Navy's decision to move to a conference could not have been more timely

Army jumped to a conference in 1998, and the results could not have been more disastrous in West Point. Navy's move to a conference is just one year old, but so far, the grade can't be anything less than an A.

"A" is for Annapolis. 

"A" also stands for the grade Chet Gladchuk deserves, one year into Navy's conference affiliation with The American. 

Yes, this is a small sample size. Yes, the first season of competition in the AAC just happened to coincide with Keenan Reynolds' senior season. Yes, Navy was in position to succeed in 2015. Yet, all those realities don't tell the full story of why Navy's leap to a conference after more than a century without one was such a smashing success.

Navy fans tasted the excitement of a conference race. November became a time in Annapolis -- entirely unprecedented within the context of Naval Academy football -- for discussing divisional tiebreakers, best- and worst-case scenarios, possible conference championship game opponents, and all the things which are part of most FBS conferences (the Big 12 and the Sun Belt being the exceptions). Those were simply fun parts of a season which entertained from start to finish.

Beyond entertainment and intrigue, however, the jump to a conference created so many more tangible national benefits for the program.

Navy, newly placed within a conference infrastructure, had a chance to win a division and play an extra nationally televised game in early December. Navy had a chance to play its way into a New Year's Six bowl game. The contest with Houston -- which decided the AAC West Division championship -- was essentially a conference semifinal. Houston won the game to play Temple for the conference championship. Had Navy, not Houston, been that team, the Mids would have played Florida State in the Peach Bowl on New Year's Eve. If Navy did not exist within conference, it would not have had the opportunity to play in a prestigious bowl game. The Midshipmen played Texas in the 1964 Cotton Bowl. Over more than half a century since then, Navy football has not received a remotely equivalent opportunity.

Being in a conference put Navy within two victories of getting that chance. This move's timing did coincide with Reynolds's last season, and what a blessing that was. By flourishing so much within the context of league play, the program -- coaches, players, alumni, administrators, everyone -- got to see the full scope of possibilities for each and every season. The fact that Navy didn't make a New Year's Six bowl or the AAC Championship Game doesn't remove the sense of opportunity which now colors Annapolis football.

The veil has been lifted. The blueprint for the ideal season has already been made plain. It won't be actualized each and every year, but Navy came close enough to show the whole picture. 

One other very specific benefit of conference affiliation is that Navy can now develop some new rivalries with specific schools. The program won't ever treat Houston with the same seriousness it devotes to Army and Air Force and Notre Dame, but the Cougars could soon become the kind of team Navy circles in red as soon as the new season schedule is released.

Navy football and The American -- the marriage is only one year old, but it's a blissful one. and there's no reason at the moment to view this union in a negative light. Top Stories