Army to leave Conference USA

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr., Superintendent of U.S. Military Academy at West Point, announced today the Academy's intention to withdraw the Army football program from Conference USA at the end of the 2004 season and to pursue a schedule as an independent. Lennox's decision was based on information provided by the panel he commissioned last December to evaluate and propose actions to improve the program.

West Point joined the conference in 1997 based on the probability that membership would increase television revenues, improve the chances of post-season bowl appearances, expand national exposure and improve the ability to recruit on a national basis. While some of these expectations have been met, Lennox said he is not satisfied with the results. Lennox said "We are committed to building a competitive football program at the highest level."

Lennox noted Conference USA membership helped the Academy by providing tough competition and the impetus to upgrade facilities and invest in intercollegiate athletics. However it limited scheduling flexibility as the eight conference games and the two intraservice games leave only one or two opportunities to schedule a regional or national opponent. Additionally, scheduling inflexibility limits revenues at Michie Stadium as evidenced this year when Army will host only one game in October, the peak month for attendance, because of conference obligations.

Guidance to the panel included ensuring that intercollegiate athletics continues to support West Point's mission of providing commissioned leaders of character for the Army. The panel provided several proposals.

The panel identified the incidence of injuries as a problem with the number and severity of injuries to Army football players climbing in recent years. To reduce this injury rate, the panel recommended limiting the schedule to 11 games and adjusting the sequence of military training. Also suggested were hiring an additional strength coach, hiring a nutritionist, expanding training tables for meals and working with a sleep consultant to increase rest, recovery and conditioning. Additionally, the panel proposed increasing the size of the team to approximately 150 players and placing an emphasis on fundraising for an indoor practice facility. These suggestions will be implemented as will the recommendations for increased coordination with the U.S. Military Academy's Preparatory School at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and looking into the possibility of moving the preparatory school to West Point.

West Point is evaluating the panel's suggestion to modify the five-year active duty service obligation upon graduation. West Point graduates currently are required to serve on active duty in the Army for five years. The panel suggested concurrent service in the reserves or participation in the Army's World Class Athlete program as possible modifications that would enhance recruiting.

Based on concerns regarding the current state of the economy, the Academy will not institute the panel's idea of changing the athletic department to a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in order to create a more stable financial basis for operations.

The panel was headed by Dean of the Academic Board Brig. Gen. Daniel Kaufman. Panel members included former NCAA president Cedric Dempsey, congressman and former Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne, Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells and several Academy graduates familiar with the football program.

In his direction to the panel, Lennox specifically excluded from the study the questions of who would coach and whether Army should play at the Division 1A level. Additional steps to improve the team include a commitment to improve sport facilities and restructuring the office of intercollegiate athletics.


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