I'm not sure if the current Naval Academy students have the ability to choose their professors or not, but about a decade ago, midshipmen (like me) would fill out a form and list their class and professor preferences. Number-one on my list was always the same – Professor Bruce Fleming. If he was teaching a course and it fit into my educational matrix, I wanted a front-row seat.
Another place I wanted a front-row seat during my four years in Annapolis was at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. Sure, I was a football fan before going to the Academy, but it wasn't until I attended my first game that I became a diehard Navy football fan. By my senior year, I was an addict. Our team was winning, games were exciting and it was once again "cool" to be rooting for Navy when I spoke to all my college football fan friends at other "big time" schools like USC or Michigan. To this day, I still get chills every time I walk into the stadium.
So when I heard my favorite professor had written an article about Navy football, I was pretty excited to read it. Not because I thought he was going to dissect the triple-option or praise Coach Paul Johnson, but because love him or hate him, Professor Fleming is one smart dude. And what I like best about him is that he has no fear about what he says, where he says it and who he says it to. That's what I enjoyed most about his class. I never knew what to expect because he held no punches. If you were looking to hear the company line – you were in the wrong classroom. All ideas and thoughts were welcomed by everyone. And in a place where "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" were the most widely accepted phrases, it was nice to be in a classroom where thinking outside of the box on a variety of issues was the norm. The Naval Academy and the Navy need more professors and thinkers like Bruce Fleming, if for no other reason than he can and will provide a different perspective. If everyone in the war room is saying "attack this country or buy this missile," for my money, I'd like to have at least one or two who say, "Maybe we shouldn't do that and here is why."
This is exactly what Professor Fleming is doing in his argument about Navy football, or so I believe. He is making an argument not because it is necessarily rock-solid, more on that in a minute, but because nobody else is. And for that I applaud him. And moreover, in a perfect world, he would be 100% correct. But in a nation where 141 million viewers tune into the Super Bowl and college professors make less than college football coaches, well, we are what we are…a football-crazed society.
But is this so wrong? Is it wrong that the Naval Academy reflects this not-so-perfect dimension of the American human race? Of course it isn't. With a robust day-to-day routine that is well-known in Academy circles, midshipmen need and deserve a mental release on weekends, even though Professor Fleming would prefer that his pupils hit the books every Saturday. And like most college students there is something fun about going to a big-time football game. At some respected universities, students even wait on long lines for weeks for tickets to sporting events. Perhaps Professor should check-out some pretty smart kids who study at Duke. Some other points Professor Fleming may want to consider are as follows:
According to Professor Fleming, football causes injuries and the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps does not need officers with blown-out legs. You could make the same argument about any sport on any competitive level. Should we get rid of all sports to prevent injuries? Heck, maybe intramurals should go as well, just to be on the safe side.
The football team brings in money but it only goes to the football or varsity program. Actually, revenues from football help fund a lot of sports programs at USNA. If it wasn't for the football program, that squash team may not exist.
The football team gives the Naval Academy national visibility and we don't need that kind of visibility. I say ask any marketing firm to do a cost-analysis of three hours of exposure for any college on national network television. You will probably find that the Army/Navy game is the best recruiting tool the Naval Academy has or will ever have. Heck, it worked on this English major.
Attendance at home football games is mandatory for midshipmen. For about 36 hours a year, future military officers are told they must march to a location and support their classmates who are playing a game. At this game, they can eat, drink, and be merry while yelling and screaming a lot. And after the game, they can take part in any of a hundred or so free tailgate parties where they can eat, drink and be even merrier. Sure, such a hardship is probably not for everyone, but a day-and-a-half worth of such mandatory fun each year isn't THAT big of a deal, is it?
Students miss class because of football-game related events. This one goes back to the culture of America, and so too does my summary of my position.
If Professor Fleming is looking to change things, he should perhaps call NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell because as long as there is professional football on Sundays, colleges will play the overwhelming majority of their games on Saturdays. And this arrangement will force students to miss school because of travel…unless of course the powers-to-be in the academic fields would like to compete for football revenue dollars with the pros. Or maybe they could convince the NFL to switch weekend days…pros play on Saturday and colleges on Sunday. That way, fewer people would miss Professor Fleming's class. Of course this is not going to happen, but it's probably more likely than changing the culture of America.
Critics will say that Professor Fleming is only speaking out because he is protected by tenure. To them, I say, "Thank God for tenure" because he is a great teacher who should be encouraged to speak his mind, even if it's not the company line. To everyone else I say, "Thank God for football!" And then I would proudly add, "Beat Army!"