Should Army Consider Joining The AAC?

Jeff Monken celebrates during the 2018 Army-Navy game. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

Should Army Consider Joining The AAC?

Army’s football team has posted three straight winning seasons with all three ending in bowl victories. 2017 saw the team’s first 10 win season in over 20 years when they finished 10-3. Army followed that up with an 11-2 record last season, which were the most wins in school history and finished ranked in the top 25. Most recently, Connecticut’s move back to the Big East has created a void in the American Athletic Conference. Should Army consider joining the AAC?

Let’s start by going to the past. The far past.

The Glory Days

It is of little surprise that all of Army’s national championships came around war time. With all the recruits being drafted into the Army, there was a complete arsenal on the gridiron.

Army won national championships in 1914 and 1916 going 9-0 during both season. The Cadets had a winning record each year from 1907 through 1938. Then came World War II. (The titles are not claimed by Army, but they are recognized by the NCAA).

Though the US had not formally entered into the Second World War, in 1939 and 1940 Army’s football prowess was definitely not on display. They went 3-4-2 in 1939 and 1-7-1 in 1940. However, the 1941 through 1943 seasons saw a return to winning ways as they went 5-3-1, 6-3, and 7-2-1.

The 1944 squad went 9-0 scoring 504 points and giving up 35 points. They were named national champions, a feat they would repeat in 1945 when they went 9-0 again while scoring 412 points and surrendering 46. The 1946 squad went 9-0-1 with the tie being to Notre Dame, who would be crowned AP national champions. The 1944 – 46 teams featured the overwhelming duo of Doc Blanchard (1945 Heisman) and Glenn Davis (1946 Heisman).

Army would have several more strong seasons in the late 1940s and Pete Dawkins would take home the Heisman in 1958 after an 8-0-1 campaign. There were a few good seasons sprinkled in the next several decades, but the Cadets have not reached those heights again.

Prelude to Conference USA

Army was not a remarkable team in the 1980s. They went 8-3-1 and 9-3 with back-to-back bowl wins in 1984 and 1985. They went 9-3 again in 1988 with a Sun Bowl loss to Alabama. Other than the 1988 season, the Cadets basically hung around .500 between 1986 and 1995 having between 4 and 6 wins each year.

In 1996, Army achieved a 10-2 record with the an Independence Bowl loss to Auburn. It was their first 10 win season in school history and they finished in the top 25 polls for the first time 1958. Army struck while the iron was hot because in March 1997 they decided to join Conference USA (possible paywall) beginning with the 1998 season.

The Conference USA Disaster

The 1997 season was Army’s last season as an independent before they went into a conference for the first time. They went 4-7, but that was actually the highlight of their time as part of Conference USA.

The Cadets time on the field in C-USA between 1998 through 2004 was abysmal. They never won more than two conference games and never won more than three total games in a season. Their totals for C-USA were:

Overall record: 13-67

C-USA record: 9-41

Their low point was the 2003 season in which they went 0-13 overall and 0-8 in Conference USA. The 2003 season was the first time in NCAA history that a program finished with an 0-13 mark. Todd Berry was head coach for the first six games before being fired and replaced by John Mumford. Berry was at the helm for three and a half seasons in which he decided the wishbone offense was no longer needed at Army. Ouch.

Back To Independent Status

For their final C-USA season, Army hired Bobby Ross to bring them back to a respectable level. Ross lasted only three seasons going 9-25, but had to undo what Berry did. When Army left C-USA, they cited scheduling flexibility as the main reason for their departure. Eight conference games, plus the obligatory Navy and Air Force games left only one or (now) two games they could schedule as they saw fit.

Ross was succeeded by his protégé Stan Brock who went 3-9 in two seasons. He was fired and replaced by Rich Ellerson who led the Cadets to their first bowl game in 2010 since the ten win 1996 campaign. Army soon went back to their losing ways going 3-9, 2-10, and 3-9 in Ellerson’s final three seasons.

Monken’s Momentum

When Army hired Jeff Monken in December 2013 to lead the program, it seemed like a good fit. Monken led Georgia Southern to three consecutive FCS Playoff Semifinal appearances using the triple-option offense that is employed by service academies. It took two seasons of 4-8 and 2-10 before it all came together in Monken’s third season.

Army went 8-5 in 2016 capping off the season with an overtime victory against North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. In 2017, Army went 10-3 with a 42-35 win over San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl. The best was yet to come as 2018 saw Army go 11-2 with an obliteration of Houston, 70-14, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Monken was rewarded for the 2018 season by being named the Coach of the Year. He also signed a contract extension with Army through the 2024 season.

The future is bright and Monken has signaled his intent to stick around so… Should Army consider joining the AAC or another conference?

A Complicated Puzzle

The answer to the “should Army consider joining the AAC” question is nuanced. Some will point to fellow service academies Air Force and Navy successes in conference play. Others will point to keeping Army and Navy together as their rivalry is deeply intertwined with the fabric of college football. Perhaps Army’s own previous conference history, albeit short and disastrous, provide clues.

Let’s start with how Navy and Air Force have fared in their respective conference. Navy is simple as they have been in the American Athletic Conference for only four seasons. In that time, Navy has been co-champions of the AAC West twice, played in one AAC championship game (lost 34-10 to Temple in 2016), and had three winning seasons. 2018 was very poor at 3-10, but there were some close games as well. The jury is still out on Navy’s decision to go to the AAC despite some differing opinions (possible paywall).

Air Force has a much longer history of being in a conference. They were part of the Western Athletic Conference from 1980 until 1998 and then joined the Mountain West in 1999. In the 39 years since having a conference affiliation, Air Force has gone to 23 bowl games and have had consistent success since Troy Calhoun took over in 2007.

Part of Air Force’s success has been their geography. Even in the WAC, they were still relatively close to their opponents. Navy has the oddity of being the now second most eastern team in the AAC, yet were somehow placed in the west division where they still reside. Still, they have shown success in their brief AAC tenure.

Potential Destination

If Army were to consider joining a conference the one that makes the most sense is the American Athletic Conference. They would be situated close to Connecticut, Navy, and Temple. The AAC might have to re-draw their divisions and the absence of Connecticut actually makes this interesting.

Had UConn remained, instead of having Navy be part of the “west” they could change the divisions to north and south. The north would have been comprised of Army, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Navy, Temple, and East Carolina. The south would have included Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, and South Florida.

Without UConn in the mix, it becomes murkier. The east cluster of Army, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Navy, and Temple is clear. The west cluster is Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, and Tulsa. Then, there are the two Florida schools in UCF and USF. Here, they could just split UCF to the east and USF to the west. In this scenario, there are balanced divisions, though somewhat awkwardly.

(Ideally the two Florida teams would be in the same division, but unless the AAC is going to go the super-expansion route to 14 teams this partition will do. Besides, it stays in line with conference’s confusing geography philosophy).

Another problem is the Army-Navy game tends to be played all by itself with the potential of the entire college football audience watching. Being part of a conference would cause this to be played during November (or earlier) because it could impact the conference championship game. While it would be amazing for the winner of Army-Navy to determine the AAC one or possibly two title representatives, is it worth foregoing the spotlight of being the sole football game on TV in December?

One work around: Allow Army-Navy to keep it’s preferred time slot as a non-conference game. The AAC would probably agree to this and it would not impact the regular season title race. However, it would eliminate another week of flexibility from Army’s schedule. Speaking of scheduling…

A third problem is that Army clearly likes their scheduling flexibility and it has been favorable for them. It is not a mistake that Army’s last three seasons have been the best in over two decades. They had five home games in 2016, six in 2017, and six in 2018 while 2016 and 2018 both saw an additional game within the state of New York (at Buffalo both times). Also factor in the neutral site game against Navy, which gives Army 7 or 8 home/neutral site games that are relatively close to West Point.

Army gets complete control over 10 games a season, which allows them to play a few big teams for paychecks while still playing a few FCS opponents to get closer to bowl eligibility. Mix in several group of 5 teams who are beatable along with fellow independents and Army has a recipe for at least 6 to 7 wins each season as long as they are competitive.

Summary

Army’s short stint in Conference USA was a terrible mistake as they moved to a more restrictive schedule while moving away from the wishbone offense. That led to a terrible product on the field as they were not competitive at all.

Army’s return to independent status did not bear fruit until the last three seasons with Jeff Monken at the helm. Army has seen their best success in decades thanks to Monken’s leadership. Now let’s answer the question posed in the article’s title.

Should Army Consider Joining The AAC?

Absolutely they should consider it. They are stable with the proper offensive scheme (as opposed to their C-USA time) and their head coach, who clearly has the right ideas for the program. They would be a good geographical fit for the American Athletic Conference while preserving their annual rivalry tilt against Navy.

Should Army Join The AAC?

This is tougher to answer, but no they should not. They clearly value scheduling flexibility and if the likes of Massachusetts and smaller group of 5 teams continue to schedule Army, why deviate it from a successful formula? Going to a conference automatically removes 8 games from their scheduling control and with Air Force in the rotation, the Cadets will only have 3 games of their choosing. They will have additional AAC TV revenue, but will it cover the additional travel expenses? If not, Army might need to schedule more Power 5 teams potentially leaving them short of bowl eligibility.

For now, Army should remain as an Independent. This could all change in a few years when conference realignment kicks off again (or sooner if UConn proves to be the domino).

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FBS and FCS Changes For 2019 Season

Merrimack College is moving up from Division II to Division I and will compete at the FCS level in football (photo courtesy of Merrimack College).

FBS and FCS Changes For The 2019 Season

The college football season does not kickoff until August 24, but that won’t stop us from getting excited. We will start by detailing the FBS and FCS changes for the 2019 season.

Overtime Rule Changes

We start with a general rule change regarding overtime. The change this season is that teams will go for two instead of starting at the 25 yard line commencing with the fifth overtime. Four overtime periods will be played as they previously were with each team getting the ball. Previously, teams played as many overtimes as necessary with each team getting a possession until one team failed to match the other team in points for that overtime period. In addition, the third and fourth overtimes will still require the teams to go for a two-point conversion.

Another note: a two-minute break has been mandated after the second and fourth overtimes. At least we will have a chance to catch our collective breath.

FBS Changes

Amazingly, there are very few changes in terms of team movements. The one note is that Liberty will be bowl eligible in 2019 after moving up from FCS in 2018. The Flames will remain an Independent team and will once again play New Mexico State twice this season as they did in 2018.

FCS Changes

The plethora of changes to detail will take place at the FCS level. The overtime rules discussed above will apply here as well.

General Schedule Quirk

Thanks to the NCAA’s draconian bylaws, the 2019 season allows for a 12 game regular season at the FCS level instead of the usual 11. Why? Simply due to the calendar. 14 Saturdays between Labor Day weekend and the last Saturday in November (see bylaw 17.10.3 on page 272) allow for the 12 games to be played.

This last time this occurred was in 2013 and will happen again in 2024. For FCS fans, the likelihood of a permanent 12 game regular season are zero after the NCAA rejected a proposal back in 2017.

Conference Changes – Up From Division II

We start with the two teams moving up from Division II into FCS competition.

Merrimack College is moving from the Division II Northeast-10 Conference to the FCS Northeast Conference. The Warriors will become full Division I members starting with the 2023-24 academic year. They won’t be playing a full Northeast Conference schedule this season, but hope to do so in 2020. As part of the transition, the Warriors are ineligible for the NEC title and FCS playoffs this season.

The second team moving up from Division II to FCS is Long Island University. They too are moving from the NE-10 to the NEC. LIU is merging the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds and LIU Post Pioneers to become the LIU Sharks. The Pioneers were part of the Division II level while the Blackbirds were already at the Division I level, but did not sponsor football. The Sharks will be competing with a 7 game conference schedule in 2019. LIU will be eligible for the NEC title.

Moving Down To Division II

Savannah State will be departing the FCS to drop down to Division II as announced in late 2017. The Tigers were a member of the MEAC since 2010 and now re-join the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). The Tigers were a member of the SIAC from 1969 through 1999 before becoming a then Division 1-AA (now FCS) Independent. The MEAC will have 9 football teams in 2019.

Moving From FCS Independent Status

Two teams are moving from an FCS Independent to the Big South. Those schools are the Hampton Pirates and North Alabama Lions. The Big South will have 8 teams this season.

Hampton left the MEAC after the 2017 season after joining the conference in 1995. The Pirates played as an FCS Independent in 2018 in their transition year to the Big South. They played 10 games (Tennessee State game was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence) and went 7-3. The Pirates are eligible for both the Big South title and the FCS Playoffs.

Meanwhile, North Alabama moved up from Division II for the 2018 season. After a 7-3 season in 2018, the Lions will face a full slate of FCS teams for the first time including 7 games against Big South foes. The Lions are not eligible for the Big South title and are ineligible for the FCS Playoffs until 2022 when their transition to Division I is complete.

Stuck In Indepedence

North Dakota is in their final season as an FCS Independent on their way to becoming a Missouri Valley Football Conference member. North Dakota has left the Big Sky Conference, but maintains the previously scheduled Big Sky matchups. The games will count in the conference standings for the Fighting Hawks’ opponents. UND will not be eligible for the Big Sky title, but can still be selected as an at-large team for the FCS Playoffs.

Future Moves

The Big South is full of changes this year and next. 2019 will mark the final year for Presbyterian as a football member of the conference. They will be an Independent in 2020 and then become a member of the Pioneer Football League starting in 2021. Presbyterian joined the Big South in 2009.

Dixie State, currently a Division II member, will move up to Division I starting in 2020. They will compete as an FCS Independent in 2020 while their other sports will compete in the Western Athletic Conference. Dixie State is part of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Association and currently has no plans for joining an FCS football conference. The Trailblazers will not be eligible for the FCS Playoffs until 2024 due to the transition.

Augustana announced their intention to transition to Division I in December 2018. They currently reside in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, but have not discussed a Division I conference to join. It is assumed they will join the Summit League, however, that conference does not offer football. In that case, the Vikings will then have to decide whether they want offer scholarship football or not. This, in turn, will help decided if they land in a conference such as the Pioneer Football League (non-scholarship) or the more geographically appropriate Missouri Valley Football Conference.

More FCS football conjecture can be found here.

Edit: Thanks to the folks on Twitter, both Tarleton State and West Texas A&M have considered moving to the FCS. Tarleton State’s feasibility move can be found here with the Southland Conference explicitly mentioned. West Texas A&M released a bullish statement after working with Collegiate Consulting and they are opening a new football stadium for the 2019 season.

Staying Put

Much to the delight of Stetson fans and alumni, the Hatters are staying put at the Division 1 level. Despite an examination into dropping to Division II or Division III, there will be no change for Stetson’s affiliation at this time. Stetson currently plays in the Pioneer Football League at the FCS level after bringing back the team starting with the 2013 season.

That covers the FBS and FCS changes for the 2019 season and we look forward to the start of the season as well as more content in the next few months!

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Infantino’s Re-election Shows Little Has Changed With FIFA

Gianni Infantino at the 2018 World Cup held in Russia. Infantino was re-elected as FIFA president after running unopposed. He will serve until 2023. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Europe )

Infantino’s Re-Election Shows Little Has Changed With FIFA

On Wednesday, Gianni Infantino was re-elected as FIFA president for a second term. He won the bid with no opposition with the FIFA council opting to back him by acclamation. Infantino had this to say as leader of the organization:

…”a new FIFA, an organisation that is synonymous with credibility, confidence, integrity.”

– Infantino during his speech to FIFA’s 69th Congress on Wednesday, June 5, 2019.

Transparency and Voting

A link to FIFA’s key achievements between 2016 and 2019 can be found here. Outside of FIFA tooting their own horn, it is clear little has changed with FIFA from five years ago. Let’s start with this very election.

FIFA, claiming to be “more transparent”, did not even hold a vote for Infantino’s election. Sure, no one ran against him (why not?), but given recent events, holding a vote for this election would seem to be prudent to help build credibility. According to the New York Times (potential paywall), a statute was enacted just this week that allowed for the vote to be bypassed. Pretty convenient for a “transparent and credible” organization.

Speaking of votes, the Congress did test their voting and came up with this gem (per Rob Harris).

Not only did the voting test work improperly for some members (210 members voted, yet only 177 votes were deemed valid), 6 did not even know that this year’s Women’s World Cup was taking place in France. It begins on Friday. One could surmise this is a step towards transparency by even showing this blunder, but it does not really make FIFA look any better.

Alternative Facts

Here is another quote from Infantino’s address to Congress:

“This organization went from being toxic, almost criminal to what it should be — an organization that develops football, an organization that cares about football,” Infantino said. “We have transformed it into a new FIFA — an organization which is synonymous with credibility, trust, integrity, equality, human rights.”

Infantino during his speech to FIFA’s 69th Congress on Wednesday, June 5, 2019.

By “almost criminal” does he mean completely corrupt? Surely, he does. And doesn’t being corrupt mean being criminal? There’s no almost about it.

The part about being “an organization that cares about football” is true. Especially when it comes to money. According to FIFA’s own press release, the reserves increased to $2.745 billion while a new record in revenue was reached in 2018 with $6.421 billion as a result of the 2018 World Cup. If my assets increased by 50% over the previous cycle, I’d definitely care about the sport too.

The last part – the one about synonymity with credibility, trust, integrity, equality, and human rights – is a lot to unpack. FIFA hardly evokes positive thoughts and certainly none of the ones referenced by Infantino will be at the top of the list. One only needs to read through the Wikipedia entry on the 2015 Corruption Case to see how wrong that statement is.

We have now established that credibility, trust, and integrity are, in fact, not synonymous with FIFA. Let’s move onto equality and human rights.

Equality

What is FIFA’s definition of equality? The “unprecedented” 20% of FIFA committee members now being women? The requirement that there must be at least 1 woman per confederation on the FIFA Council? Or what about the five games being held in Paris, yet the advertisement shown below is from September 2018 for the men’s French national team?

The 2019 Women’s World Cup features $30 million in prize money distributed to the nations, which is double the amount paid in 2015. $400 million was distributed at the 2018 World Cup.

The world’s top female soccer player, Ada Hegerberg, has not played for Norway in two years as she battles for equality in the Nordic country. She has decided to skip this year’s World Cup, which will take some shine off the upcoming tournament.

Hegerberg’s fight is just one of several around the world for equal pay between the men’s and women’s teams including the United States and Australia.

In fairness to FIFA, the revenues generated from the men’s World Cup far exceed the women’s World Cup, which leads to the observed disparity in prize money. It makes sense from an overall revenue standpoint that men would get paid more. Moreover, the relatively recent introduction of the women’s tournament plays a part in the smaller revenues (2019 will be only the 8th edition of the Women’s World Cup).

But…

Given the surging popularity and growth of the women’s game in the last decade, it would make sense for FIFA to provide more money. In fact, given FIFA’s strong desire to acquire money, they ought to grow the women’s game faster to reap higher revenues sooner.

Furthermore, increasing the prize pool to draw ought to bring more women into the sport with a higher wage. Higher prizes equals more competition, in turn leading to higher quality matches. This results in higher revenues/prize money and (hopefully) a virtuous cycle that leads to equality between the men’s and women’s games.

Human Rights

Finally, we reach the human rights aspect. Minky Worden has a Twitter thread linking articles detailing the failed attempt to expand the 2022 World Cup beyond Qatar’s borders.

Why on earth did FIFA want to expand the 2022 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams given the extensive human rights issues? One can probably figure out the billion$ of rea$on$ to ignore all the crimes.

For those wanting background on the human rights issues plaguing Qatar, Tifo Football has a good video on the topic, which is presented below.

As much as Gianni Infantio would like us to believe that FIFA has evolved, it has not.

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