SOME CHATTER

A few things to discuss:

— The conference expansion gong show continues. Moving on from its failed merger with the Mountain West, Conference USA is adding five teams: North Texas, FIU, Louisiana Tech, UTSA, and UNC-Charlotte. Old Dominion also reportedly has an invite, but is mulling things over. The Sun Belt added Texas State and Georgia State to make up for its losses. In a move that was long anticipated, San Jose State and Utah State made their way to the Mountain West.

The departure of Louisiana Tech, UTSA, Texas State, SJSU, and Utah State on top of those that have already left means that the WAC is pretty much dead as a football conference. Only Idaho and New Mexico State remain, and the future looks pretty bleak for them as those two might be the first casualties of the haves-have nots divide. Even if they intend to find a way to survive in I-A, how on earth will these guys be able to recruit? Who’s going to want to sign on for four years when they can’t be sure that there will even be a program in four years? Expect a lot of JUCO transfers for the Aggies and Vandals in the near future.

Paul Meyerberg sums it up:

As someone who grew up watching Hawaii and epic BYU-San Diego State shootouts, seeing the WAC go is a sad thing, even if those days were already long gone. There was a lot of innovation in that league, from Air Coryell, to the spread option, to the 3-3-5 defense. Even the modern WAC was fun to watch, with Pat Hill’s take-on-all-comers Fresno State teams, Boise State’s rise to the national spotlight, and Hawaii’s run & shoot for those of us who wanted our college football Saturdays to stretch into Sunday morning. Those programs are still around, but having them all in one crazy package made for a good time. Of course, the Mountain West is basically the nuWAC now, so maybe some sense of the spirit of the WAC will live on for a little while longer, just with a stupider logo.

For those of us who have been stationed in Norfolk or have been long-time residents… ODU MIGHT BE PLAYING FOOTBALL IN C-USA. How bonkers is that?

— Speaking of the Mountain West, they released their hodgepodge national television schedule yesterday. Of note is that Navy will be playing Air Force on CBS again (cool), but at 9:30 a.m. local time (lollerskates). Crazy early start times and midweek games were a driving factor for the MWC in leaving ESPN and starting their own network, but I guess beggars can’t be choosers at this point. CBS Sports Network owns the conference’s rights, but “will sub-license games to NBC Sports Network and ESPN” according to the release. Judging by television appearances, the Mountain West is made up of Boise State and the nine dwarves, with the Broncos getting 10 of their games picked up under this arrangement. The announcement includes games like Boise State at Michigan State and Air Force at Army that aren’t part of the Mountain West package, but rather the respective home teams’ TV deal. Not on the list is Air Force’s game at Michigan on Sept. 8, which will definitely be televised. It might end up on ESPN, although looking at the Big Ten schedule that week there’s a chance it’ll be on the Big Ten Network instead. Teams will be forced to look for local TV coverage for the rest of the conference’s games.

— Don’t forget the women’s lax game vs. Oregon on Saturday, which will be streamed live online for free.

Weekend of Champions

Watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight (Go Caps!), I remembered that Navy is home to some new Patriot League Championships thanks to an excellent showing this past weekend. A few quick words on each:

Women’s Lacrosse – Six years ago, Navy did not have a Varsity Women’s Lacrosse team. Now Navy is home to a three-peat Patriot League champion. And as if winning three titles in a row isn’t impressive enough, the Mids went undefeated in league play this year. With a season record of 17-2 (a season opening loss at High Point and late March loss the only blemishes on the schedule), Navy now heads to Oregon for a play-in game to the NCAA tournament.

Golf – Winning the title for the first time since 2008, Navy now has 6 of the last 14 titles. And there could be no sweeter way to win it than edging out a 3 stroke victory over Army. With the win, Navy earns an automatic bid to the NCAA regionals in mid-May.

Men’s Tennis – Two championship titles at the expense of Army? In my Navy sports? It’s more likely than you think. The Navy men took down Army 4-1 in Annapolis to claim the league crown. Navy held serve on it’s #1 seed through the tourney and will now move on to the NCAA tourney, where Florida (12th seed out of 64) awaits. This is Navy’s 5th Men’s Tennis title in the last 6 years.

Not bad for a weekend, huh?

I’M NOT AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR, BUT…

Man, just when I think I’m going to get caught up on all the stuff I’ve been meaning to write, I get an avalanche of garbage to respond to that takes up all my time.

I have only myself to blame for this. Bruce Fleming, USNA’s outspoken English professor and self-appointed military expert, trots out more or less the same op-ed every year or two questioning the nature, and occasionally the existence, of the Naval Academy. A refined opportunist, he tweaks it slightly each time to maximize its effect, relating to whatever recent events he can use to suit his purpose before shopping it around to various publications. This time he exploits the Marcus Curry situation in the New York Times, telling readers that the service academies have “lost their way” and should either be “fixed or abolished.” If I was a smarter and more productive person, I would have had a canned response ready for his canned commentary. Unfortunately, my lack of foresight means that I have to start from scratch. So be it. Fleming’s argument that the service academies are on a bullet train to mediocrity is specious, relying on extrapolations based on anecdotal evidence and unfairly blaming athletes. His conclusions illustrate a fundamental lack of appreciation for what service academies are supposed to be. Continue reading “I’M NOT AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR, BUT…”

Loose Change, 3/21/08

I’m even mailing it in on my weekly links. Holy crap I suck…

  • Here’s a Q&A with Lehigh’s women’s lacrosse coach, who seems to hold the upstart Navy team in fairly high regard.
  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch had a nice little article about Chris Harris.
  • A wrestler at NAPS, Aaron Kalil, won a national title.
  • Speaking of wrestling, three Navy wrestlers have advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
  • Inside Lacrosse has their analysis of Navy lacrosse’s 4-3 OT win over Bucknell here. One point here… Sean Burns says, “I don’t know exactly how a team that has made four straight NCAA tournaments and came into the season ranked No. 9 in the country can play the ‘no respect’ card, but Navy seems to be doing just that in ’08.” He then follows that up with a heading of, “Patriot League: no longer Navy’s playground.” Gee, I wonder where Navy’s getting that idea?
  • And in non-sports news, some duty driver is probably in a lot of trouble right now.

Again, I apologize for my recent funk. One day I hope to write something worth reading.

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).

Loose Change 3/7/08

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

  • Spring football practice is beginning around the country, and ESPN.com has three sentences on Navy. You may not have heard, but we have a new head coach!
  • Sadly, Tom Marryott will not be returning next year as the women’s basketball coach. Given the decline of the program since its mid-’90s heyday, this news isn’t much of a surprise. But the inevitablility doesn’t make it any less depressing. The son of a former superintendent, Marryott has been a part of the Navy family his entire life. Marryott was an assistant with the men’s program when he took over the women’s team on an interim basis following the sudden resignation of Joe Sanchez five years ago. After showing some promise in that interim season, Chet awarded Marryott the permanent gig. But the team never seemed to gather much momentum, even in a conference that, frankly, isn’t very good. The rise of the Army program probably didn’t help matters. It’s a shame that things didn’t work out. I think Navy fans everywhere wish Coach Marryott all the best in the future. His staff remains in place for now. We anxiously await word on a new coach!
  • This has been making the rounds in the national news, but since schools selling their souls for athletic success has been a hot topic on this blog, I thought I’d mention it here. Harvard is now under the microscope.
  • In the “no-brainer” category, David Robinson has been nominated for the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
  • Bad news keeps pouring in for the Air Force basketball program as freshman Mark Summerfield has left the Academy. Nothing sinister about this one, though. The kid just decided the military wasn’t for him. It happens.
  • Remember the Patriot Bowl? The game that was supposed to be between a service academy and a MAC school, held in Cleveland each year as part of a festival of military demonstrations and whatnot? Well, it’s still happening. Just without a service academy.
  • Remember the AAFL? The new professional football league centered around major college football hubs? There were reports of that league’s demise yesterday, although those appear to have been a little premature. But the league is facing some problems right now, and may have to postpone their inaugural season until 2009.
  • Army’s home opener against Temple has been moved to Friday night. I don’t care any more than you do, but there was a line in the press release that I found interesting:

    It will mark the only non-Saturday football game of the year for the Black Knights, home or away. Each of the Army’s remaining 11 contests, including all five home games, will remain on Saturday. Kickoff times for all of those games will be announced later in the year.

    I thought that part of Army’s ESPN contract was that they would play 1-2 games per year on either ESPN or ESPN2. That means Thursday or Friday night, since ESPN usually leaves their Saturdays free for BCS-conference games. Does this mean that Army could be geting a game on the Mothership on an actual Saturday? OK, so maybe that wasn’t really interesting either.

  • The women’s lacrosse team won again. This time they pitched a shutout, beating St. Francis (PA) 24-0 in a game that was originally supposed to be the season opener. Maybe the right baseball analogy would be a perfect game, since the Mids prevented the hapless Red Flash from even taking a shot. OK, now this is getting ridiculous. Navy’s newest varsity team has a slightly more interesting matchup tomorrow with fellow Division I newcomer Cincinnati, followed by what will probably be another snoozer on Sunday against St. Mary’s. Fortunately, Patriot League play starts next weekend, with Holy Cross coming to town.
  • Not sports related, but now mids can do part of their summer cruise at a U.S. Embassy? Really? How cool is that?
  • Hold your nose before you read this love-fest for Air Force coaches. It’s nothing that you’d otherwise care about, but it includes a Paul Johnson quote.
  • ESPN.com says, “Bucknell senior John Griffin tapped into all his experience to hit a 40-footer to beat Navy.” Experience? Do they practice that shot at Bucknell or something? I guess “John Griffin gets lucky” isn’t as good of a read. Anyway, our friend Gary Lambrecht weighs in on Navy basketball, too.
  • And finally… The first one was so massive, it changed my life forever. And now it’s happening again! I’m talking, of course, about the Sale of the Century, the greatest idea in the history of human thought. Last time, there were all kinds of jerseys, sweatshirts, t-shirts, duffel bags, ballcaps, and enough equipment to outfit a small lacrosse league. This time, if the retired Under Armour lax jerseys are on sale, there may have to be contests of strength and skill just to determine who gets the chance to buy them. The SOTC will be held before the Hopkins game. The weekend’s fun actually begins the night before with the annual Blue & Gold spring football game. GoMids.com is sponsoring a tailgater before the game, sponsored by Red Hot & Blue. David Ausiello is coordinating the event, and has announced that any proceeds will go to the Fallyn Zembiec Educational Fund:

    GOMIDS.COM TO HOST SPRING GAME TAILGATER

    All Proceeds to Benefit Education Fund for Daughter of Former Navy Wrestler

    (Annapolis, MD) – GOMIDS.COM will be hosting its first-ever tailgate party on Friday, April 18th prior to Navy football’s annual Blue & Gold spring game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.  The party will begin at 5 p.m. and food will be available until 8 p.m. – one hour after the game begins.

    All proceeds from the tailgate will be donated to the Fallyn Zembiec Educational Fund established to honor the memory of her father, Doug, who was killed on May 11, 2007 in combat operations in Baghdad, Iraq.

    Zembiec, 34, a career Marine who held the rank of Major, graduated in 1995 from the United States Naval Academy where he was a two-time All-American wrestler.

    The Annapolis eatery, Red, Hot & Blue is catering the event, and the cost (which includes drinks) is $25 for adults and $10 for children, 12 and under.   Tickets must be purchased by April 4th.  Click here to buy your tickets today.

    Most of you probably already know the story of former Navy All-American and “Lion of Fallujah” Doug Zembiec. If not, you should. You can start here.

Busy Weekend

BASKETBALL: After Wednesday’s win over American, Saturday’s 73-62 loss to Colgate was a real letdown. So much for first place; American beat Lafayette and claimed the regular-season Patriot League crown. Their reward is a first-round game against Holy Cross, whose loss to Lehigh on Saturday clinched the Crusaders’ descent from first to worst. Don’t think that Holy Cross is the worst team in the league, though; while I’d still rather have the Patriot League championship and automatic NIT bid under our belts, for the purposes of the league tournament it might have been better to finish second. Then again, maybe not; Army’s 54-51 win over Bucknell pushed the Bison into the 7 seed and a first-round matchup with Navy. No matter what their league records are, it just doesn’t feel like playing Holy Cross or Bucknell is much of a reward for finishing on top of the conference.

Navy’s likely 2nd round matchup, should they beat Bucknell, would be against Colgate. If Navy wins this thing, they’ll definitely have earned it. The tournament starts Wednesday at the home courts of the higher seeds. The official tournament bracket is here.

BASEBALL: Navy might have been picked to finish first in the Patriot League, but over the weekend they had their hands full with the Ivy League. The Mids dropped two out of three to Dartmouth and fell to 3-3 on the year. Be more careful on your home run trots, Mitch!

LACROSSE: Navy beat Mount St. Mary’s 12-5 on Friday night. After an initial MSM posession that took up about half of the first quarter, Navy’s attack finally came alive. Nick Mirabito had a hat trick and two assists, while Tim Paul added a two goals to go along with two assists of his own. It was a somewhat unremarkable game, although it was a bit disturbing to see the Mount win 14 of 20 faceoffs. Navy’s next five games are all against Patriot League opponents, beginning with Lafayette on Saturday.

Speaking of the Patriot League, Army dominated Air Force 12-4 on Saturday, while Bucknell scored their own 8-7 overtime win over Ohio State. Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite sleeper team, Colgate, needed overtime to get by Canisius, 12-11.

WOMEN’S LACROSSE: Navy beat Niagara 21-5. I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about women’s lacrosse, but when a team in its first varsity season wins its first two games by a combined score of 42-15, it’s noteworthy. Yes, Niagara was 1-12 last year. But it’s good to know that the Mids are at least on a different level than that.

Nothing You Haven’t Already Heard

By far the longest-running debate among service academy sports fans is whether or not players from USNA, USMA, and USAFA should be allowed to pursue professional sports careers after graduation. That scab is getting picked once again as Army safety Caleb Campbell and punter Owen Tolson participate in the NFL Scouting Combine, hoping to catch the eyes of NFL scouts and general managers. Campbell and Tolson, if they are indeed drafted, will be eligible to play right away. That little nugget is thanks to the Army’s “Alternative Service Option,” which went into effect in March of 2005. A recommendation from one of the panels that USMA put together to figure out a way to resurrect its football program, West Point describes the Alternative Service Option like so:

ALTERNATIVE PROFESSIONAL OPTIONS: Army cadet-athletes now have options to pursue professional athletic opportunities thanks to the U.S. Army’s Alternative Service Option program. If cadet-athletes are accepted into the program, they will owe two years of active service in the Army, during which time they will be allowed to play their sport in the player development systems of their respective organizations and assigned to recruiting stations. If they remain in professional sports following those two years, they will be provided the option of “buying out” the remaining three years of their active-duty commitment in exchange for six years of reserve time.

This reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart has a vision of the future. In this vision, Lisa has been elected President and needs to raise taxes due to a budget emergency. Fearing the unpopularity of a tax increase, she decides to call it a “refund adjustment.” “Alternative service” is the same kind of euphemism. Let’s be real, here; playing ball full-time for two years while shaking hands at a couple of recruiting events isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when people think “service.” It’s apparently good enough for West Point, though, which strangely has the most lax policy of the three Division I service academies despite the Army’s much-publicized manning challenges. How they are making this work after the new Department of Defense policy for all three schools took effect, I have no idea. But it’s clear that Owen Tolson believes that he’ll be playing pro ball if he gets drafted:

When Caleb and I make an NFL roster it will be the result of  the work the West Point administration has gone through to ensure that Army Football, West Point, and the United States Army are represented in professional football…

…I hope that Caleb and I can pave the way for future Army football players and other service academy football players seeking to accomplish their goals; the same goals we all have growing up as kids: playing professional sports. 

Army has already had a couple of baseball players take advantage of this opportunity. Like it or not, it appears that Army is now firing up their pro football pipeline. And with that, the old debate begins anew. I’m sure you can already tell by my tone where I stand on the issue.  

The argument in favor of allowing service academy athletes to turn pro is simple: good publicity. Professional sports, people say, offer tremendous exposure. Even the DoD policy talks about the “potential recruiting or public affairs benefits for the Department.” But how much exposure are we really talking about? Everyone points to the David Robinson example, but Robinson was one of the greatest players in the history of his sport. Before Robinson ever set foot on an NBA court he was already a world champion, Olympic medalist, Wooden Award winner, and winner of the US Basketball Writers’ Association and Naismith College Player of the Year awards. Robinson would go on to be a 10-time NBA All-Star, league MVP, 1990 Rookie of the Year, 1992 Defensive Player of the Year, 2-time NBA champion, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, Olympic Dream Team member and 2-time gold medalist, and 2001 NBA Sportsmanship Award winner. In 1996 he was named by the NBA as one of the 50 greatest players in league history. He even had a video game named after him. Now that’s exposure, and a far cry from being some anonymous punter or a pitcher for the Everett Aqua Sox. No comparison to David Robinson is even close to being valid until we see copies of Owen Tolson’s Hang Time Punting for Playstation showing up at your local Circuit City. Service academies have actually had quite a few players in the pros over the years, but you never hear of them unless they get arrested (Bryce Fisher) or have a classmate smear them in the newspaper (Kyle Eckel). And even then some of you who aren’t die-hard service academy fans probably don’t know what I’m talking about with those two. The only player in recent memory who remotely approximates Robinson’s level of exposure is Air Force’s Chad Hennings.

Hennings won the Outland Trophy as college football’s most outstanding interior lineman in 1987, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He would go on to earn three Super Bowl rings as a member of the Dallas Cowboys after spending four years on active duty flying A-10s. He was a definite favorite of television broadcast teams, who loved to talk about Hennings’ experience flying Warthogs over Iraq. There is no doubt that Hennings’ time in the NFL was a tremendous boost for Air Force recruiting and public relations.

But there’s the rub. Hennings wasn’t praised for simply attending the Air Force Academy. He gained attention for what he spent four years doing on active duty. That’s why he had credibility as a recruiting tool– his experience reflected what Air Force officers actually do. How can someone who has done nothing but play baseball have any value as a recruiter? What good is it to be seen when you aren’t doing anything that resembles the work that recruiters are trying to sell to potential candidates? Without the exceptional athletic achievement of Robinson or the military achievement of Hennings, “exposure” benefits from pro athletes are just a myth.

Not recruiting duty.

Not only that, but the Department of Defense policy linked above requires two years of active duty service prior to joining the reserves for a reason. Service academy graduates aren’t exactly polished fighting machines the moment they throw their caps in the air at graduation. They usually attend a follow-on school to train for their chosen specialty, then move on to their first duty station to carry out what they’ve learned. Except for flight school (which takes longer), this process usually takes about two years. If you put someone into the reserves before then, or if they’ve done nothing but play football for their two years of active duty time, then they won’t be qualified to actually do anything if they get called up. That’s what the reserves are supposed to be ready to do, right? Provide trained citizens ready to fight when called upon? It’s that whole “trained” part that suffers when a player turns pro.

I’m not so sure that all of the exposure would be positive, either. If you think about it, what the Army is doing is really the opposite of the Pat Tillman story. Tillman left the life of an NFL athlete to join the Army because he wanted to make a difference after 9/11. When compared to this example, the idea that there’s good exposure to be had from service academy graduates trading their active duty obligation for NFL fame is extremely questionable. Someone is going to contrast the two situations, and it isn’t going to look good.

The coaches want to allow players to pursue pro careers because it would make their recruiting jobs easier. Very few college recruits will move on to the NFL, but most of them think they have a chance. Coaches would love to be able to tell them that they can have their shot even if they come to a service academy. But there could be some unforseen consequences in that sales pitch. Do we really want to convince kids to come to a service academy based on the ways they have to avoid active duty? Yeah, no problems there. Talk about a recipe for bad attitudes.

Make no mistake– winning is important. It increases coverage of the school, brings in money to the athletic department through increased attandance and television, and projects an overall image of excellence. But as important as it is to win, some costs are just too high.

Loose Change 2/1/08

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

Loose Change 1/25/08

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