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.

 

Bill Wagner is kind of a big deal.

People know him. He’s very important. He has many leather-bound books, and his apartment smells of rich mahogany.

http://www.hometownannapolis.com/cgi-bin/read/2008/05_07-13/NAS

Taxpayers foot the bill to educate students at Air Force, Army and Navy under the belief the graduates of those institutions will one day protect the rights and freedoms of United States citizens by serving in the armed forces. I would imagine the majority of taxpayers would agree that playing pro football full-time while recruiting part-time does not constitute legitimate military service.

Which begs the question: How effective of an Army recruiter can Caleb Campbell be considering he’s effectively avoiding his five-year commitment? It would seem difficult for Campbell to talk about the realities of military service when he has not fully tasted that life.

Wags smacked this one to smithereens. It’s the most comprehensive breakdown of the situation that we’ve seen in the media. If you were worried about what you were going to tell your senator, don’t be; Wags did the heavy lifting for you. Because that’s what he does. Well, in between rescuing cats from tall trees, delivering babies at Anne Arundel Medical Center, bringing rain to the desert, and getting great gas mileage.

You Just Aren’t Smart Enough

After Adam Ballard commented on the importance of making good on one’s commitments, Army punter Owen Tolson made the mistake of offering a feeble response to the noble oratory of America’s Alpha Male:

“Adam is a great player and he had a great career,” said Tolson, who will report to mini-camp with the Giants next week. “I’ll give him that. But I think what a lot of people who comment don’t realize is that this (alternative service) policy will give all the academies good exposure.”

Tolson could of easily lashed out at Ballard. He didn’t. However, Tolson did manage to get another point across.

“My father (Tommy) is a commander in the Navy and he thinks it’s a good idea and so does a lot of the people he works with. “Adam is a great athlete, but I think he needs to get some more information so he better understands the policy.”

I must be the dumbest and/or laziest person on the internet. The Army’s response to every single challenge of this policy (whether through the players or through some spokesmouth) is that if you don’t like the policy, you just don’t understand. You might even be a “fool.” You just need to get more information. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be providing any of it.

How arrogant can they be?

Taking the Pulse

The Caleb Campbell story has been cooking in the media Crock Pot for more than a week now, and initial reactions are coming in. In my scan of the web, it seems that the people writing about this can be split into two groups: sports writers/columnists, and everyone else. Among those whose primary focus is sports, the reaction has been mostly positive, with a couple of exceptions. That shouldn’t be a surprise; it’s expected that the natural inclination of those who cover sports for a living would be for a kid to be allowed to play sports. That’s fine, I guess. But I have a problem with a lot of the arguments and misconceptions that are being presented in some of these pieces. I’ll get to that in a minute. Among those whose primary function is not to cover sports, the reaction is much more mixed.

We’ll start with the admittedly unscientific USA Today poll, which at the moment sits at 53%-47% against Campbell going straight to the NFL. Again, it’s unscientific, but I think it demonstrates something important. The “USA! USA!” chants coming from the drunk Jets fans in the balcony at Radio City Music Hall at the tail end of the draft made for a nice scene, but it isn’t indicative of the general public. This poll might not be, either… but it at least demonstrates that once you get away from sports fans, people have questions about the merits of the Army policy. Campbell’s story isn’t necessarily the feel-good tale that ESPN is selling.

That brings me to the first thing that’s wrong with a lot of the stories & columns that support Campbell. Almost all of them call this a “feel-good story.” How, exactly, is that the case? What is there to feel good about? So he went to West Point. Who cares? Going to West Point is supposed to be the means to an end, not an end unto itself. Campbell’s ends do not match those that we associate with West Point graduates. His are no different than those of any other player in the draft. So he’ll wear a uniform and talk to high school kids aboutt he Army. Big deal. Scores of NFL players do community outreach. Hell, I was at the March of Dimes walk last week with Terry Cousin. Is his a “feel-good story?” And yes, Campbell will (supposedly) head back to the regular Army if he can’t catch on to an NFL team. Is that the “feel-good” part of all of this? To root for Campbell so he doesn’t have to do normal service? Actually, that probably is the appeal for some people. I don’t think that’s the message the Army wants to send, though.

It’s service that makes service* academies and the people who attend them special. Without that, they’re just regular colleges with uniforms and a lot of rules. And if he makes an NFL roster, that’s all it will have been for Caleb Campbell. He is no different than any other NFL hopeful. Other than the fact that the Army is making concessions on the terms of his active duty obligation, there is nothing special about this story. It’s “Guy Turns Down Other Jobs For Shot At NFL Glory And Money.” That’s the same story of everyone else in the draft. This isn’t a “feel-good” story. At best, it’s a “feels like everyone else” story.

Annoying misconception number two is the idea that Campbell will actually be a recruiter. I’m not talking about whether or not his “service” as a poster boy will drive people to enlist; we’ve already talked about that fallacy extensively. No, right now I’m talking about the actual work that Campbell will be doing for the Army– his “service.” One of the common themes you read is, to paraphrase: “Campbell will be a recruiter– and recruiting is service too!” I have serious doubts that the people who say this have any idea what real recruiting duty actually entails. Recruiting is difficult and time-consuming work. It can’t be accomplished working one day a week. Recruiting duty isn’t about shaking hands at events here & there, or maybe talking to kids at a high school or two. Recruiters have long hours, have quotas to meet, are constantly on the road in their assigned areas, and frequently work weekends. Campbell isn’t going to be doing any of this. Well, he’ll be working weekends, but it won’t be for the Army. So for all the people talking about how Campbell is still going to be serving, please stop. Campbell may be assigned to a recruiting command for administrative purposes, but he is most certainly not going to be a real recruiter. Real recruiters work more than one day a week. Saying this is “service” is nothing but spin.

Which brings me to annoying misconception number three, as illustrated in this piece in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Service,” according to this author and others, can only be defined by those who have served:

Do you know the people who seem to have the biggest problem with this? Those who never served a day.

No, no, no, no. You do not need a connection to the military to have an opinion on this issue. You only need to be a taxpayer. The Army, like any other government agency, is supposed to answer to the people– not the other way around. If taxpayers don’t think they’re getting the return they would expect from their West Point investment, they have every right to voice their opinions about it. If this columnist (who presumably never served himself) is allowed to speak out in favor of the policy, then it’s just as appropriate for people who disagree with him to do the same.

Another flawed argument that you see in defense of the Army’s policy is that it will only affect one or two cadets per year. As Jim Litke wrote for the AP:

No matter how Campbell or Viti’s NFL stints go, there is no chance a parade of topflight prep athletes will enroll in the service academies seeking a path to pro sports. The odds are too long, too many other schools already offer a more established and much more comfortable route and that’s before you factor in the risk.

It’s true that few service* academy players get looks from the NFL; that’s why some people say it won’t affect more than a player or two each year. But that’s all based on the assumption that nothing will change under the new policy. Isn’t the whole point of all this to be able to attract better players? Of course it is:

It’s no coincidence that when Army’s plan was introduced in 2005, then coach Bobby Ross drafted a memo to NFL player personnel directors, informing them of the new policy. It was time to get the word out.

To the NFL, to potential recruits.

Because back then, and now, it was all about recruiting.

Recruiting football players.

And now that Army has what appears could be, at least, a slight edge in recruiting over its service academy rivals, they better start closing the gap on them.

After all, that’s why the policy was instituted in the first place.

How can anyone assume that the number of players that’ll have a shot at the NFL will remain the same under the new policy as it was under the old? People like Litke and others make the argument that West Point still isn’t the easiest path to the NFL, and recruits won’t be turning down Michigan and Texas to go there. True, but that misses the point. Army doesn’t have to out-recruit BCS schools. They only have to out-recruit Navy and Air Force. If each service* academy produces 2 players a year that might be capable of playing in the NFL, the Army wants to get all six of them going to West Point. You can’t assume that only a player or two per year will be affected by this based on past performance.

Colonel Bryan Hilferty, speaking on behalf of West Point, sought to clear up some misconceptions about the policy for the Detroit News. He pretty much does the opposite.

Hilferty cleared up some misconceptions about the program:

• It is a Dept. of Defense program and does not apply only to West Point. (The Naval and Air Force academies have not implemented it.)

• The perception other cadets will head to Iraq immediately after graduation is wrong. They face another year of training.

• Campbell is not giving up his military obligation. He owes the army eight years of service. After two years with a pro sports team, he can buy out the next three years of active service for about $120,000 — the cost of three years of his education.

• Campbell would then have a six-year obligation of active reserve duty.

On the first point, I am going to assume that whoever wrote this is just making a mistake and that the Colonel isn’t telling a blatant lie. The “Alternative Service Option” is very much the Army’s alone. It is not a Department of Defense program, as you already know since I posted a link to the DOD policy. (In case you haven’t seen it, you can read it here.) As for the other points, it doesn’t matter what kind of an obligation Campbell has if he makes the team, because he won’t be qualified to do anything. West Point seems desperate to portray all this as business as usual, but it really isn’t.

You can tell by the way that they are using talking points and questionable arguments in defense of the policy. Mike Viti, who is getting a lookfrom the Buffalo Bills, is quoted in that Litke column:

“I think a lot of people have the misconception that if you’re not getting bullets slung by your head, that you’re not serving your nation in a time of war,” Viti said.

“There are service support branches in the Army for a reason. Combat arms is what I decided to do, but that doesn’t mean my service is going to be any less,” he added, “because when you start to split hairs on it, you start to demean some of the other branches of the U.S. Army.”

This is almost embarrassing; I very seriously doubt that Viti came up with this clack himself (Caleb Campbell said almost the exact same thing word-for-word here, which tells me that they’ve been told exactly what to say). Hiding behind other branches of the Army in order to defend this policy? Making people feel guilty for thinking that this policy is wrong?  It’s the Animal House logic:

The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests – we did. But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America! Gentlemen!

Special advisor to the West Point Public Affairs Office.

What a horrible, cowardly argument to make. Nobody– nobody— has claimed that you aren’t serving if you aren’t being shot at. Saying that a one-day-a-week faux “recruiter” isn’t truly serving doesn’t demean the service of non-combat branches of the Army in the least. Quite the opposite… What’s demeaning is saying that Viti’s part-time boondoggle is no different than the vital work that Quartermasters, AGs, or doctors– or even real recruiters– do. That’s the whole point of the argument. This isn’t an indictment of non-combat branches of the Army. Not even close. The whole point of the argument is that playing in the NFL and spending one day a week shaking hands doesn’t measure up to the work that those branches do. This is spin of the worst kind.

Viti isn’t the only player to have made dumb remarks. Caleb Campbell is quoted in the New York Times:

“I’ve heard stories about what’s gone on in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Campbell said. “In another sense, the N.F.L. is just as much pressure. You’re out there to take somebody’s job. In terms of coaches can’t cut me? We’re talking about the N.F.L. here. This is a cutthroat business.”

In the NFL, “cutthroat” is a metaphor. In Iraq, “cutthroat” is literal. If you fail in the NFL, you’re released and pursue a more conventional career like everyone else in America. If you fail in Iraq or Afghanistan, you die. The pressure isn’t even close to the same. If anyone other than Caleb Campbell said this, half of the Army fans supporting this policy would be up in arms about how much of an insult it was, and how out of touch the person who said it must be. This is “good PR?” Hardly. Maybe these are young guys, and putting them in front of a microphone enough times will eventually yield dumb comments like Campbell’s and Viti’s. Maybe… but does it matter? This is all about PR, right? Maybe it isn’t the best idea to trot out Mike Viti to tell everyone that they’re “fools” if they disagree with him.

(By the way… Criticizing the policy is not the same as attacking the players personally. That’s another strawman that some policy supporters like to whip out. And once these players open their mouths, their words should come under the same scrutiny as anyone else’s. Just making a pre-emptive strike here for the inevitable comments about how I’m being mean to the players.)

Dave Ausiello, writing for GoMids.com, got Army coach Stan Brock’s take on the policy.

Specifically, when asked if he felt the policy, from the recruiting aspect makes the playing field uneven amongst the three academies, Brock responded:

I guess it would be.  I don’t think about it that much, but it sounds like it would be.”

Either Stan Brock is the stupidest man in football, or he is lying through his teeth. There is no way that you can spend so much time recruiting players and not understand what kind of a recruiting advantage this policy gives you. Especially since later in the interview, he seems to know all about the kind of benefits the policy is supposed to bring:

We understand at West Point that west of the Mississippi…we are challenged a little bit in getting information out about [the academy] and all that it stands for.  And so to have the national exposure like we had in the last 24 hours with Caleb Campbell – a seventh round draft choice…is very, very positive for a lot of reasons,” said Stan Brock.

A lot of reasons, but he just doesn’t think much about the reasons that help him do his job? Riiiight. Brock said something else in that interview that I found disturbing:

“We’re recruiting for West Point.  You have to be a special kid – you have to have something special about you to come to West Point.  It does not change our recruiting whatsoever.  We still have the academic and physical standards.  This will always be West Point.”

As if it’s academic and physical standards, not providing the core of the nation’s career Army officers, that makes West Point what it is.

 

Perhaps the most perplexing comment of all came from the Department of Defense, who, when questioned by Bill Wagner about Army’s policy, delivered this shipment of wisdom:

Eileen M. Lainez, spokesperson for the Department of Defense, issued a statement that read: an applicant for early release to pursue professional sports must meet certain requirements to include serving a minimum of 24 months of the original active duty service obligation in addition to any further requirements as determined by the appropriate secretary of the military department concerned.

“It is up to the military departments to interpret and apply that policy. Therefore, you must ask Army about its interpretation and application (or why it may differ from other services),” Lainez wrote in an e-mail.

It’s up to the Army to interpret DoD orders? Is that how it works? That’s the most stupid, spineless thing I’ve ever heard. It’s basically the OSD’s way of saying, “we don’t want to go through the trouble of telling the Army it’s wrong.” What kind of nonsense is it to say that the Army gets to interpret DoD rules as they see fit? Imagine if everything worked that way. I would get to interpret this:

to mean this:

Because clearly, the first sign says I can’t go any less than 55. And who’s to say otherwise? It’s up to me to interpret it! Way to step up to the plate, OSD.

It doesn’t take long to find commentary against the policy, too. One college paper took a stab at it:

Whether or not they intended to do so, the army’s actions have made military service something to be avoided and even abandoned. The army can’t be taking cadets such as Campbell away from his military duty in hopes that he’ll attract some kids that, in regards to joining, were on the fence. Because if kids do end up looking up to him, they might be jumping right back over it.

Some think of the Army as “selling out,” and today’s editorial in the Examiner agrees: 

This has nothing to do with anything so shallow as West Point’s newfound recruiting advantage over the Naval and Air Force academies.

What it has to do with is Army leadership seeming to go soft and weak in their institutional leadership, losing their core values and will.

That says more in two sentences than I’ve said in all of my voluminous ranting on the subject, which is probably why writers at the Examiner get paid while I deposit my scribblings on the electronic equivalent of a bar napkin.

But the best comment so far probably comes from Adam Ballard, which is no surprise:

“I don’t know if I would be able to look myself in the mirror everyday, making six digits [in salary] and playing football for a living while [my classmates] are defending our country. It’s a lot of guys’ dreams to go play in the NFL, but once you come here and sign your papers, you are getting a free education. As a man, you hold up your end of the bargain.”

And that includes the Army holding up its end of its bargain to taxpayers, too. West Point is there for a reason. That reason has nothing to do with the NFL.

Why Two Years?

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the whole “Alternative Service Option” debacle is the Army’s blatant disregard for the Department of Defense policy that defines the terms for service* academy graduates to pursue opportunities in professional sports. The DoD policy requires graduates to spend at least two years on active duty before even being allowed to ask permission to play professionally. The Army has circumvented this by redefining “active duty” to include pretty much anything. If you believe the spokes-colonel that West Point trotted out to recite the talking points for the E:60 piece on the subject, that could mean playing in the NFL, playing minor league baseball, or singing on American Idol. The Army has exploited a loophole. This great American institution that has valued honor above all else throughout its history has chosen to ignore the spirit of a DoD order by utilizing a technicality. It’s shameful.

But doesn’t the DoD policy itself say that putting players in the NFL is good for PR and recruiting? That’s how people who defend the Army policy would read it, but that’s not what it actually says:

Exceptional personnel with unique talents and abilities may be released from active duty when there is a strong expectation they will provide the Department with significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national recruiting or public affairs efforts.

May be released from active duty, and only when there is a strong expectation of enhancing recruiting and public affairs efforts… Not because it will enhance recruiting and public affairs efforts. In other words, putting officers into the NFL isn’t inherently good for PR, and the decision to do so should be handled on a case-by-case basis. Army’s “Alternative Service (lol) Option” operates on a different assumption.

So when, then, does the DoD think there is a recruiting or PR benefit? Good question, and it brings us to why there is a two year active duty requirement. Supporters of Army’s policy like to point to Chad Hennings, David Robinson, and Roger Staubach as examples of the great PR that pro sports can bring to the Armed Forces. But those three players actually served– and by serve, I mean in a capacity other than as a recruiter on offseason Tuesdays. Hennings spent four years as a pilot and flew missions in Iraq. Robinson spent two years in the Navy’s Civil Engineering Corps. Staubach served for four years, including a tour in Vietnam, before he played a single down for the Cowboys. That’s why they were good publicity. By actually showing that even the pampered and glorious life of a professional athlete was worth putting on hold for the sake of the same jobs that rank & file servicemen perform, they raised the profile of the those rank & file jobs in the eyes of the American public. By allowing Campbell to eschew those jobs in favor of the NFL, the Army does the opposite. They become no different than any other job that someone would give up in order to play in the NFL.

The only marketing benefit that the Army receives from putting Campbell into the NFL is an increased awareness that the Army exists, as if there’s anyone who doesn’t already know that. That doesn’t do the Army any good. What the American people aren’t aware of, and what the Army would really benefit from if they were, is the actual nature of service– what life is like, the wide variety of careers available, etc. The most credible people to tell this story are the people who have done it. Hell, the Army already knows this. Just go to their own official recruiting site. The first thing you see is a video described thusly:

Explore over 150 different careers you can train for and find out from real Soldiers what it’s like to be a Soldier in the U.S. Army.

Clearly, the argument that Campbell would be good for recruiting contradicts the Army’s own methods, since no part-time Tuesday recruiter and football player can tell anyone “what it’s like to be a Soldier in the U.S. Army.” There is only one group that could potentially see recruiting benefits from Campbell being in the NFL: the West Point football team. That’s the Army’s true motive behind their policy. If the Army football team was going 9-3 instead of 3-9 every year, I doubt we’d hear about how much we need this “good PR.” Ask yourself this: what is the most likely place that this “Alternative Service Option” idea was hatched? At the Army’s recruiting command? Or in one of the “expert” panels that West Point put together to improve the football program? Deep down, I think we all know the answer.

Besides, what exactly is the benefit behind this “good PR?” There’s no doubt that Campbell carried himself well at the draft, and seeing him get applauded certainly gave everyone a warm and fuzzy feeling. But doesn’t that applause demonstrate how highly the American public already thinks of its servicemembers? We have holidays to honor them, people put bumper stickers on their cars about supporting them, and spontaneous applause for uniformed personnel is by no means rare when they’re seen walking through an airport. Serving in the Army is already considered honorable and held in high esteem by the mainstream. The Army doesn’t need good PR about the idea of service. They already have that. What they need is good PR about the actual work that its members perform; to break the various misconceptions that people have about what they’d be in store for if they signed up. The Air Force got that kind of PR when broadcasters talked about how cool it was that Chad Hennings flew A-10s in combat. The Army gets nothing of the sort from Campbell, nor from those who will follow in his footsteps.

There is another reason that the DoD policy requires two years of active duty service. One of the conditions for a selected player’s reserve service is that he will:

4. Be assigned to a Selected Reserve unit and meet normal retention requirements based on minimum participation standards per Title 10, United States Code, Section 10147, and be subject to immediate, involuntary recall for any reason to complete the period of active duty from which early release was granted.

If someone is being recalled, there’s a good chance that he’s needed as part of an armed conflict. That’s the difference between recruiting and other non-combat roles. Things like medical and supply directly support the front lines. Recruiters do not. In requiring applicants to have at least two years of active duty service, the DoD ensures that they are trained in something that can support those engaged in the conflict. By spending two years of “active duty” as a recruiter without having any other training or experience, officers that are part of the Army’s policy are basically useless in the event of a recall.

By the way, here’s the referenced section of the U.S. Code:

Except as specifically provided in regulations to be
prescribed by the Secretary of Defense, or by the Secretary of
Homeland Security with respect to the Coast Guard when it is not
operating as a service in the Navy, each person who is enlisted,
nducted, or appointed in an armed force, and who becomes a member
of the Ready Reserve under any provision of law except section 513
or 10145(b) of this title, shall be required, while in the Ready
Reserve, to –
        (1) participate in at least 48 scheduled drills or training
      periods during each year and serve on active duty for training of
      not less than 14 days (exclusive of traveltime) during each year;
      or
        (2) serve on active duty for training not more than 30 days
      during each year.

If the story in USA Today is correct– that “he’ll serve as a recruiter, spending his Tuesday off days from the Lions visiting high schools and working”– then what the Army is calling Campbell’s active duty doesn’t even meet the U.S. Code’s requirement for the reserves.

The two year requirement for active duty– real active duty– is there for a reason. The Army’s redefining of active duty to include professional sports, when the Department of Defense clearly distinguishes the two, is deplorable. For the Army to claim that it’s being done for its own good is disingenuous at best, dishonorable at worst.

Caleb Campbell Was Drafted

So I’m sure that you’ve already heard that the Detroit Lions selected Army’s Caleb Campbell in the 7th round of the NFL Draft. And I’m sure that most of you are checking the site today expecting me to say something about it. I’m not sure what’s left to be said, though. It’s a bad policy on so many levels. But I don’t feel like going through all of that again, at least not right now.

There are still a few related things to talk about, I guess. Supporters of this policy will point to yesterday’s draft coverage on ESPN, with rowdy fans in the balcony chanting Campbell’s name, as an example of the great Army publicity that’s headed our way. If they say so… We’ll get to that. Not that it should be the role of a service* academy to produce graduates for the sake of promoting itself. Duty, Honor, Country, Publicity? Doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Ah, but the talking point that Campbell was clearly instructed to say (since he’s said the exact same thing in more than one interview) was that he is in fact serving, just in a different way. In what way will that be? Well, according to USA Today:

Campbell will still be on active duty. He’ll serve as a recruiter, spending his Tuesday off days from the Lions visiting high schools and working.

Four years and a quarter of a million dollars, people. All to produce someone who’ll only work for the Army on those Tuesdays when the Lions don’t need him. Way to put the “service” in service* academy, West Point. Those people cheering for Campbell at the draft weren’t cheering for this policy. They were cheering for the ideal that the uniform is supposed to represent. The uniform is supposed to represent self-sacrifice undertaken on behalf of the Constitution and the American people. Talking to high schoolers on Tuesdays just isn’t the same, no matter how it gets spun. Is recruiting important work? Absolutely– that’s why the services generally put some of their best performers in those billets. They serve as role models, giving recruits a glimpse of what they might become. They get these positions based on a track record of excellence in service that Campbell won’t have. Of course, this isn’t Campbell’s fault. He’s just following a path that the Army laid out for him. It would be nice, though, if the Army would have the decency to stop using him as their talking point parrot. Sure, Campbell’s a soldier. The same way Kellen Winslow is.

It isn’t going to take long for people to figure all this out. People cheer for service* academies not for what they do as cadets and midshipmen, but for what they’ve committed to do in the future as officers. Campbell received applause for wearing the uniform, but eventually people will start saying, “Hey, wait a minute.” Deadspin seems to be the first to realize that Campbell is being treated like a hero when he hasn’t done anything. They won’t be the last.

In other news, has anyone considered the publicity impact if Campbell doesn’t make the team? Let’s be honest, now– 7th rounders aren’t exactly the stuff that legends are made of. And while Campbell passes the look test, he wasn’t that good. He lost a step after his knee surgery. And although he has a reputation as a hard hitter, I sort of laughed while watching the highlights that ESPN & the NFL Network were showing of Ray Rice and Tulane’s Matt Forte because half of them showed Rice and Forte breaking Campbell tackles. Navy fans will remember his little do-si-do with Lamar Owens at the ’05 Army-Navy game. I’m not going to pretend that I’m some crack NFL talent evaluator, but history would suggest that players drafted in the 7th round are a longshot to make the team. So what does that have to do with publicity? Let’s look at the headline of that USA Today article. It reads, Army’s Campbell drafted by Lions, not headed to Iraq. Later, the article calls the NFL Campbell’s “ticket out of Iraq.” So if Campbell gets cut, how is that story going to be presented? As the end of a dream? How going to the regular Army is such a downer?  But isn’t the point of all this “good PR” to try to generate recruits who are willing to go into the Army? To go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan? I’m sure there are ways to spin these things, and I’m sure that Caleb Campbell will say all the right things in that scenario. But with all the hoopla that’s being pushed about how great this is, it’ll be a hard act to sell.

Anyway, I am confident that the backlash is coming. If the mainstream press wasn’t aware of the policy before, they sure are now. I’ll be standing by.

More Fallout

Thomas Hauser’s piece criticizing West Point’s NFL policy generated quite a stir. Enough that he was compelled to write a follow-up. It’s worth a read, although you’ve already heard most points on both sides of the issue. Some of his readers’ comments make me laugh. Among my favorites:

The decision to offer the alternative service option was made at very senior levels in the Army. Unlike you and I, these general officers are responsible for the accomplishment of the Academy’s mission. Every day, they balance competing priorities and resource constraints to meet the needs of the Army for a new class of West Point graduate lieutenants each May. Inspiring the best and brightest young Americans to seek an appointment to the Academy is part of that mission. If it takes a successful football program to do that, then so be it.

Remember kids, you aren’t responsible for the accomplishment of the Academy’s mission, so keep your opinions to yourself. There are generals making these decisions! And generals never make mistakes!

I also like the strawman about a “successful football program,” as if opposition to this policy equals a desire to see Army lose. Clearly, if a winning program is good, that must mean that anything done in the name of winning must also be good! Don’t argue with me. It’s science.

ESPN will air a piece on this new policy tonight on their E60 show, which is sort of their attempt at a 60 Minutes for sports.