The Veterans Classic is here and we will be providing coverage of everything taking place and trying to help showcase one of, if not the best event Navy puts on IN ANNAPOLIS each season.
Of course Army/Navy football takes the cake overall, but if we are speaking strictly about athletic events that take place in NapTown, it’s got to be the Veterans Classic.
This is the fifth season that Navy has hosted the event that was the brainchild of head coach Ed DeChellis after seeing programs across the country play events on naval vessels and wondering why Navy didn’t have a way to showcase what the Academy is all about. This year’s doubleheader features Providence vs. Wichita State in the opener and Navy vs. Maryland in the nightcap.
I had the opportunity to be a part of two of the Veterans Classics while I was teaching at the Naval Academy, serving as a team host to both UNC and Ohio State, and so I got an up and close look at what this event is like for the players, coaching staffs, administrations, and fans of those who decide to participate in the unique showcase. Here is my biggest takeaway: Schools should be beating down the door of DeChellis and Chet Gladchuk to claim one of the three open spots in the Veterans Classic each year ASAP.
So far, the doubleheader centered around Veterans Day weekend has drawn in the likes of Michigan State, UNC, Tennessee, Florida, Ohio State, VCU, Temple, Vanderbilt, Marquette, Alabama, Pittsburgh, and Memphis. It has had no issue attracting some of the marquee schools across the country to come to Annapolis and play in Alumni Hall.
Bill Wagner, Navy beat writer for the Capital Gazette, wrote an article yesterday in which he reached out to a number of the former coaches of the teams that have participated to get their thoughts on what the event meant to both them and their programs.
They mentioned how exciting the games were, of course, but overwhelmingly the point they wanted to emphasize most was just how special the opportunity was to get to see what a day in the life of a Midshipmen really looks like.
That brings me to three reasons why I think the Veterans Classic should be a no-brainer for athletic departments across the country and why I believe head coaches of some of the biggest programs should be lining up to get admitted.
1. Annapolis is a great spot to spend a weekend watching your team:
I’ll get to the players and coaches and what they take away from the event, but for the fans traveling to watch their program play a marquee early season matchup, there are worse places you could go than Annapolis. Of course it’s not Honolulu or the Bahamas, but it is a spot that you can get into easily (BWI is a short drive), spend a couple of days, and then get back on with the rest of your season. It’s an absolutely gorgeous location. It’s close to D.C. and Baltimore if you have some more time to kill over the weekend. And it has an absolutely phenomenal downtown setting full of restaurants and bars for pre-game, post-game, and Saturday morning brunch before you catch your flight.
Austin Lanteigne, one of our contributors, recently wrote up a piece on his favorite spots to eat and drink from spending the weekend at the Navy-Houston football game, and you can find that link here.
Here’s one of the cool things about the Veterans Classic that isn’t the case for football games: You can literally just eat dinner in town, walk onto campus, and make your way to Alumni Hall for the game. If you aren’t active duty military, you won’t be able to drive onto campus and park, and there is a shuttle that will take you from the football stadium to the game, but I would highly recommend the plan I just suggested if you have time. Grab you a bite to eat at one of the many amazing options Austin highlighted, take an evening stroll onto the Yard, and walk around one of the most beautiful campuses in America as you make your way to Alumni Hall for the games. Just make sure you start the process early as the lines have tended to back up for the event because of its popularity.
All of this is to say, for athletic departments looking for unique opportunities to draw their fanbases in, skip Orlando or Myrtle Beach or even the Bahamas...and bring them to Annapolis for the Veterans Classic!
2. Alumni Hall is a great setting for a college basketball game when done right!
It’s not often during the course of the year that you will find Alumni Hall filled to capacity for a sporting event. Sure, you will pack 4,000 Midshipmen in there multiple times for Forrestal Lectures and the Army/Navy basketball doubleheader is usually sold out, but other than that it doesn’t see max capacity during the season, except during the Veterans Classic! And having been there twice court side and two more times in the stands I can tell you, it’s a pretty cool environment when it’s given the opportunity to shine on the big stage!
It is on campus (which I know comes with challenges since it’s a military installation), right against the backdrop of College Creek off the Severn River, and it provides not only a terrific venue for college basketball, it also allows your fans the chance to explore one of the more historic schools in the country.
It’s not a big arena but not so small that you can’t enjoy the experience. It’s definitely an intimate setting, one that is unique for these early season tournaments.
3. The experience for the coaches and players is second to none!
Even if you aren’t sold on what Annapolis has to offer or the chance to play in a terrific venue on one of the most gorgeous campuses in the country, the third and most important reason is that it provides an opportunity for your players and coaches that is second to none!
In Wagner’s article, once again, the coaches all said repeatedly that the best part of playing in the Veterans Classic was the Thursday prior to the games when they spent an entire day learning what life is like for the Midshipmen at the Naval Academy.
Like I mentioned, I spent two years serving as a team host to both UNC and Ohio State and I can tell you firsthand that for many of the players and pretty much all of the coaches, this was the case. Sometimes we take for granted the uniqueness of our service academies and don’t appreciate Bancroft or King Hall for the fact that they house and feed 4,000 students at the same time. We could care less about YPs or ship simulators having spent more time than we would choose to on them. We are used to seeing Hueys and Cobras parked out on Farragut Field. We’ve heard more motivational speeches by former graduates than we can count. We’ve participated in noon meal formation a thousand times. But for the coaches and players who have literally zero idea what takes place in Annapolis or West Point or Colorado Springs on a daily basis, the chance to see and experience all of these things is something they won’t soon forget.
Not all of the players or even coaches throughout the years have cared. But the ones who have taken the time to soak in the experience came away with a new understanding and perspective of the Academy and its development of future officers, and that appreciation, more than anything else, is worth bringing your team to Annapolis to kickoff your basketball season!
Don’t believe me, just take a look at what the players and coaches have been saying about their time the last 24 hours in Annapolis...
“If you knew how long you had left to live, how would you live your life?”— Maryland Basketball (@TerrapinHoops) November 9, 2018
An incredible speech by Clint Bruce capped off a special day at the @NavalAcademy!#Terps100 // #VeteransClassic pic.twitter.com/yXOLMXTOWm