We attended an Army-Navy pre-game party the first time they played at Ravens Stadium in 2000. A Colonel associated with the Army Athletic Association, who was stationed at the Pentagon, asked me how I, as a grad, felt about cadets being released from their active duty commitment to play sports. My immediate reaction was very favorable for many of the reasons everyone has stated - great for public relations, great for recruiting; that cadet can do more for the Army in such a capacity than he could on active duty. But then he brought up the idea of releasing athletes as a way to generate revenue and replace lost funding due to budget cuts at a time when the Army football program needed some sort of a boost to remain competitive.
According to Scout.com, Army has 36 football recruits committed to the Class of 2012, including Mr. Indiana, Paul McDonald, a three star recruit who is the 29th rated QB in this year's HS Senior class. All but one of our recruits have two star ratings or higher. Nationally our class is ranked 80th, which doesn't sound like much, but represents a dramatic improvement compared to recent seasons, when we would be lucky to get anyone rated higher than one star. Why are better and more highly regarded football players committing to West Point? Does anyone want to bet the coaches didn't make all of these recruits VERY well aware of this policy? As a result, the talent level on the team is getting better, which means the wins will start to come and the entertainment value of the product on the field will get better. Ticket and merchandising revenues will go up (Has anyone noticed the cost of Army-Navy club level seats for this year's game? Anybody been to the Visitor Center gift shop looking for a sweatshirt lately?) TV ratings for their game broadcasts will go up (which means the value of the ESPN contract will go way up at renewal time), and the opportunity to cash in at bowl games will increase (as they continue to soften the home schedule - get your New Hampshire tickets soon!)
I want to believe that this policy is all about public relations and cheap advertising to boost military recruiting. The cynic in me says that if they aren't talking about money, then its probably more about money than we realize. The $500,000 it costs to educate a cadet is chump change compared to the revenue a good football team generates these days in the ever growing and ever more powerful business of college football, at a time when the economy is bad and the war effort is draining traditional funding sources.
This policy isn't new - at least three other graduates have been released from active duty to pursue professional sports careers since 2004; all baseball players, none of whom have made the big leagues yet, and one of whom returned to active duty. None of these athletes has generated any buzz at all. Now, just look at the buzz this has created nationally because we're talking about cadets going to the NFL - exactly the kind of buzz that might generate interest in the program and fill Michie Stadium when Akron comes to town (and if you think Michie would be filled anyway, you obviously haven't been there in a long time. The last time Army played Air Force at home, the official attendance was 32,066 - Michie's capacity is around 40,000. How many people do you think crammed the stadium for opponents like Temple, VMI, or Rhode Island in recent years? Parades, march-ons, fly-overs and Golden Knight jumpers don't sell tickets anymore, if they ever did).
Its great news that these guys are getting this opportunity, and its going to do wonders for public relations and recruiting in all the ways everyone has stated. I just think there's a whole other business/financial aspect to this policy that is well worth thinking about.
Go Army – Beat Temple