Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Food for Thought

It seemed like a typical Tuesday press conference. Coach Troy Calhoun talking about the upcoming game – this week it’s against service academy rival Army – and the state of his team.

Then, on the heels of an answer to a question about whether Army would have an advantage Saturday because it had a bye last weekend, Calhoun slid in this juicy tidbit:

“I think there’s some advantages to being independent, now. I mean really,” he said. “You look at it for a service academy, one, you have complete command of your schedule. Your byes. Now all of a sudden you can go out, and it’s something we probably need to look at big-picture wise for our school, being able to go out and secure bowl berths before a season even starts. That’s something Army did last year with the Poinsettia Bowl. Now they didn’t get to the mark, but it’s something we have done here at the academy. We played in some Liberty Bowls when we were still involved in a conference. And yet those things were done up front.”

Wow. Did he say what we thought he said?

After some questions about captains and food poisoning, the conversation was steered back toward independence.

“I’ll say this big picture – here’s something that I do think you have to be able to do. I think service academies are a little bit unique. And when it comes to vision for our football program, when it comes to scheduling, when it comes to securing bowl berths prior to a season, when it comes to being able to pinpoint byes at certain places throughout the year – if you want them, now you may not want them some years, depending on the makeup of your squad. When it comes to being able to put games in place for the long haul. We had some pretty good years where we weren’t affiliated with a conference. Now do I love being in a league? Absolutely. Unequivocally. We’re fortunate because you look at the Mountain West Conference, you get to play against some very talented football teams that are extremely well-coached. And that means something to you. … But I think it’s something that we’ve got to take a look at.”

Now, according to the Mountain West Conference office, leaving the league is “an institutional decision.” Air Force isn’t locked into the league for a five- or 10-year contract. The academy would just have to give enough notice to allow the conference to adjust (in other words, it couldn’t get out by next fall. By the next year, yes).

But shortly after Calhoun’s press conference, Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh made it clear the academy has no intention of leaving the Mountain West. He praised the conference, its commissioner, Craig Thompson, and said Air Force has had “a great, great association” with the league.

My take? I think Calhoun probably doesn’t want to leave the league (at least not yet), but he does see some obvious benefits to becoming an independent – not the least of which, as he mentioned, are having more control over the schedule and being able to arrange tie-ins to bowls.

Air Force’s annual games with Navy (always in late September) and Army (always in early November) often make for quirky schedules – last year having two byes in the first three weeks and this year having no byes. And, as Mueh pointed out, Calhoun might be getting concerned that this year’s team – even with a strong finish to the season – could miss out on a bowl game because Air Force has the reputation of not “traveling” well to away games.

But does independence make sense? Army and Navy are independent in football, as is Notre Dame. I guess there are some pros and cons. Air Force, technically, could schedule anyone it wanted. And, ostensibly, the Falcons could try to continue longtime rivalries with teams like BYU and Colorado State. Plus, some of the other academy teams that have struggled in recent years while playing in the Mountain West – baseball comes to mind – definitely could benefit.

Still, scheduling for football and basketball would be far harder than it is now. Mueh even said going independent is “a roll of the dice.”

I think what Calhoun would love to see is Air Force stay in the conference yet get some sort of additional bowl tie-in similar to what Navy has this year with the Poinsettia Bowl (six wins and the Midshipmen are in) and to what the three service academies had with the Liberty Bowl nearly 20 years ago (an outright Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy winner that is bowl eligible gets an automatic bid). That’s something Mueh said he thought was a good idea, as long as the conference was in favor of it. Conference representative Javan Hedlund said the league always is looking for ways to get its teams to bowls, but that Air Force would have to talk to Thompson about such an arrangement.

“You think of those years we went to the Independence Bowl in ‘83 and ‘84, those were done in advance,” Calhoun said. “The Liberty Bowl, in 1989, ‘90, ‘91, ‘92. Now are there a couple of bases in – I can start naming cities in this country where Air Force personnel are located in the area that I think would be attractive.”

If nothing else, it’s makes for interesting debate. So I’ll open the floor and ask what others think. Should Air Force declare independence?


Anonymous said...

Yes If Basketball can remain in the MWC.

jake.schaller said...

Don't think that's possible. I think if football leaves, AF has to take the rest of its sports with it.

Anonymous said...

No, we need to stay in the MWC. Football is historically competitive, and basketball has now proven it can be competitive. With the right leadership, no reason why baseball can't be competitive too (as they have been in the past). Any idea why the administration is so tolerant of a baseball program that is the joke of D1, and appears to be making no prgress?

jake.schaller said...

That's a good question. I think this is a big year for baseball. the coach has most of his recruits in. I would think the administration would like to see some noticeable improvement this year. Otherwise ...

Ted said...

Hans said it best when he said that if we went independent I would be scheduling 26 hours a day. I think it would hurt the nonrevenue sports because just as Notre Dame has done, the minor sports would be dropped. I think Army and Navy can do it because they are in a highly populated area and most opponents are a bus ride away.

Anonymous said...

Hey there.
I'm new to Colorado and have tickets for the Army-air force game. Looking for game day activities... do they still do parades and whatnot Saturday morning? I couldn't find anything in the Gazette or on the USAFA websites.


Ted said...

I don't think they do the walk-in this year. They tried it last year with limited success. You need to be in your seat about 1/2 hour before kickoff to catch all the pagentry and flyovers. On the East side where the parking lots are, down about even with the scoreboard there is a Coors tent with free beer and Hooter's wings. They usually have Famous Dave's ribs and have had small steaks from the Texas Land and Cattle Company - all free.

Angry Falcon Fan said...

USAFA AOG will have to come on line to support Falcon Athletics. Current grads are unwilling to "be true to their school" as Navy and Army are. When Air Force grads decide to "Cowboy up," the Falcons can get off the dole and then they can leave MWC. USAFA is about to graduate its 50th class. That is substantial enough to start funding Falcon programs. However, most grads are apathetic and wont pony up the cash to support the school that did so much for them. One only needs to look at the number of grads who belong to the AOG. While almost 100% of USMA and USNA classes are "lifetime members" of their respective alumni organizations--most of USAFA classes seem to hover around the 50% level. One could also read recent comments from people in the know at USAFA. Good grief; Air Force constantly talks about how "poor they travel" and in a year in which they will probably finish 2nd in the conference, beat ND, and finish 9-3 a bowl game is still questionable? The Falcons should be a great choice for a bowl. They are the fine young men that are our future. They have a higher calling than the NFL. They have a great all-around running back who has "crazy swervin' legs" and is exciting to watch. Chad Hall should be on the Heisman watch list. But for some reason he is being overlooked. Additionally, when you get Air Force in a bowl game, the bowl committee, gets the Flyover, the Falconeers, the D&B, and all the pomp and pagentry of the military for free! That is a bowl committee's dream. But what do we read in the papers? We see constant reminders from key people who publicly state that Air Force "doesnt travel well." That is a disservice to the team, the school, the alumni, and all the Airmen in the USAF. Above all the Airmen of the USAF deserve to have their team in a bowl game! Instead of "pre-selling bowl tickets" and proving Air Force "travels well" and "stumpin'" for the team all we see is "we might miss out on a bowl because we travel poorly." Its very disheartening. Air Force has found a head coach that knows how to win. He knows how to teach it to others. He has taught them to "expect to win," and the team has won! USAFA grads need to take a lesson from the coach. Work hard and "expect to travel well." Does that mean all associated with USAFA will have to work hard and sell tickets and hotel rooms? Yes it does, but just because it is hard doesn't mean its wrong. Bottomline, if the grads wont support the school, Air Force Falcon Athletics will have to continue to survive off taxpayer money(which is extremely limited and an unreliable source of capital) and the few scraps they earn from being a member of the MWC, and of course...hope they get a bowl bid.