Tradition-rich Navy appreciates independence

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When it comes right down to it, Army and Navy, which meet on the football field tomorrow for the 103rd time, are more alike than they are different.

Each school has a storied academic and athletic tradition, and each school prides itself on upholding honor and integrity, even in the win-at-all-costs environment of big-time college football.

Army, however, earned its 1-10 record as a member of Conference USA, while Navy has gone 1-10 this season as one of college football's few independents, playing the likes of Notre Dame, Boston College and North Carolina State.

For more than 100 years, Army and Navy were both independents, but that changed in 1998, when Army decided to become a member of Conference USA, which is made up of Louisville, Southern Mississippi, Texas Christian and East Carolina, among others.

So why hasn't Navy gone a similar route? And could the Midshipmen benefit by following in Army's footsteps, either to Conference USA or elsewhere? Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk doesn't think so. In fact, he says Navy has no plans to join a conference, especially one that might do Navy more harm than good.

"There is no doubt that being a part of a conference that's tied to the [Bowl Championship Series] can be very lucrative," Gladchuk said. "But when you start talking about non-BCS conferences, that's not the case.

"Everyone sees bowl games as the golden ring, but in reality, non-BCS bowl games are very expensive to attend. The payout often isn't big, and it's usually tied into ticket sales. That's great if you can drum up interest and sell tickets to your fans, but a lot of the time it ends up costing the school money to go to those events."

Gladchuk pointed out that a league like Conference USA doesn't get a share of the $98.4 million in television revenue from the BCS, and that it's clear from a competitive standpoint, Navy isn't ready to join the Big East or Atlantic Coast Conference even if it were invited.

Another problem Gladchuk sees with joining a lesser conference is the widely recognized disadvantage Army faces in recruiting against schools like Cincinnati, Memphis and East Carolina. While those schools can make exceptions in the admissions process for athletes, Army and Navy cannot. Every football player must have the same academic qualifications as the rest of the student body.

"I think you have to find institutions that are academically compatible," Gladchuk said. "If you've got schools with tremendous latitude in admission standards, then you create a tremendous advantage for some schools."

Even Army seems to know that Houston, TCU and Alabama-Birmingham make strange bedfellows.

"In a perfect world, we'd be in a league with folks who wanted to play the highest level of football, but perhaps had institutional similarities," Army athletic director Rick Greenspan told The Orlando Sentinel earlier this year. "Maybe if the Ivy Leagues were really going to commit to I-A programs and build facilities and pay coaches, then join with Army and Air Force and Navy. But I don't see that happening."

Both Gladchuk and Navy coach Paul Johnson say they see Navy's independent status as an advantage, especially at a time when the program needs rebuilding.

"Right now everybody wants to play us; we don't have a problem getting a game," Johnson said. "Being an independent probably helps you because you control your schedule and quite honestly you probably make more money because you don't split it with anybody."

Gladchuk said he doesn't see Navy's position changing, but he does see the landscape of college football changing drastically in the next two or three years.

"It's difficult to project the future, but I think we're going to have a playoff," Gladchuk said. "I think there is a sentiment for it, and in the latest survey of athletic directors I've seen, it's about a 50-50 split, which is way up from before. When that happens, I think you're going to see some serious shuffling and realignment, and we'll see where we would fit in all that.

"Until then, being an independent is good for us. We can manage our schedule, control who we're going to play, and make changes that are realistic for us," Gladchuk added. "We couldn't do that if we were part of a conference."

Army vs. Navy

Records:Army 1-10; Navy 1-10.

Site:Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When:Tomorrow, noon

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line:Navy by 3

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