Once upon a time, Army and Navy were atop the college football landscape. Both were winning national titles and producing Heisman winners and All-Americans. There are very few programs in the country that have more history than these two.
Somewhere down the line, it seems like all of that has been lost, and these two once-historic schools have been placed on the back burner.
Even with Navy reaching a bowl game in nine of the past 10 years and Army playing in a bowl back in 2010, these two schools no longer have the same feel they did back when our grandfathers would watch them play.
Why is that?
I like to call it a domino effect. One thing leads to another, which eventually leaves you with your end result.
Here is why both Army and Navy have been pushed out of college football in a way we should all regret.
Recruiting in today's college football world is about 100 times more difficult than it was 50 years ago. Players have more options than they did back then—every school in the country is throwing themselves at these young kids and most of these schools have attractive selling points.
Alabama, a school that has no problem picking and choosing elite recruits, has now provided another reason for you to take your talents to Tuscaloosa with a state-of-the-art weight room. Texas A&M is pouring $450 million into its stadium, which will eventually hold well over 100,000 screaming Aggie fans.
While every school has major selling points and is improving the reasons for why recruits should show up, the academies have been selling the same thing since their existence. Now it is important to note that recruiting is a little different when it comes to Army and Navy. Both schools are allowed to send nine recruiters on the road, which is two more than your ordinary programs.
But even with those slight advantages, it is absolutely the toughest recruiting pitch in the country. You think SEC schools fighting over a top recruit can be difficult? Try being a recruiter for one of these military schools.
Not only is a certain standard of academics needed, but there is also a five-year military commitment required once each player graduates. In other words, if you are planning on having a future at the next level, neither of these schools is likely the right choice for you.
And if that wasn't enough, there is a chance you could end up going to war, which can shrink that list even shorter. If you think this topic doesn't come up when trying to recruit, you are mistaken. Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo told Graham Watson of ESPN just how difficult breaking the truth to parents of these young kids can be.
"It's tough when you go and talk to the parents," Niumatalolo said. "You go into the home like any other recruiter and you sell your positives, but that question will inevitably come up and normally it's [from] the mom: 'Will my son be safe?' 'Will my baby be safe?' You've just got to be honest with people. You look them square in the eye and be honest. This is a military school. They will be in harm's way. Those are the facts."
With the odds stacked against both programs, these are schools that aren't going to attract elite-level talent. They also are unlikely to convince recruits to commit that have offers on the table from relevant football programs. Both Army and Navy are schools that are required to recruit a different type of kid—somebody who has military background in the family or has already made up their mind that going into service is what they truly want to do.
Other than sealing the deal on a recruit that has made up his mind that this is the decision he wants to make, there is little hope on snagging anybody else. It takes a tremendous commitment from the kid making the decision, and it takes even more work from the recruiters convincing him that he is making the right choice.
Having this type of handicap in the recruiting process has helped play a role in both teams taking a backseat in college football.
Dying Breed of Offense
There is only so much you can do with limited talent. While every team would love to play like the Oregon Ducks and score an insane amount of points each and every Saturday, the bottom line is that not every team is built that way. Coaches have no choice but to work with what they have and the academies don't have the pieces in place to do anything fancy.
To kind of balance things out, both Army and Navy have been running the triple-option for quite some time. Sometimes it would be in a double-wing formation, sometimes it will be a wishbone look, while others will include a veer formation.
Regardless of which formation it is coming out of, this is an offense that can be run by any team at any level, but it makes things effective for these schools especially. The reason is because it doesn't take a whole lot of skill to get the job done, it only requires all 11 guys to be on the same page and know their assignments. With not much talent involved, this is simply fundamental football that even kids with little to no NFL potential can play.
Here you see Navy in a double-wing formation, which like all of the others listed above, gives the offense options. The object is to confuse the opposing defense by having many players that can eventually end up with the football. The quarterback can either hand it off to the fullback, keep it himself or end up pitching it to one of the wingbacks. As a defender, you don't know which direction the team is going, who is going to get the ball or what is going on altogether. This is confusing and can cause headaches if you aren't prepared.
The problem with this offense is that the times have changed. While this style of play does sound intriguing due to its options, it can be sniffed out with defenders playing assignment defense. There is really no threat of the offense throwing the football and the defense isn't asked to blitz as often as it would be in a normal game. Instead, each guy being responsible for one player, this type of stuff can usually be kept under control.
What makes it even easier in today's game can be blamed on genetics. The massive increase in the size of football players has been well-documented over the years. Men's Health News has reported that the average interior lineman has gained one or two pounds over the past 60 years, and professional players have gained up to 1.5 pounds per year over seven decades. When you combine that size with the athleticism players have in today's game, this offense stands almost no chance.
Just check out how quickly this play came to an end due to the overall athleticism and size of the Notre Dame defensive front. We are seeing a new breed of football players and due to the recruiting handicap, none of those players are playing for Navy or Army.
Now the argument will be that as Georgia Tech runs the same style of offense, what makes them so different? True, but the Yellow Jackets recruit better than both Army and Navy, and for what it's worth, they have still remained a mediocre team in the ACC for quite some time. This is a pass-happy game and having an offense that throws for only 129 yards a contest is not going to get it done.
The big runs are broken off eventually and the 300-plus rushing yards a game is sexy, but this is a dying breed of offense and is no longer producing as many victories as it takes to remain relevant.
Blame the Media
Whether you want to admit it or not, the media plays a huge role in making a program relevant. In fact, it may have a bigger impact than it actually should. With Twitter, the blogging universe and breaking news popping up by the second, we live in a world that wants everything right now, and we tend to get distracted by the latest story that pops up.
Because of this, Army and Navy have suffered. Think about it. How many games were you able to watch last year that included either one of these programs? Well, if you are a Notre Dame fan, you saw the Midshipmen play last year due to a rivalry partnership with CBS. You are also able to watch these two teams play on CBS at the end of the season due to a television contract that has been extended through 2018.
But other than one of the most historic rivalries in college football, how many games featuring either one of these teams do you actually see?
Will Army and Navy ever become an elite football program again?
Army has a television contract with CBS College Sports Network that carries over through the 2014 season. It features all of the home games and the neutral site games when the Knights are considered the home team. However, not every local provider carries this channel and if they do, there is a good chance you are paying extra money to watch them play.
As for Navy, who will be joining the Big East in 2015, it will not be part of the television deal with ESPN until its contract with CBS comes to an end in 2017.
Both schools get their fair shares of television time, but aren't thrown in your face like other programs. You won't see either one on prime-time television or playing in a matchup that receives hype two weeks before the game is even played. Instead, games are played in the middle of the day, or early morning, like the Navy-Air Force game, which is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET.
This isn’t exactly screaming relevancy.
When your team isn't covered a great deal, isn't in our faces like other teams are each and every Saturday, we can tend to lose track and forget that you even exist. This may not be right, but it is the world we live in nowadays.
Along with recruiting issues and an offense that can put you to sleep, we play a role in why both Army and Navy have been pushed out of college football.
Shame on us all.