The coronavirus pandemic is continuing to impact the college sports calendar, and two of the three Service Academies are starting to feel the repercussions in a big way.
On Monday, the Patriot League announced that it would not engage in athletic competition this fall and that “decisions surrounding winter and spring sport competition will be made at a later date.” However, the league left Army and Navy exempt from its decision because they “are unique in their environments.”
Essentially, the Patriot League knows that the academies are going to have strict testing and protocols of their own. And if the academies still want to play, that’s fine with them.
“We’ve got an incredibly comprehensive, systematic process in place that is directed by the Department of Defense in terms of dealing with medical protocol and thereby lessening risk,” Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk told the Capital Gazette. “In both the Army and Navy environments, I don’t think there is any institution addressing this situation better… At the Naval Academy, we’ve been dealing with this since March in a very comprehensive way.”
The problem of course is scheduling. It’s mid-July. Navy volleyball, Army men’s soccer and the other non-revenue fall sports won’t have much of a schedule with their conference slate vanishing. And filling open dates seems like it’s becoming increasingly more difficult with each passing day as more conferences contemplate moves to conference-only schedules or scrapping fall sports all together. Additionally, the Midshipmen and Black Knights won’t have a conference championship to compete for, and NCAA postseason tournaments this fall are anything but guaranteed.
A Navy spokesman told the Washington Post that the academy is at “ground zero” in trying to build schedules for its fall sports. The spokesman also said that facing Army multiple times is an option.
One way to solve this problem would be for Army and Navy to temporarily join a conference that still intends on playing fall sports, if that’s even possible. James Kratch at NJ.com is one person who says this could be a realistic solution and thinks that the Big Ten should extend an invite to the Mids and Cadets. For each school they’d have one Big Ten school nearby; Maryland for Navy and Rutgers for Army.
Kratch writes: “The Big Ten would be bringing on two world-class institutions that have the ability to conduct adequate COVID-19 testing protocols. It would also be filling in key gaps inside its footprint.”
He adds: “It would also give the Big Ten 16 teams in women’s soccer, volleyball and women’s cross country, which would allow for the conference to be divided into four geographically-smart quads to reduce travel costs and allow for substantial schedules.”
It’s not a bad idea. Hopefully — if it can be pulled off safely — the Big Ten, Army and Navy will consider it.
Navy football would stick with the AAC in this scenario, but the Big Ten could help Army football out a whole lot.
The Black Knights have already lost two games from their schedule against teams from the Ivy (Princeton on Oct. 10) and Patriot (Bucknell on Sept. 4) leagues. If the MAC goes to a conference-only format, Army is out on three more games against Miami-Ohio, Eastern Michigan and Buffalo. A number of Big Ten teams could fill Bucknell’s slot vs. Army, Wisconsin could take Miami-Ohio’s date, Penn State could fill-in for the Princeton game and Northwestern could take Eastern Michigan’s spot. For the Buffalo date — in this hypothetical situation — we’ll move that to Sept. 19; Army was scheduled to be off and Michigan was supposed to play Arkansas State. Let’s run last year’s game back.
If the Big Ten idea doesn’t come to fruition, there are other options to build schedules across all sports, but it’ll take some creativity. Gladchuk told the Capital Gazette that Navy would be open to traveling as far north as New York and as far south as North Carolina.
“Maybe we can find three opponents and play them all twice,” he said.
At the very least, it seems like the Army-Navy football game is going to be played almost no matter what. That’s what it sounds like Gladchuk is saying anyway.
“If there’s only one game we’re going to play, it’s the Army-Navy game,” Gladchuk told ESPN. “Unless the pandemic is such at the time that we’re precluded by the city of Philadelphia to play that game, we have every intention of playing Army-Navy.”
The first Army-Navy game was played in 1890, and it has been played annually since 1930. After a brief three-year win streak by the Black Knights, Navy won last year 31-7. The 2020 game is set for Dec. 12 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, for Air Force, the Mountain West hasn’t altered any plans for the fall sports season. MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement on Friday that the conference is “fully engaged with our membership and advisors on a nearly daily basis exploring the myriad of potential scenarios around returning to competition.”
Due to the Big Ten’s move to a conference-only slate, Air Force’s football game vs. Purdue (originally set for Sept. 19) has been canceled.
Air Force AD Nathan Pine said in a statement: “We are disappointed that our football team will not have the opportunity to play at Purdue this season. It’s too early to speculate but we will review our options with Purdue on a resolution of the contract and will concurrently evaluate our options with the opening created on our 2020 schedule.”
Outside of its annual games with Army and Navy, Air Force’s other scheduled out-of-conference game was their season opener on Sept. 5 vs. Duquesne at home, but it’s unclear if that game will be played. The Northeast Conference suspended its start of fall sports to Sept. 10, but is allowing football programs to play out-of-conference games before then “per institutional discretion.” For now, it’s up to the Dukes and the Falcons as to whether or not that game will be played.
And luckily, Air Force doesn’t have to travel to Hawaii this season. The Rainbow Warriors are set to visit the Falcons on Oct. 17, so no worries there, yet.
Of course, all of this could change in a month, or in a week, or in a day.