Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo grabbed the attention of some service academy football fans with his comments this week to ESPN about the possibility of ending the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy rivalry.
“If it gets to the point because of scheduling conflicts that we can’t play everybody and the schedule is going to become an issue, the Army game will never go anyplace,” Niumatalolo told the website, in discussing Navy’s move to the Big East in 2015. “I’d rather keep Army and Notre Dame and not worry about the Commander-In-Chief’s trophy. We’re in a conference now. So we need to try to win a conference championship.”
Niumatalolo, who didn’t respond to a text message, said he was speaking on his behalf and he had not discussed the matter with Navy’s athletic director or superintendent. That, along with a rational look at the issue, will lead one to believe that Niumatalolo’s comments probably won’t amount to anything.
An important factor to keep in mind is that it won’t be Niumatalolo’s call, even if it comes to choosing between Air Force and other nonconference games. And it might not be an issue anyway – the Star-Ledger was one of the outlets that reported when Navy joined the Big East, concessions were made to allow the Midshipmen to continue to play Army and Air Force. Air Force asked for similar concessions from the Mountain West when the possibility of a nine-game league schedule was brought up last year.
Ending any service academy rivalry and the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which dates back to 1972, won’t be a decision unilaterally made by a coach.
One of the main benefits of service academy football is exposure. The Army-Navy game is basically a three-and-a-half hour advertisement on CBS every year for service academies. This year, CBS also broadcast Air Force-Navy and Air Force-Army to a national audience. Given that expanded exposure – and the possibility that happens again in the near future – military leaders in Washington, D.C. will likely scoff at the notion of dumping a 40-year-old service academy rivalry, no matter what Niumatalolo prefers (assuming he’s Navy’s head coach in 2015, when Navy is slated to enter the Big East and when any of this would begin to matter anyway).
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun was skeptical that Air Force’s service academy games would go away anytime soon.
“I don’t think so,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun then seemed to challenge Navy and Niumatalolo in a subtle way, pointing out what Air Force has done through the years playing in a conference (and note in the quote that he points out the “six best leagues” while referring to Air Force’s affiliation with the Mountain West, which would apparently put the Big East in seventh place).
“To be in one of the six best leagues in all of college football, and to still play Tennessee, Michigan, Notre Dame and still play your service academy games, and to be able to go through an academy, it’s the greatest test in college sports period,” Calhoun said, rattling off some of Air Force’s most recent non-conference opponents. “It’s the ultimate rigor and the ultimate mettle building process. But it can be done.”