Geographically speaking, no one cares anymore. The Big Ten will soon span from New Jersey to Nebraska while the Big 12 goes from West Texas to West Virginia. The not so Big East will soon span from the Atlantic to the Pacific. When you consider the great expanses of these conferences, the distance from West Point and Annapolis to current SEC country is minimal. It's about 425-450 miles straight line distance from Lexington, Knoxville and Columbia (S.C.) to Annapolis. By contrast it is about 940 miles straight line distance from College Station, Texas, to Knoxville. So you see, distance isn't that big of a factor and keep in mind that there are several major international airports near both of these service academies unlike current SEC schools like Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri and Arkansas so SEC teams may have shorter travel times to Army and Navy than to some of their current conference opponents.
Why the SEC needs Army and Navy
Simply put, they are America's teams. These two national institutions of higher learning embody all the characteristics that most southerners traditionally find admirable: honor, integrity and duty to nation. Bringing in these two proud universities would give the nation's strongest football conference two of America's most respected academic schools. The SEC has already upgraded its academic standing by adding Texas A&M and Missouri. Adding these two service academies would further serve notice that the SEC values academic excellence.
Bringing in Army and Navy would also give the SEC access to new huge television markets. The New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas add up to about 26 million new potential SEC viewers. Imagine Army playing Alabama in New York or Navy facing off with Florida in Baltimore? More television markets mean more money for the league and all 16 schools involved.
The SEC would also get access to one of the most storied rivalries in college football. In 2011 the Army-Navy game was watched by almost 6 million viewers. That number was nearly 2 million more than what watched the Auburn-Georgia matchup. The Army-Navy game easily rivals both the Alabama-Auburn and Georgia-Florida rivalries in popularity.
There is also a deep national interest in the service academy teams. While most fans cater to the local state teams, there are millions of veterans and service members all over the United States, and the family members of those service members, who have a deep interest in the service academies. Many know little about football. They watch these games because it makes them feel closer to their loved ones who are far away or they are just patriotic and enjoy supporting the teams of the nation's armed services. Having Army and Navy as part of the SEC television package would certainly further enhance the league's national appeal.
Why Army and Navy need the SEC
Stability. While Navy worries over the status of the Big East, Army surely must also be concerned about its future as a viable member of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Membership in the nation's strongest—and wealthiest conference—would instantly bring stability to both the Black Knights and Midshipmen. Both programs would be able to enjoy the almost $20 million annual payout that the league shares with each member. The two schools could vastly improve facilities and compete for the best coaches which means they'd be better equipped to return to their rightful places among the nation's elite college programs.
The South is the Army and Navy's home. Sure the academies are located in a northward direction, but the fact is, many of our nation's largest military bases are in the South. Fort Benning, Ga., is the home of the Army's Infantry School and, by the way, that is where Army chose to play its spring game in March. Fort Hood, Texas—not far from Texas A&M—is one of the largest Army bases in the world. Tennessee and Kentucky have the proud 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. The Navy has several very large bases in the South including Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Weapons Station Charleston. There are at least 20 other major Army and Navy bases located in the states which currently comprise the Southeastern Conference.
Because of the large military presence in the South recruiting for the academies in that region would undoubtedly improve with SEC membership. Both schools already heavily recruit the South but membership in the SEC would further enhance the two school's appeal to Southern athletes. Most Southern citizens are already sold on the benefits of military service and they consider it an honorable profession. Yes, the academies have stiffer entrance requirements on perspective students compared to the normal SEC applicants, including Vandy but you can be sure that both academies would be able to improve their talent levels significantly. If Vanderbilt can compete in the conference by selling prospects on the benefit of a world class education while playing in the nation's toughest conference then Army and Navy ought to be able to also.
Sure there would be some obstacles to overcome to get these two in the conference. First, there is the question of Army-Navy game dates. The game is typically scheduled the week after most of the FBS has completed regular season play (it's Dec. 8 this year). Because the SEC has a championship game (it's Dec. 1 this year) the Army-Navy Game would have to be scheduled earlier. The SEC also limits its member schools to 25 signees a year. Army and Navy each typically sign 40-50 players a year although they sign certificates of appointment instead of National Letters of Intent. There is also the issue of Army and Navy's membership in the Patriot League for non-football sports. The SEC would likely expect the two schools to compete in the SEC in cases where the schools already have corresponding sports. There are probably many other conflicts that would have to be resolved before the two could join the conference but with patience and understanding things could be worked out.
Could Army and Navy compete in the SEC? I think they could hold their own with the improved recruiting they'd have because of their membership in the conference. Navy nearly beat South Carolina in Columbia in 2011 and Army did knock off the Commodores in 2009 at West Point. The two schools would also still have four out-of-conference games in addition to their annual rivalry matchup to rack up six victories and get bowl eligible. However, remember, these two teams were regular national contenders until well into the 1950s. With the added SEC level talent and resources it's not beyond the realm of possibility that either one could someday compete in the SEC Championship Game.
Will SEC commissioner Mike Slive be contacting Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk and Army's Boo Corrigan tomorrow for a conference call? Probably not; but that doesn't mean the three of them can't take a minute or two to ponder the great potential benefits of having both Army and Navy in the Southeastern Conference.