As Navy Players Get Drafted, Don’t Forget the Lessons of the ASO

It’s been quite the spring season for Naval Academy athletics. Baseball, track, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s tennis… All of them had very good campaigns. The women’s rowing team captured the Patriot League championship in exciting fashion, and in doing so clinched the conference’s all-sports Presidents’ Cup for Navy for the third time in four years. It’s boom times for the Blue and Gold, yet on-field success might not even be the biggest Navy sports story so far in 2015. Big news came off the field as well, as two Naval Academy athletes were drafted by professional leagues. Joeseph Greenspan was selected by the Colorado Rapids in the second round of January’s MLS SuperDraft, while the New England Patriots picked Joe Cardona in the fifth round of the NFL draft. Their selections re-ignite one of the oldest debates in service academy sports: under what conditions should athletes be allowed to turn pro?

Continue reading “As Navy Players Get Drafted, Don’t Forget the Lessons of the ASO”

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LCDR WESLEY BROWN, ’49

This is a sports blog, not a “general Naval Academy happenings” blog. There are certain events, however, that transcend sports and deserve to be mentioned here. The passing of Wesley Brown is such an event.

On the strength of one link in the cable,
Dependeth the might of the chain.
Who knows when thou may’st be tested?
So live that thou bearest the strain!

The purpose of plebe summer is not simply an indoctrination to a military lifestyle. It also teaches incoming plebes the single most important lesson for military success: that the individual no longer matters. Once these new denizens of the dixie cup raise their right hands and take the oath, they become part of a team. Everything they will do after that point will be for the good of that team, and in turn they know that they can count on the team to get them through situations they didn’t think they could handle before. That mantra doesn’t end after Herndon; they will carry it with them through graduation and into their Naval careers.

Now imagine going through the rigors of this environment without a team, or even a roommate. No, simply not having a team would have been an improvement. Imagine going through USNA while those who were supposed to be your team were instead actively working against you. Inventing reasons to give you demerits and put you on restriction. Hazing you. Trying to get you to quit if they failed in their efforts to get you kicked out. How many of us could do it? How many would even want to try?

Take heed in your manner of speaking
That the language ye use may be sound,
In the list of the words of your choosing
“Impossible” may not be found.

Wesley Brown did. The history of racial integration at the Naval Academy is not a proud one, and as the first black midshipman to make it to graduation, he endured all that and more. That he was able to persevere is important, but just as important is how he did it. It would have been understandable, expected even, for LCDR Brown to want nothing to do with USNA, and to have been made bitter by his experience. Yet he wasn’t, at least not publicly. He never singled out a classmate for the way he was treated. He didn’t curse the Naval Academy, though he would have been justified in doing so. Instead, he embraced his alma mater, serving on the Alumni Association Board of Trustees and maintaining a visible presence on the yard. He continued to put ship and shipmate before self, and became the embodiment of that most fundamental of midshipman lessons. The grace with which Brown handled his burden prevented further divisiveness and accelerated the process through which the Academy corrected its wrongs and became the institution that it is today.

Doth the paintwork make war with the funnels
And the deck to the cannons complain?
Nay, they know that some soap and fresh water
Unites them as brothers again.

So ye, being heads of departments,
Do you growl with a smile on your lip,
Lest ye strive and in anger be parted,
And lessen the might of your ship.

It is appropriate, then, that there is a building bearing his name on the Yard. If it is a love of country that inspires us to serve, then how great must that love be for someone who answers the call even while being harassed by those who would have him fail? Officers capable of leadership in the face of adversity are exactly what the Naval Academy strives to produce. Future generations of midshipmen must remember the example that Brown set for them. The moment he decided to bearest the strain, our school and our country were changed for the better. 

Say the wise: How may I know their purpose?
Then acts without wherefore or why.
Stays the fool but one moment to question,
And the chance of his life passes by.

May he be remembered with gratitude as he rests in eternal peace.

Business As Usual

Take a look at the scoreboard from week one around college football. You’ll find plenty of close calls and near upsets (Eastern Washington’s 30-27 loss to Washington comes to mind) and you’ll also find plenty of games with misleading final scores. You’ll see blowouts and nail biters, traditional powerhouses running roughshod and FCS punching bags getting, well, punched. Somewhere in there, you’ll see Navy’s  40-17 win over Delaware.

It wasn’t the first time Navy beat an FCS team, and it was far from the most impressive from a production standpoint (anyone remember Shun White?). But with so many questions entering the year, and so many defensive players breaking into the fold for the first time, Navy’s win over the 5th-ranked Blue Hens is something to feel good about after an offseason of turbulence.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to play cheerleader, and I’m not here to start making predictions or begin starting chants to see the proverbial “gravy” everyone always talks about. But at the same time I’m not coach Niumatalolo, and I’m not going to nitpick when Navy’s win was in fact a very solid performance for week one, especially given what some other college teams were dealing with against lesser foes this past weekend. As Bruce Feldman reminded everyone during the halftime break, KC Keeler’s Blue Hens aren’t exactly the Little Sisters of the Poor, and Delaware’s  number five ranking was well deserved.  Considering Oregon State – a BCS team – fell to 24th-ranked Sacramento State, and that Duke – another BCS team – lost to 16th-ranked Richmond, Navy’s win looks like the kind the kind of business-as-usual game you’d expect a perennial bowl team to have over an FCS team.

And you know what, it was. The final stats– including Navy’s 437 yards to Delaware’s 363 – may not seem blowout-worthy, but the Mids did almost everything right.  From Kriss Proctor’s running of the option, to the defense stepping up in key moments and holding the Hens off the board, Navy kept the perennial FCS title contender at arm’s length for the entire game. Once more, Navy did it virtually mistake-free. I mean, how many week-one games do you see without a team committing a penalty or just turning the ball over a scant one time? How about having a kicker nail a 54-yard field goal, or a special teams unit – with a number of freshmen, mind you – giving up no big returns? Now that‘s something last year’s team didn’t manage to do in the opener, nor was it something Navy managed to do in its rout of Towson in the 2008 opener.

There’s a lot of season left to play, and a lot of games on the schedule that are going to challenge this team more than Delaware. For all we know, the Blue Hens might end up being the FCS’s biggest disappointment. But something tells me they won’t be, and something tells me that Navy’s business-as-usual win could be a welcome prelude to a season filled with many more.

To Care or Not to Care: KC Keeler and the Importance of Week 1

The opening week of the college football season will always hold a special place in my heart. Aside from providing a usually welcomed and much-needed break from a whole three or four days of classes, it has always managed to indulge that innate sports fan desire in me to see an upset. David vs. Goliath matchups? Week One always provides plenty of them, and that’s not likely to stop anytime soon. Sure, fans of BCS conference teams may moan ad nauseum about playing the Little Sisters of the Poor (who, it turns out, don’t actually field a team), but with the state of television contracts and ticket sale revenue being what they are, the incentive to play an FCS team isn’t the opportunity cost loss some people would like us to think it is.

Good for people like me who enjoy watching the ACC take its annual nose dive or two against Colonial Athletic Conference teams, but good for the FCS teams playing? According to Delaware head coach KC Keeler, maybe not. That, at least, if you’re going off of what Keeler said in the weekly CAA teleconference on Monday:

My preference is to not play any I-A teams. The goal of our program is not to win a I-A game, it’s to win a national championship. It’s really difficult to make the playoffs and we need to put ourselves in the best position possible to do so. We need to have enough wins to get into the playoffs.

Interesting comments, no doubt, especially when you factor in the history of the Navy-UD series. As Bill Wagner points out in his blog, the series has been going back to 1984 and is currently sees Navy with an 8-7 series advantage. Hardly the kind of one-sided stomping that certain SEC or Big 10 schools unload on their FCS “rivals” on a yearly basis, and by and large good football to watch regardless of the week the game is being played in.

While I don’t presume to actually define what’s good and what’s not good for the Delaware program, I can’t help but question what is behind Keeler’s comments, and if they’re really meant to be taken at face value. True, his team is among dozens fighting for 10 at-large spots in the playoffs if they don’t win the CAA – but I’m sure Keeler would tell you that winning the CAA is the first goal of his program each year, if only because it would include a bye in the playoffs and a possible streamline to the National Title Game. Likewise, if we’re to believe recent history, then beating an FBS team – especially a perennial bowl team like Navy – carries quite a bit of weight with the NCAA committee when considering at-large bids. So wouldn’t it help Delaware to keep playing a game against an FBS team like Navy? My inclination says it would, especially now that one of the CAA’s best teams – Massachusetts – is heading up to the FBS.

Smoke and mirrors? I’m not saying it is, but something tells me to take these comments with the suspicion of coach speak. Keeler’s program is established enough that it’s always going to be in contention for an at-large spot in the playoffs even if his team doesn’t win the CAA, and given the demanding CAA slate and the incentives of upsetting Navy, it seems a productive use of a game to travel down to Annapolis. The real reason for the comments? Economic, perhaps, but also to deflect attention from the matchup, and to downplay media attention for the upset that he and his players are banking on.

He cares. His team cares. They just don’t want you to know how badly they do.

YES, I KNOW

Yes, I am aware of the “controversy” surrounding NAPS and admissions and whatnot. No, I’m not going to talk about it beyond the few sentences you’re about to read.

Nothing whips up page views for the Capital quite like a Naval Academy argument, and that’s all we have here: the Capital stirring a non-existent pot. Now that the Bruce Fleming admissions crusade has sort of run its course (at least until he writes his next book), the Capital has simply redirected those same arguments toward the prep school. What? NAPS is a “back door” for candidates with lower grades to get into USNA? No shit, assholes. That’s what it’s always been there for. Strangely, not everyone shares the opinion that SAT scores are the alpha and omega of what makes for a good naval officer. The prep school is a way to get those candidates with potential– but lower scores– the chance to prepare for the academic rigors of USNA life. It couldn’t be more straightforward, but by repeatedly using phrases like “back door” the Capital is clearly trying to cast NAPS as some shady, secret enterprise. The whole routine is a joke.

Take a close look at this article. What is the story? That a Naval Academy graduate wrote an e-mail to a senator. That’s it. I mean, really? This is news? I’m a Naval Academy graduate, Earl. Would anyone write a story if I sent a few e-mails? That newsprint was wasted on something as ridiculous as some random disgruntled grad shooting e-mails to Jim Webb just illustrates the Capital’s intent. My link to that pathetic “story” is as close as I’ll come to playing along.

If you think the Academy should do away with the admissions board altogether and just accept the top 1000 SAT scores that apply, good for you. I’ve already responded to that. I’ll respond to a new argument when someone actually makes one.

I ALMOST FORGOT

I can’t believe I’ve gone two weeks without mentioning the new USNA ads on TV. Gone are the high school AV club, public access-quality gubmint ads with 20 year-old footage. In are snazzy new productions that might be a tad cheesy, but they’re professional looking. At least they aren’t downright embarassing anymore. One thing about the Ram Vela ad… Why would he think about Coach Niumatalolo? Niumat was the offensive line coach! Meh. Creative license, I suppose.

Anyway, the main ad shows a varsity football player, a singer in the gospel choir, a volunteer in Mids For Kids, a varsity soccer player, and some kind of shipdriving simulator. My question is: how many of these things would be considered “secondary, optional, and conditional?” Only one of them looks related to warfare training. The rest appear to the same kind of “distractions” that the Superintendent railed on a year ago. Funny how now they’re what’s being used to get candidates interested in the Naval Academy in the first place. Maybe ECAs are a bit more important than you gave them credit for, eh, Admiral? Shocking.

Loose Change 3/14/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:

  • Did I mention my March of Dimes walk?
  • Ken Niumatalolo added one more assistant to his coaching staff, hiring former Harvard wide receivers coach Mike Judge to be the new fullbacks coach. The announcement was a bit of a surprise, as Ivin Jasper was originally supposed to coach both the quarterbacks and the fullbacks. I don’t know what changed there.
  • It’s time for this year’s College Football Hall of Fame elections, and once again Wayne Hardin is on the ballot. You may be interested to know that Pat Tillman is as well. Chet Moeller, unfortunately, is not.
  • The Mid-Majority listed its picks for conference award winners. The blog agrees with the Patriot League’s pick for Player of the Year in Greg Sprink, but endorsed Jeff Jones for the coaching honors.
  • It’s spring break at USNA, and the women’s soccer team is spending it in Spain.
  • Spring break also means a trip for the lacrosse team, and for the second straight year they’ll be heading to Dallas. Coming off their best performance of the season against Lehigh, the Mids will look to keep their Patriot League momentum rolling tomorrow when they play Holy Cross at Texas Stadium. A little bit more on the event here. I liked it better when the team went to Orlando on spring break, but I’m biased.
  • Yale Eckert tossed a one-hitter against Iona. And they use aluminum bats!
  • There was a piece in the Washington Times about the Foundation.
  • Matt DaSilva at Lacrosse Magazine ponders whether the Navy women’s lacrosse team will be 16-0 at the end of April. We will find out just how good these Mids are when they take on defending Patriot League champs Holy Cross this weekend.
  • Mike Preston, who is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, discusses how much of a crock it was for the NCAA to have given an extra year of eligibility to last year’s Duke lacrosse seniors.
  • And finally, Mansfield certainly seems to be generating a lot of hoopla for their new sprint football team. But to give you a feel for the current state of sprint football, we have this:

    Steve McCloskey, Mansfield’s director of athletic operations and information, explained that the CSFL season generally includes seven or eight games, and there are no playoffs. The Mountaineers will not compete against Army and Navy this season as the players there “are in training year-round. Their programs are elevated,” McCloskey said.

    He added that the university and the CSFL mutually agreed to give the Mountaineers two years to get ready for the service academies, but Mansfield could play Army and Navy as soon as next season if the Mountaineers think they’re ready.

    It takes two years just to get ready to play the service academies? Come on, it’s not like they’ll do any worse than Princeton. (Oh, and pay no attention to the part in the article that says Cornell won the league this year).