to worry about TV, right? You’re going to go to the game, aren’t you? That’s right, you are. Because the fact that Navy fans keep going to the games is the reason why these opportunities open up for us. Besides, it’s fun. The last time we went to Houston, I watched the team practice at Rice, ate at a great Cuban restaurant in Rice Village (El Meson for the win!), went to a Rockets game, and spent New Year’s Eve downtown. That’s on top of official bowl events like the rodeo and the luncheon. And although it’s easier on the team to play the game before Christmas (so they can actually have a few days of leave afterwards), it sure is a lot easier for fans to get to a game around New Year’s.

The Texas Bowl used to pay different amounts depending on the participating conferences. The Big 12 team would get $750,000, while the Big East got only $500,000. No word yet on how Navy would fit into that mess. Anyway, on to other things.

Since you know I can’t go more than two posts without mentioning Caleb Campbell, I might as well get it out of the way. Those who care about the topic have probably already ready this column by David Teel on the subject. The Navy’s hard stance on the Mitch Harris situation has caused a Teel and others to contrast that with the Army’s handling of Caleb Campbell. There are still arguments for and against the Army policy, and I’m not going to go back into those here. But regardless of how people feel, the one thing that has become clear is that people aren’t buying the Army party line that Campbell is serving, but just in a different way. As Teel says:

The policy could affect recruiting and morale. But that’s not the point.

The point is, in times of war, duty calls.

But playing football IS serving! Haven’t you heard? Anyway, that’s enough of that for now.

Back on the football front, we have the announcement of the Navy Football Luncheon Series:

The Navy Football Luncheon series will debut Monday, August 25 at 11:30 a.m. in the N-Room at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The luncheon will allow Navy fans to get the inside scoop from head football coach Ken Niumatalolo before some of Navy’s biggest games of the year.

Chalk this one up to “things you’d never see Paul Johnson do.” I’m not sure if this is a case of Coach Niumat being a more fan-friendly guy, or if Chet can just get him to do more stuff than he could get PJ to do. Either way, breaking down highlights with Coach Niumatalolo? I’ve never been more pissed to live in Florida. What a great deal. One of you guys need to go to the August luncheon so you can report on its awesomeness.

In a bit of tangential good news for Navy, NBC and Notre Dame have extended their contract through 2015. Hey, if they’re making money, then we’ll keep making money when we play them.

And finally, we have this piece in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin about Ken Niumatalolo as college football’s first Polynesian head coach. It’s a big deal on a few levels. I know I mentioned this before, but it really was something to see how many of Utah’s players wanted to shake hands and get their pictures taken with Coach Niumat. Maybe it isn’t a huge headline grabber, but in the context of the Naval Academy story it means a lot. USNA’s history of racial integration is not a proud one. I wanted to write about this when the Wesley Brown Fieldhouse opened, but I coudn’t find a way to do it without sounding even cheesier than I usually do. But to see the Naval Academy on the leading edge of something like this… It’s important. Not as important as the the fact that he is the right man for the job, but important nevertheless.

I’m going to be on vacation next week, so there’s a chance that I’ll have another posting dry spell. Try not to let your emotions get the best of you.

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Mitch Harris is denied

From the Kansas City Star:

Baseball must wait for ensign

Baseball might be as American as apple pie, but during times of war, it takes a back seat to the military.

A Naval Academy graduate drafted last week by the Cardinals was denied a bid to play ball Thursday and ordered to report for duty.

Mitch Harris, a newly commissioned ensign and Naval Academy graduate, must serve a five-year active duty commitment, Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter ruled.

Harris, 22, was selected in the 13th round with the 395th pick overall. He went 20-13 with a 2.51 ERA in four years at Navy, averaging more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

“Bottom line is, we’re a nation at war and as a nation at war we believe it is inappropriate for Navy and Marine Corps personnel to be released from service obligation to play sports at a time other sailors and Marines are carrying out their service obligations,” Cmdr. Jeff Davis said.

Well, it takes a back seat to some of the military, anyway. Sucks for Mitch, but good for the conscience.

Army’s Internal Review

The Army’s “internal review” to determine whether or not the Alternative Service Option was in compliance with Department of Defense policy is still underway, according to Sal Interdonato of the Times Herald-Record. An earlier report stated that a ruling would occur by the end of May, but that obviously didn’t happen; in fact, Interdonato is reporting that “the length of the review process is not known.”  I stated in that previous post that I felt this “review” was a farce, and to me, the way the Army is dragging their feet with it only reinforces that opinion. I mean, come on… How long do you really need to figure out if what you’re doing is permissible? And why only conduct an internal review to determine if they’re in compliance with an external policy? Wouldn’t it make more sense to call up the Office of the Secretary of Defense– the actual author of the policy in question– and ask if they thought that the Army’s policy was compatible with their own directive? Of course it would. But OSD has already responded to the Army policy, saying that “constructs for ‘active duty’ service should not include arrangements typically unavailable to others in uniform.” That should be it, right? Well, apparently not, and the fact that the Army is even conducting a “review” after such a cut & dry statement from Dr. Chu says all you need to know about their intention. They aren’t reviewing anything. They’re trying to figure out another loophole to exploit. The delay past the original May target just tells me that they haven’t found one yet. The best case scenario is probably for the Army just to keep postponing their final report until the NFL season starts, say that they aren’t in compliance and will alter the ASO, but still allow Caleb Campbell to play since he would have already made the team by then. The Army would justify it by saying that it’d be “unfair to Campbell” for the Army to go back on the promise they gave him (or something along those lines). But we’ll have to wait and see.

One more thing about Interdonato’s article. Notice the headline? “Army reviews play-instead-of-serve policy.” Then the first sentence:

The policy that allows former Army safety Caleb Campbell to pursue an NFL career rather than serve active duty is being reviewed by the Department of Army.

Play instead of serve? Pursue an NFL career rather than serve active duty? Apparently everyone isn’t buying into the Army’s “It’s still serving, just in a different way!” mantra.

Along those lines, today is day one of the Major League Baseball draft. Mitch Harris will surely be drafted, and according to Bill Wagner, he might not be alone.

While I was sleeping

A lot of stuff on the ol’ radar that I haven’t addressed:

Chet gets a new contract. Navy’s athletic director and 2005 Bobby Dodd AD of the Year was inked through 2015. The Birddog Expert Analysis: Woot! I assume that there’s no explanation necessary for why this is a good thing.

The latest in the Caleb Campbell mess includes a Boston Globe piece that doesn’t include anything you haven’t already heard, except for the latest in ridiculous Caleb Campbell quotes:

“We all fight for freedom in different ways. Each in our own way.”

Someone please put a muzzle on this guy.

We also have an Examiner piece that calls Campbell “the anti-Tillman.” I said at the beginning of all this that comparisons to Pat Tillman were inevitable, and Bob Frantz’s column was only the latest in a long line articles that did so. Despite the headline, the column is fairly middle-of-the-road. At least until you get to a subtle dig at the end:

The merits of those arguments can be debated in perpetuity, and I will not attempt to bolster nor condemn any of them here. Rather, I prefer to let this story serve as a reminder to us all, on this solemn Memorial Day, of the extraordinary sacrifices made by so many men who either delayed or interrupted their professional careers in service to the greatest nation on earth.

Apparently Frantz doesn’t buy the idea that “we all fight for freedom in different ways.”

In contrast, ESPN’s Ivan Maisel writes about how former Navy football players are applying the lessons they learned on the gridiron to situations they face in the fleet. It’s a great illustration of the value of intercollegiate athletics at service* academies. And while one Ivan Maisel column won’t bring the sheer exposure that a season in the NFL would, in this instance it certainly provides a hell of a lot more substance.

Millen, who answers to the nickname “Moon,” said he relishes working with other former Midshipmen players.

“Most of the players I’ve seen tend to get along with each other, not just football players, but with other folks,” Millen said. “They interact well with others and play well as a team. I know that when I work with those guys, they’ve been through the same training I have. They’re competent in what they do. It’s sort of a litmus test, I guess, certainly for those of us that played. I know if I pull Ensign Diggs out to help me with something, I know what comes with that. … As a fellow ballplayer, there’s certainly more to him, and he walks in with a certain resume.”

That, dear readers, is what they call it the Brotherhood.

UNC fired John Haus, their head men’s lacrosse coach. Naturally, initial speculation as to who will replace him has centered around those with North Carolina ties… And one of the most successful lacrosse coaches who fits the bill is UNC alum Richie Meade. Fortunately, he doesn’t appear to be interested in leaving Annapolis:

Meade said yesterday he has not been contacted by North Carolina about the vacancy and was content at Navy.

“I’m very happy to be the head coach at the Naval Academy and hope to remain so,” Meade said. “I have no idea what direction North Carolina is going to go. I’m sure they will get a quality head coach because it’s a great school and a great program.”

Good news, because I don’t think my stomach can take another coaching change this year.

The MAC might expand to 14 teams by adding Western Kentucky and Temple in all sports. OK.

Army and Notre Dame might start playing again, according to the Times Herald-Record. OK.

And finally, in the realm of the absurd, we have the news that the Toronto Argonauts have signed Ross Weaver. As in the 2006 graduate of the Air Force Academy, Ross Weaver. Weaver has spent the last two years playing arena ball with the Colorado Ice. Now with the Argos, Weaver is serving the Air Force by tapping into previously untouched recruiting territory: Canada! It’s amazing nobody’s thought of this before!

Two years of arena football, and now Canada. We all fight for freedom in different ways!

Sometimes I think I’m the only sane person left.

What about Mitch Harris?

Caleb Campbell is the epicenter of the service* academy straight-to-the-pros debate, but he isn’t the only story. Navy’s own Mitch Harris, the fireball-tossing pitcher with as much pop in his bat as his lively right arm, has been getting a lot of press lately with the Major League Baseball draft on tap this week. Navy fans have undoubtedly already seen this piece in the Washington Times on Mitch and his situation. (Note to newspaper editors across the country: “Anchors Away” is about the most unoriginal, overused headline for a story about Navy sports. Please, please start coming up with something new.)

Anyway, the piece is pretty good despite the cliched headline. One thing that probably catches your eye is the series of quotes from Navy AD Chet Gladchuk.

Moreover, because the “nation is at war,” Navy secretary Donald Winter in November suspended early release from active duty and made five years of full-time service mandatory. Harris isn’t the only one displeased with that. By promising athletes the chance to play immediately in the pros, the differing policy gives West Point a marked recruiting edge over Annapolis.

Gladchuk has gone to the very top to try to get the Navy to change and said Winter seems willing to reconsider the issue.

“There is a chain of command, and I think I have addressed every link in this chain,” Gladchuk said. “Everyone is aware of our concerns that the playing field is not level and will eventually affect our competitive stature.”

“A-ha!” say the fans of the Alternative Service (lol) Option. Even Navy’s AD has no problem with it! He wants the same thing! Now it’s justified! Hooray!

Not exactly. Would you expect anything different from an athletic director? It’s Chet’s job to do what he can to ensure his teams’ success on the field. So if he sees something that would help him to that end, he should pursue it. It’s completely understandable why Stan Brock and Kevin Anderson would want the ASO, and completely understandable why Chet Gladchuk would want to even the playing field in response. But that doesn’t make it right. There is supposed to be a higher level in the chain of command that balances the desires of the athletic department with the needs of the service. It’s that level which has failed. I’m sure that service* academy coaches and athletic administrators would love for all kinds of things to change in order to make their jobs easier. Lower admissions standards, basket-weaving majors, more lax conduct rules, you name it. But these things are kept in check. Just like the Alternative Service (lol) Option should have been. Chet is right that he needs a level playing field. Hopefully the answer is for the ASO to be shut down rather than the Naval Academy stooping to such desperate and shameful measures.

One more thing…

Catcher Jonathan Johnston was drafted in 2007 in the 42nd round by Oakland – a year after he graduated – and is now playing in the minors. But Johnston previously served 18 months aboard a ship. That helped. He also had an understanding commanding officer who assigned him to the U.S. Military All-Star team, which has allowed him to play professionally.

Johnston believes he and Harris can serve the Navy best by playing and recruiting.

“We want to do both,” he said. “Because we can. We want to bring attention to the Navy. I’d rather be a recruiter and pay the Navy back that way.”

So many people say that sending players to the pros is great because it “brings attention to the Navy” or it “helps the Army.” The purpose of going to the Naval Academy isn’t to “help” the Navy. It’s to be the Navy. Not that the good of the service has anything to do with the policy. It’s a sad state of affairs.

May has now come and gone, which means that the Army’s “internal review” regarding the ASO should be complete. My guess is that they do nothing to change it. Here’s hoping the OSD crushes them. I won’t hold my breath.

You can get dizzy from this much spin

The Air Force Times did an article on the Army’s Alternative Service (lol) Option over the weekend. It’s mostly the same ol’ stuff, with the twist of some quotes and background on Bryce Fisher, Air Force class of 1999 and current Tennessee Titans defensive end. It’s mostly stuff you’ve already seen, but there were a couple things worth mentioning.

We’ll start with the news that the Army is reviewing its policy, with findings due by the end of the month. At least, that’s the way it’s being spun:

An Army spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb, said she couldn’t explain why the Army interprets the Defense Department’s policy differently from the Air Force and Navy. Army officials are reviewing this policy with a ruling due by the end of May, she said.

“We are currently conducting an internal review to ensure we are operating within the intent of DoD’s policy and will determine if any adjustments are appropriate,” Edgecomb wrote in an e-mail to Air Force Times.

But let’s be serious here. You don’t need to conduct an internal review “to ensure we are operating within the intent of DoD’s policy.” When the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness sends a memo to service secretaries three days after the NFL draft, reminding them what the DoD policy is and stating that “constructs for ‘active duty’ service should not include arrangements typically unavailable to others in uniform,” any literate person without an agenda already knows that the Army isn’t even coming close to complying with the intent of the DoD policy. So why the review? To figure out another way to circumvent the DoD directive, of course. It’s the only explanation. You don’t need any kind of review to simply say “Yes, sir!” and carry out your orders. So I’m not optimistic that the end of the Alternative Service (lol) Option is imminent, although after Chu’s memo it’d take some serious spinning and loophole-crafting to be able to weasel out of it. We’ll see if the Army can come up with anything.

Meanwhile, the Air Force has used the DoD policy to send a player to the Arena League:

First Lt. Brett Huyser, an Air Force Academy ‘04 grad who started two years on the football team and now plays guard for the Colorado Crush in the Arena Football League might have had a shot in the NFL if the Army’s policy applied to him back then.

“NFL teams called my agent, but once they found out that I would have to sit out for two years they lost interest,” he said.

Huyser transferred out of active duty two years ago and now splits his time in the Reserves working at the Air Force Academy and playing arena football for the Crush, from whom he earned $36,000 a year in his second season.

Wow… Arena football? Really? Good thing nobody’s abusing the DoD policy! I can only assume that Huyser just wasn’t cut out for the elite Combat Coach program. But spending reserve time at the Air Force Academy probably still gives him a chance to provide valuable mentorship, so clearly his education was money well spent by the American taxpayer.

Finally, we have this:

Last June, Air Force Academy baseball star Karl Bolt was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 15th round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft after he graduated with his class in May.

Bolt is on active duty at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., but he saves his leave all year so he can break off and play in the Phillies’ minor league farm system over the summer. He is lining up at first base this summer for their Single-A minor league team, the Lakewood BlueClaws in New Jersey.

Man, I had a hard time squeezing in 5 days of leave on active duty. I’m not sure what Bolt’s job is, but I imagine it isn’t exactly a vital one if the command can get by without him for 30 straight days… Assuming that’s all he’s getting.

Signs of a Backbone?

The Office of the Secretary of Defense hasn’t been as silent about the Army’s flaunting of DoD policy as we thought.

Contrary to the “this is a DoD policy” spin that Army spokespeople like to claim, the Department of Defense does not approve of the “Alternative Service (lol) Option.” This was apparent to anyone (other than Army homers) who read the original policy. Now, even those people will have a hard time spinning this:

David Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, sent the memo to the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force on April 30 — three days after Campbell was drafted and Army’s program became national news. The subject of the two-paragraph memo is “Policy for Academy and ROTC Graduates Seeking to Participate in Professional Sports Before Completion of the Active Duty Service Obligations.”

The memo “retransmits” the Department of Defense policy issued in August and states it is “a policy that remains in force and may not be supplemented.” It goes on to say that “constructs for ‘active duty’ service should not include arrangements typically unavailable to others in uniform.”

Not to say I told you so, but….

So perhaps the sun is setting on West Point’s folly. Or maybe the Army will just ignore this memo too. I mean, it isn’t like they paid attention to the first one, which was already pretty damn straightforward in its intent. At this point, nothing surprises me. After all, this memo went out two weeks ago. There’s been plenty of talk from the Army about their wonderful policy since then.

It appears that earlier comments from DoD spokespeople about how it’s up to Army to interpret the DoD policy for themselves were really just a face-saving measure, trying to prevent any bad publicity for the Army while working behind the scenes to get them back in line. Now that the story of this second memo is out, the true shady nature of the Army policy is exposed– and it looks a lot different than the peaches and cream picture that they tried to put on it. Hopefully as this story spreads, the Army will be shamed into following the rules. Of course, the real shame is that we’ve even reached that point.

Meanwhile, there has apparently been a flap about the Army policy on Baltimore radio. The interesting thing about this bit isn’t that the author disagrees with the policy, but rather his take on some of the knee-jerk reactions from people who disagree with him:

“Mike”, a listener – now FORMER listener – took great exception with my opinion today. Mike has a military background and went to great lengths today to explain that both Bob and I are wrong on this matter. Never mind that it’s our respective OPINION(s) that the U.S. Army is wrong for allowing Caleb Campbell to play football rather than fulfill his duties in Iraq. Mike says we’re wrong for thinking that way and chastised me for having an opinion on something that I’ve never before experienced – “perhaps you should try crawling through the mud with a rifle (once) before you criticize the manner in which the U.S. Army operates”, he wrote to me in an e-mail.
 
Well, if we used that theory as a barometer for sports talk radio, WNST wouldn’t exist, since none of us (I think) have ever thrown a pass in the NFL, stepped to the plate in major league baseball or hit a 3-point shot in Division I college basketball – yet we all see fit to comment, praise and criticize some of those situations every single day at 1570. Hell, no one in our listening audience has ever coached in the NFL and last January we had thousands of people claiming the ex-Ravens coach didn’t know what he was doing, right?

I know I touched on it earlier this week, but this guy is dead on. This idea that this is an issue only for military members to discuss is absurd.