With the CFP expanding and bowl games potentially shifting, the future of the Army-Navy is murky

By | February 28, 2024

Navy QB Xavier Arline struggles during the first half of Army's win over Navy on Dec. 9.  (Danielle Parhizkaran/Getty Images)

Navy QB Xavier Arline struggles during the first half of Army’s win over Navy on Dec. 9. (Danielle Parhizkaran/Getty Images)

For the past 15 years, America’s Game has started on the second Saturday in December just after 3:00 PM ET on CBS.

In the renewal of one of the oldest rivalries in American history, the Army Cadets and Navy Midshipmen meet in a usually sold-out stadium before a captivated television audience.

There are many things that set the Army-Navy Game apart from any other in college football. After all, in which game do the students from each school march onto the field in uniform before kick-off? What other college football series has attracted 10 sitting U.S. presidents? And what other rivalry regularly involves 18-play drives and fewer than 30 points scored.

But there’s something else that makes Army-Navy different from all the others: The game has an unencumbered window on a Saturday in the fall as the only Football Bowl Subdivision game scheduled for that day and the last major college football game before the bowl and arrive in the postseason. .

That could very well change soon.

The expanded College Football Playoff jeopardizes the future of the Army-Navy game as a standalone event and its relevance to the CFP’s selection of the 12-team field – issues that so concern the game’s stakeholders that someone wrote a letter to CFP leaders earlier this month.

The expansion of the CFP from four to twelve teams starting this fall has led to two conversations, both of which could impact the Army and Navy:

• Bowl Season officials and their TV partner ESPN are exploring moving the start of bowl games to the second weekend of December to free up television windows for the four first-round playoff games scheduled for the third weekend of December.

• CFP leaders are exploring how to consider a matchup (Army-Navy) starting six days after CFP selections are made, when the new format automatically awards a spot to the top-ranked Group of Five champion.

“It’s tough. I don’t envy the decision makers,” said Mike Buddie, Army athletics director, who sent a letter to the CFP Management Committee about the situation on Feb. 16. “I’m a realist. I understand there’s a lot of money and a lot of games to be played, but I still think Army-Navy transcends the sport of college football and has done so for decades.”

Given the expansion of CFP, questions loom over the future of the game.

Does it need to move data? Should it share its date? And if the date doesn’t move, how should it be taken into account in CFP selections?

“There is still some uncertainty about all of this at this point, but we hope they will be respectful of the fact that this is America’s Game,” Navy athletics director Chet Gladchuk said. “It’s special at the national level and special for our troops around the world. There is a respect in it that is appreciated until now. Our employees were left alone that weekend.”

Moving the game is a non-starter, Gladchuk said. The contract with CBS requires the game to be played on that date. There are obligations for corporate sponsors, host cities and the military itself.

“We’re not moving the game,” Gladchuk said. “It stays there.”

The game’s ratings have soared since it moved from the conference championship Saturday to the standalone spot the following weekend in 2009 – a shift made to highlight the clash between U.S. armed service members and capture the attention of the entire country to pull. The 2009 game was the most viewed game in the series in ten years.

Last year’s Army-Navy game drew 7.2 million viewers, making it the 21st most-watched game of the college football season. The 2017 game attracted more than 8 million viewers, marking the series’ highest rating in nearly a quarter of a century.

However, the game could soon face competition from the relocation of bowl games.

Seven bowls were played during the opening day of the Bowl season last year, Saturday, December 16. Three first-round playoff games are scheduled for that day this year, Saturday, December 21, with the fourth to be played on the preceding Friday.

Bowl Season Executive Director Nick Carparelli confirmed to Yahoo Sports that the organization is exploring moving at least some of those bowls each week to expand television windows and avoid TV conflicts with playoff games. The final decisions likely rest with ESPN, owner and rights holder of most bowl games.

Regarding an Army-Navy conflict, Carparelli said, “We would respect that game. We know its history.”

Mike Aresco has a hand in the situation. As CBS network executive, he programmed the game for sixteen years and was central to the idea of ​​moving it to the standalone window. Now, as commissioner of the American Athletic Conference, he recruited Army to join the league starting next academic year. Marine has been a member since 2015.

“We can’t stop the bowls from moving up, but I hope they will try to keep the Army-Navy window clear,” he said. “That match is extremely important for the country. It means so much. There are several windows that day that don’t involve the Army-Navy.”

Aresco sits on the CFP Management Committee, the group of FBS commissioners who control decisions surrounding the playoffs, including policies on handling the Army-Navy game. There is currently a CFP protocol in place that requires the selection committee to postpone any pairings – a New Year’s Six Bowl game or playoff seeding – involving the Army or Navy if it is affected by the outcome of the game.

While the chances of Army or Navy making an impact on a four-team playoff were slim, the twelve-team format gives both programs more of an opportunity because it automatically awards spots to the five highest-ranked champions in an FBS division which now has four power leagues. Stakeholders acknowledge that the chances of Army and Navy impacting the expanded playoff remain slim, but the possibility still exists.

If the CFP’s 12-team format were used in 2015, Navy might have qualified as the top-ranked Group of Five team due to the realignment shifts that have occurred since then. If the CFP format had been used in the first ten years of the CFP (2014-2023), the Group of Five champion would have been selected as the twelfth seed in nine out of ten years. The outlier is 2020 AAC champion Cincinnati.

Army and Navy stakeholders support the CFP in maintaining current protocol for the new expanded field. That means, in all likelihood, the selection committee will seed 11 of the 12 teams and retain two options for the No. 12 seed: Army or Navy and the next-best conference champion in the Group of Five.

In a letter to the CFP Management Committee and obtained by Yahoo Sports, Buddie emphasized that the school concedes to being seeded at No. 12 if it were to enter contention and subsequently win the Army-Navy game, allowing the committee to complete all other initial steps . round pairs.

“If I’m honest and real, the conversation probably happens every 30 years,” Buddie said. “It makes it easier to just say, ‘Hey, let’s keep the current protocol in place.’”

At recent CFP meetings, the current protocol has been “the subject of debate,” Aresco said. Waiting a week to name a No. 12 seed means the No. 5 seed – the two are matched in the first round – is tasked with preparing for two opponents and won’t play until a week before the kickoff of its opponent is told.

“If the Army-Navy game is critical to the selection process, let’s play the game in the spirit it represents,” Gladchuk said. “Someone will have to be on hold, but most of us only have five days over the course of the season to prepare for an opponent anyway.”

For the CFP, the alternative option is likely to be for the selection committee to pick the 12 seeds regardless of the outcome for Army and Navy – a protocol that could result in both teams losing the rivalry game, still making the playoff field and another G5 champion a spot.

For Group of Five programs, an opportunity to access the CFP is critical.

Part of the military’s decision to move from independence to conference was rooted in the fact that there was a path to both access to the CFP and revenue from the CFP. Aside from Notre Dame, FBS independents receive about a quarter of the CFP revenue share ($300,000 per year) as Group of Five conference-affiliated programs (about $1 million per year) – one reason for the recent flood of conference movements of independents.

Since 2019, five independent football programs have joined a conference. The most recent move – UMass to the MAC – left only one independent football team in the FBS besides the Irish: UConn.

The upcoming addition of the Army to the American comes with obligations to protect the clash with the Navy. The Black Knights and Midshipmen will not meet in a regular season conference game, but could both qualify to play each other in the AAC championship game.

That would mean a rematch the following week.

Given the history and tradition, that’s not a problem, Gladchuk said.

“We all aspire to be in the championship game,” he said, “but nothing beats the Army-Navy battle. It is a standalone event that is extraordinary.”

The questions arise: Will it stand alone? And what is its relevance to a comprehensive CFP selection process?

Army letter to CFP by Yahoo on Scribd

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