The news Friday night reported by the New York Daily News and many others is that the Big East is planning to invite Boise State, Navy and Air Force to join their football conference and possibly Central Florida, SMU and Houston. Temple is apparently left out in the cold according to Dick Weiss's piece because of a veto from cross town rival Villanova.
The Big East was left in a state of complete turmoil with the news that Syracuse and Pittsburgh would be leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Some speculate that this means Rutgers and UConn will join them in the ACC. Apparently not if Boston College has something to say about it.
Would Louisville bolt for the Big Twelve? Would the basketball only members just say enough is enough and take their heralded conference tournament at Madison Square Garden back to a non-football league arrangement?
My read is that at this point much of this is up to the University of Connecticut. The Associated Press reported that both multi-national championship basketball coaches Jim Calhoun and Gino Auriemma have expressed preferences to stay in the Big East. Perhaps the desire of these two prominent coaches to keep playing in the conference that brought them extraordinary success is enough to keep the league together for both sports. We will see in the next week or two.
So Army fans, what about your Black Knights of the Hudson?
It is certainly a bit of concern to learn that the two other major service academies are quite possibly taking a step toward joining a conference based in your back yard. The move could provide Navy and Air Force with more television exposure, scheduling certainty, financial resources and opportunities to play in major bowl games. Perhaps.
How should Army look at the value of being in a conference? Let's start with the history:
Army was a member of Conference USA from 1998 to 2004 and went 9-41 playing the likes of Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Southern Mississippi, Louisville, UAB, South Florida, TCU, Tulane and Memphis.
The decision to join a conference was based on the success the program had in the 1990s culminating in the success of the 1996 team going 10-2 and playing in a bowl game.
The Army leadership liked the footprint of Conference USA, which brought the Black Knights to a number of areas of the country nearby to major Army bases. A good idea in theory.
The Conference USA membership experiment turned out poorly as Army ran into strong upwardly programs like Louisville, East Carolina, UAB and Cincinnati who often won by embarrassing scores.
With Army's traditional games against Air Force and Navy added, the games against Lehigh, Colgate and Holy Cross, which dotted the early 90s schedules had to disappear. The result were long seasons culminating in the forgettable 2003 season in which head coach Todd Barry was let go after six games and the team went winless on the year.
Should Army Join a Conference?
The recovery from the conference experiment required the tenure of three coaches and a major investment in facilities. Kimsey Hall was built to provide locker rooms, weight training and meeting room space. Randall Hall provided a team auditorium. The Hoffman Press Box was added to Michie Stadium to provide a professional media environment and premium viewing box locations. The Foley Center provides an indoor practice facility comparable to an NFL team and a new "Field Turf" practice area was added.
The culmination of this investment was the 2010 team winning the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, the first postseason win in 25 years at Army. No school was happier about winning a bowl game last year than West Point.
This year Army is playing a very young team which Coach Rich Ellerson frequently calls "fragile" because their margin of victory is very narrow, just a single penalty or turnover can be the difference in a win or a loss.
The team has played well at home especially in wins over Northwestern and Tulane but lost three road games to schools in the Mid-America Conference. Games against teams from the South East Conference and Big East loom ahead on the schedule as well as the Commander-In-Chief contests.
Army and the other service academies play at disadvantage to other top college football teams in terms of size on their offensive and defensive lines. The Army defensive line is built to be quick and make adjustments but often plays at a 50 pound or more disadvantage per player.
The offensive line has the biggest players on the team led by by 285 pound Will Wilson who started at center against Northwestern but has now been moved to guard covering the injury to Joe Bailey. Many of the offensive line players of their opponents are 300 pounds-plus.
A goal at West Point is to place its teams in positions where they can be successful, the financial benefits of being in a major conference does not appear to be a key driver. All in all, things are going in a positive direction at Michie Stadium playing as an independent.
So why would Army even consider joining a conference such as the Big East or even Conference USA if it is shortly looking for replacement members?
1. Scheduling: We just saw that to play three Mid-America Conference opponents this year, it took going on the road for all three games with a trip to play an energized Temple team at the end of the season. If new conference alignments form, it may be increasingly hard for Army to schedule games once the conference seasons get underway. Perhaps the prestige factor associated with the USMA will tend to off set that.
Sal Interdonato of the Times Herald-Record recently carried this comment from West Point Athletic Director Boo Corrigan "In my time here, there sure has been a number of people interested in booking us about playing games."
2. Television: Army has an excellent agreement with CBS Sports to have all of its home games broadcast nationally on cable. Kind of a mini-ND arrangement. The Army-Navy game is scheduled as the featured season-ending football event on the CBS Network. Road games are often not available except on the ESPN3 Internet channel. Membership in the Big East would likely provide more broadcast exposure.
3. Recruiting: Army benefits from television to draw students from across the country to come to the Academy. Conference identity will generally help attract players by suggesting the quality of teams they will have the opportunity to play each week. The question is: will Army be a recruiting disadvantage if Air Force and Navy are in a conference and the Black Knights remain independent?
4. BCS Bowls: Perhaps the greatest lure of a major conference affiliation is the opportunity if the team is successful to play in a major bowl game or even the BCS Championship game. This is only likely to happen by joining the Big East. Conference USA is negotiating with the Mountain West to link their two conference together with a championship game. They hope the winner of this 20-plus team arrangement would be given a BCS Championship Bowl bid.
Army, on the other hand, could be quite happy to contract to play in bowl games around the country such as the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco or the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Texas. To play in these games Army must have a .500 or better record.
With their national following of West Point alumni and millions of US Army veterans they are a strong draw. If Army has a strong season turning in a 10-2 or 9-3 record, perhaps they will be invited to a higher level bowl.
Essentially this period of traumatic conference realignment is about not being left out of the opportunity to play in the BCS bowls and the financial returns they bring. But for Army, would membership to a conference such as the Big East bring positive experiences or just a series of long seasons facing teams dedicated to advancing into "Top 25" consideration?
All indications from West Point and their Athletic Director are that Army is happy as an independent and is fine watching on the sideline what happens to everyone else. But the situation is fluid and if Air Force and Navy decide to join the Big East it could be tempting to join in. What do you think Army should do?
Ken Kraetzer produces the West Point Football Report for Sons of the American Legion Radio broadcast Tuesdays at 5:30 PM EST on WVOX 1460 in New Rochelle, NY and nationally on WVOX.com. Reach him on KGK914@aol.com