Navy football has received an unexpected, albeit indirect, show of support from an often outspoken critic. Naval Academy English Professor Bruce Fleming has never been one to shy away from voicing his displeasure with the special treatment he believes football players and varsity athletes in general receive from the Naval Academy hierarchy.

From what he perceives to be relaxed admission standards to mandatory attendance at home games, Fleming probably would not mind it if Navy football becomes a club sport.


Therefore, it came as a mild shock when, in lieu of the recent policy changes now being enforced under new Naval Academy superintendent Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, Fleming uttered the following statement:


"I wouldn't have much respect for any student in studying on the Friday night of Labor Day weekend, and if they can go to Philly and have fun as well as supporting the team – looks like a win-win to me."


Fleming is referring to recent reports that midshipmen may not be allowed to support their shipmates on Friday, August 31st for Navy's opening game against Temple.


He quickly added that he thought only midshipmen who wanted to go should go.


"I'm big on leaving the choice of how to spend free time up to the mids.  You've got to have some fun to be able to buckle down when it counts.  It re-charges the batteries," said Fleming.


According to former Navy and Temple coach Wayne Hardin, who has been trying to hype-up the football game for several months, an invitation was extended from the Temple Athletic Department to the Naval Academy allowing for free admission to the game for all midshipmen.


"I was trying to come up with a home game for Navy," said Hardin.  "So I asked (Temple Athletic Director) Bill (Bradshaw) if he could let the midshipmen in for free and he said, ‘sure'."


"I was hoping the brigade would walk in – 4,400 of them in full dress uniform because it's impressive and it's something you don't see very often," said Hardin.


"When you're the midshipmen, you have a certain aura about you that other schools don't have," said Hardin.


Hardin's reaction when he heard that potentially no midshipmen (or very few) would be allowed to attend the game…


"It is what it is…It's the Admiral's watch and his leadership, and it's what the midshipmen have to follow.  I have no qualms about that."


Fleming, on the other hand, does have some issues with the new policies which have implications that extend beyond the football field and into his classroom.


The 53-year-old professor said he agreed with some of the new initiatives like discontinuing the singing of ‘The Goat is Old and Gnarly" at formal parades.   However, according to Fleming, the timing of the new policies is "unsettling" especially to the first-class (or senior) midshipmen.


"The first-class are unsurprisingly up-in-arms.  And you can't say that they are just ‘whining and moaning.' They put up with a lot of (expletive) as plebes in order to get some benefits when they were farther along the line.  And here they are close to the finish line and all of a sudden the new administration comes in and totally disregards the contract that was made with these people and takes away their liberty.  This is all they want to talk about."


Fleming did acknowledge that there are problems at the Academy, and he said that some of what the administration is saying "may be true."


"Military, morale and readiness at the Naval Academy is pretty poor.  That I hear right and left from all of my students – especially from the best performers.  They feel they are swimming against the current.  So many people are breaking the rules and getting away with it," said Fleming.


However, Fleming said that the new administration's approach to fixing the problem was not an example of "positive leadership."


"Is the way to deal with this situation to come in and take liberty away from first-class? No, absolutely not, because all it does is alienate them more.  (As a result) they don't feel any ownership of what is going on at the Academy," said Fleming.


"They (the first-class) are screaming not because it hurts, but because they do not own the changes," he added. 


At the heart of the new policies implemented by Fowler, is his intention to cut down on what he calls distractions.  Included in these distractions are away football games. 


Fleming believes distractions are part of education.


"Sometimes even education is closing the books and going out and smelling the flowers.  And of course I agree Saturday football games, as long as it isn't mandatory, can be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon."


One of the new changes in place at the Naval Academy is more mandatory study time for midshipmen.  One would think such an initiative would be agreeable to a college professor.  Think again.


"Hitting the books sounds good, but (the new administration) is saying one thing but actually accomplishing another.  It sounds as if they are saying education is important but (what they are really saying) is having people do things that we say is important.  And that goes contrary to education.  Education needs to be freely sought out," said Fleming.


The English professor then launched into what has become sort of his battle cry over the past few years, saying:


"We need to teach midshipmen to think for themselves.  My goal is to produce thinking officers and you don't produce thinking officers by telling them what to do all the time…by never letting them make their own decisions…and by killing their spirit."


As for the new Admiral's vision for the Naval Academy and his assertion that we are a "nation at war," Fleming quickly came to the defense of the educational mission of the Naval Academy. 


"Midshipmen have to be educated as well as trained.  Now, coming in here and saying we are a nation at war loses complete sight of the fact that education is an extremely imprecise process."


Fleming continued, "The implications for an officer training institution that gives a bachelor's degree as well as a commission are not so clear.  (For example), saying we want them to be doing what they are doing in the Fleet – I don't think they are reading (Immanuel) Kant in the Fleet.  Our philosophy has always been that we want complex people to make complex decisions.  But what they (new administration) want is simple people to make simple decisions."


So how would Fleming fix the problems at the Naval Academy?


"You have to empower the midshipmen with positive leadership.  (And the administration needs to) change their attitude.  Instead of saying, I'm watching out for you to do something wrong, I'm going to assume you are doing it right until proven otherwise." 


Navy fans love predictions, and even though it may be too early to know how this is all going to play out, Fleming was ready to gaze into the crystal ball. 


"The good news is they (the first class) are young and resilient and a lot of the bitterness disappears on graduation day when they get their diploma.  The good news is that this kind of nonsense that ought to maim them psychologically for life doesn't end up affecting them all that much.  But, it doesn't give them positive role models.  If they turn into good officers it's because they figured it out on their own.  The Fleet teaches them quickly.  If they go into a room full of chiefs and enlisted people (and lead) the way they were (led) at the Naval Academy, they quickly learn that nothing happens…the machines grind to a halt," said Fleming.


Fleming added, "We should be more like the Fleet because everybody in the Fleet says you don't get anywhere without mutual respect.  People in the Fleet are adults and they are not going to put up with crap.  They signed up voluntarily and the (chiefs) know what they are doing."


"The good news is the Fleet works better than the Naval Academy," concluded Fleming.


At press time, the number of midshipmen who will be able to attend the Temple football game was still undetermined.


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