With the announcement earlier this year that it will be joining the Big East Conference in 2015, the United States Naval Academy football team will end its run as a Football Bowl Subdivision Independent.
Having produced both a U.S. President and Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Navy has a rich history of excelling on and off the gridiron. With the majority of its players having little chance of playing in the NFL however, Navy recruits focus more on their education and the pride associated with serving their country.
Despite the fact that the federal government funds the scholastic-based endeavors at all of the service academies, athletic operations at the schools rely mostly on non-profit associations to help them secure the revenue necessary to compete on the national stage.
Navy's decision to opt for conference affiliation, while primarily financial based, will allow it to be more competitive, in particular with regard to the possibility of earning a more prominent bowl bid. It will also help in the world of recruiting, although perhaps from a more centralized area.
All that said, there is still the matter of getting into the school as it maintains one of the more stringent admission policies of any institution any where, not to mention the mandatory service requirement that accompanies acceptance. Still, the opportunity to be on national television more often, coupled with the possibility of a more attractive postseason destination, could be what the team needs to lure in even greater talent.
There were some who felt that moving to a conference would hinder the team's ability to maintain its current rivalries, but the Big East understood that for Navy to consider joining, the Commander-in-Chief's series (versus Army and Air Force) would have to continue, as would the school's long-standing relationship with Notre Dame.
Big East Commissioner John Marinatto was thrilled to welcome Navy into the fold, "America's first national football conference is adding a program with true national appeal. Navy's decision to make the Big East its first football conference home after more than 100 years of independence demonstrates the value of our new expansion model and the long-term viability of our football product. The Big East is truly proud to be associated with one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country, and one of the most storied programs in college football."
Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Michael Miller, USN echoed that sentiment, "The Naval Academy is pleased to accept the invitation for our football team to join The Big East Conference." He continued, "After careful consideration, we believe this affiliation to be in the best interests of the Naval Academy, our athletic programs and the Brigade of Midshipmen. While our independent status has served Navy football well to date, Big East conference affiliation will help ensure our future scholar-athletes and athletic programs remain competitive at the highest levels for the foreseeable future."
Ken Niumatalolo has been Navy's head coach since 2007, and he has led the Midshipmen to a record of 32-21 and four bowl games. Unfortunately, Navy is just 1-3 in those postseason clashes, losing a pair of Poinsettia Bowl matchups to Utah (2007) and San Diego State (2010), as well as to Wake Forest in the 2008 EagleBank Bowl. The Mids beat Missouri in the 2009 Texas Bowl.
In its history, Navy is 7-9-1 in bowl games, and the team's one and only national championship was claimed back in 1926 when the Mids joined Alabama and Stanford in posting an undefeated season. Navy was led into battle by first- year head coach Bill Ingram, who played at the school from 1916-18, and he amassed a 32-13-4 mark during his five-year coaching run in Annapolis. Ingram was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1973.
While still a few years away from having to navigate the rough waters of conference play, Niumatalolo is looking forward to doing so, "It's a great day for Navy football, and we are very excited about the opportunity. The differences between the haves and have-nots is widening, but we will not compromise who we are. We know we can do it."
Big East football in 2015 is expected to consist of teams from Boise State, UCF, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Navy, Rutgers, San Diego State, USF, SMU and Temple. For now, the Mids will simply continue doing what they always do...taking on all comers and doing their best to represent themselves, their school and their country with class and dignity.
Navy opens the 2012 campaign on Sept. 1 against Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland, will play at Air Force on the first Saturday in October, and as usual, close out the regular season against Army in Philadelphia on Dec. 8.