I’m a big believer that New Year’s resolutions don’t start on January 1st. Whether you have to sleep off the champagne toasts or eat greasy airport food as you travel back to reality after the holidays, it’s just not feasible. In fact, I would implore everyone as a society to push back resolutions to February 5th, the date of the Chinese New Year. Perhaps I’m just projecting my own reluctance to start my own resolutions, but that’s besides the point.
Here we sit on January 3rd, 2019 and the state of Air Force Athletics as a whole could best be described as hopeful. Air Force men’s hockey is sitting at the top of the Atlantic Hockey Conference standings, Falcon men’s basketball is at 5-8, and the women’s team is 4-8. With a new athletic director settling into his office, Falcon fans everywhere are likely waiting intently to see what improvements will be made to our athletic department.
I’ve put together a list of resolutions I would love to see the Falcons work to accomplish in 2019. As with any good resolution, they’re as vague as someone saying “I want to work out more” or “I want to read more books this year,” and they probably won’t even make it past February, but hey, I can dream.
Improved Media Coverage
Air Force sports fans are not geographically based for the most part. Because acceptance to the service academies require nominations from congressmen and each is limited in the number of applicants they can nominate, cadets come to Colorado Springs from all around the country to enter into the long blue line. After graduation, the newly minted Lieutenants are sent across the world to serve in the Air Force. Because of this, it’s not always realistic for fans to have access to the Mountain West network if they’re stationed at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
It becomes extremely difficult to justify donating to Academy athletics when the yearly requests come out if we aren’t even able to watch the games. I understand that media contracts are complicated and it’s near impossible to get our games on network television when they compete with the same time slots that Power 5 conference teams are playing, but that’s why we’re paying Nathan Pine the big bucks. There has to be a creative solution to get more expansive coverage. Whether it be scheduling more night games or finding new avenues to broadcast, it’s inevitable that alumni support would grow if it were easier to access the games. I appreciate the experimentation from the 2018 season with streaming games on Facebook, but it was largely a failure as the streams would crash every few minutes.
The Falcons collectively accomplished some great things in 2018 with the men’s soccer team’s run in the NCAA tournament and the women’s rugby club saw huge success, but I would venture to guess that the majority of graduates who are even a few years removed from the academy were unaware of these feats. The solution may lie in the athletic department creating its own media network, which would surely be difficult, but could pay off dividends in the long run.
This is something that sort of falls in line with improving media coverage, but its solution is far easier to realize. I keep my ear extremely close to the ground in matters of Air Force sports, and I still haven’t seen a clear cut answer from anyone in the athletic department explaining or taking the blame for this past football season. Surely a press conference, a press release, or some kind of speech could have been given as to what happened and we plan to move forward. Even if the answer is simply that the athletic department and coaching staff were happy with the 5-7 record, at least it gives fans the knowledge to make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to renew their season tickets or perhaps purchase season tickets for the first time.
The issue goes beyond football with personnel decisions being made too quietly. For example, the Air Force lacrosse team added John Grant Jr, a legend of the game, to its coaching staff, and the news would have gone largely unnoticed unless fans actively check the team’s website. Perhaps I’m getting a bit too greedy in my desire for more information and more coverage, but as a whole, the Falcons athletics program is worth millions of dollars and increased clarity allows for alumni and fans to stay more connected to the school.
Improve Infrastructure for the Fan Experience
This resolution is less nebulous than the first two, but is also perhaps far less realistic. In order to draw in fans to watch outdoor sports, the Air Force Academy faces a huge uphill battle against the elements and terrain of being placed on the side of a mountain in Colorado. Attending any football game from October onward requires insane amounts of grit from Falcon fans as howling winds and sub-zero temperatures take over.
I’ve seen hardcore fans huddled around bottles of Jeremiah Weed and gas grills, not just to cook up a hamburger, but to literally avoid hypothermia. Upon entering the stadium, the only refuge from the icy tundra at 7,258 feet is inside the bathroom, where you’ll find no less that 100 cadets warming themselves in a poorly insulated space, with hot, thick air that is made humid by liquids that I don’t even want to think about.
The stadium is pretty much entirely open-air. The seating on the cadet side is made up of bleachers that allow the concourse to maintain the same temperatures on the field. I’m not suggesting that the Air Force Academy goes the route of Syracuse and build a dome to house all of it’s major sports, but it surely couldn’t be too cost prohibitive to seal off some of the concessions areas and provide space heaters for climate control.
I also propose that the academy levels and paves the parking lot outside of Falcon stadium similar to the parking lots surrounding Clune Arena. If anyone has ever tried to set up a tent on the uneven, hard packed dirt knows that it’s practically not even worth trying to tailgate. The intense incline that goes from the lowest point of the parking lot leading up to the stadium also makes it practically prohibitive for anyone who isn’t physically prepared for an intense hike at altitude.
These suggestions may seem nit-picky, but over the last 10 years, the Holladay Athletic Center, a new fencing facility, and new locker rooms have been built, but aside from a new scoreboard, little has been done to improve the fan experience. To get Colorado Springs residents really excited about attending Air Force games and to potentially host more concerts and prepare for the upcoming 2020 outdoor series NHL game, improvements really should be made as an investment to the fans.
Improve Support for Club Sports
Club sports at the Air Force Academy get considerably less support from the leadership than their intercollegiate counterparts. This is rightfully so in terms of financial support, but considering that the athletic pillar is one of the foundations of the cadet experience, it would make sense that the academy should embrace cadets starting competitive athletic clubs and encourage them to compete at their highest level. Two of the largest club sports, rugby and hockey, allow cadets to compete at a more competitive level than intramural sports, but it’s a proverbial nightmare to try to start a new club and existing clubs are limited in their use of facilities and allowing members to travel to competitions.
Lacrosse, golf, and baseball are all sports with club potential that have garnered cadet support, but have not been allowed to be established for seemingly no good reason. These sports provide an outlet for cadets to compete on the fields of strife and incur little to no cost to the academy. They may even allow cadets to hone their skills to move up to intercollegiate teams without the need for coaches to use any of their blue chips to recruit players.
Again, this is a hopeful time in Air Force Athletics. I’m sure Nathan Pine has big plans for growth that come from his years of experience in athletic departments. My greatest wish for the years to come is to allow fans and alumni to be heard in our desires to see Air Force sports taken seriously on a national stage. We have the talent and experience, now it’s time to get to work.