Army - Navy A Bowl Headache

A few years ago Army and Navy requested permission to play their annual game a week after the college football regular season ended. That decision is now becoming controversial.

The focus of the controversy is a bit misguided, looking at the impact on the College Football Playoff and the Access game for the top G5 champion.

One of the best writers and commentators in sports today is best-selling author John Feinstein and he has become an out-spoken advocate for Army and Navy preserving their ancient (six years ancient to be honest) tradition of playing the Saturday after the college season ends.

The big question asked is what happens if the Army-Navy game has an impact on the playoff or the Access bowl slot?

In an interview with the Times Herald-Record, Feinstein correctly notes that the chances of Navy being the champion of the AAC and the highest rated conference champion are slim.

What is missing is that Army-Navy has the possibility of creating havoc every season.

Last year Navy defeated South Alabama 42-40, one made FG by the Jaguars and Navy isn’t bowl eligible on the last day of the season and can only become eligible by defeating Army. Navy ended up winning for the 13 consecutive year, but it was a game determined by one touchdown.

It wasn’t the only close game they had, Navy took a 7 point win at Temple in 2014 as well.

Just a bad break here or there and Navy’s bowl fate is not determined until a week after the bowl pairings announcement.

Lose one more regular season game heading into the Army game and the Poinsettia Bowl would have been forced to make a back-up provisional selection. Navy wins, Navy goes, Navy loses then someone else goes. The problem is that “someone else” would have to get their team to San Diego the following Saturday. The lucky school would have seven days to move a football team, band, and cheerleaders to San Diego. The school would have nine days to sell tickets to avoid a big financial hit.

To add to the disservice to the back-up team, to have any sort of chance to be competitive, the players cannot be released home for winter break, they have to stay and practice, however to do so they will require a waiver from the NCAA and if no waiver is granted, they have a problem with exceeding practice limits.

Feinstein calls this the easiest solution in the world, clearly a man used to booking travel for fewer than one hundred people. This solution gives no consideration to whether the football players at another school being stuck on campus practicing for a game they may not play is good for the school paying to feed and house them or good for the student-athletes denied the opportunity to spend their full winter break with their family.

The Army-Navy game is a great event, and now that it has the stage alone, it is well watched television. The problem is Army and Navy want everything. They want the large TV audience, they want to be fully in the bowl system and if that means kicking sand in the face of student-athletes at other schools… well who cares?

The solution is simple. If one or both of Army or Navy isn’t eligible for a bowl by the end of the first Saturday in December, they aren’t bowl eligible. Win six out of 11 and get eligible, don’t demean players at other schools by leaving them hanging for another week. Don’t leave the bowl opponent unable to even know who to prepare to play. Have the decency to allow the players at the impacted schools to know whether they are in a bowl or not.

Fienstein sums it up well, “It’s not going to happen that often, and even if it does happen, this solution is simple. This game (Army-Navy) is 100 times more important than any of the second-tier bowls. It just is. C’mon, let’s get real.”

If Army-Navy is 100 times more important than a second-tier bowl, then don’t leave everyone hanging. Get eligible before Army-Navy and if you don’t, forego a bowl game that is 1% of the importance of Army-Navy and give the opportunity for a bowl to someone else who might find it the event of their playing career.