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Navy weighing status as an independent

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ANNAPOLIS — As college football teetered on the precipice of massive conference realignment, Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk continued quiet, forward-thinking conversations he has maintained with several leagues for the past year.

It might prove to be the correct course of action in an environment of irrationality and instability, both for him as an administrator and for Navy's football program.

"There's been an awful lot of panic and jumping and wheeling and dealing among conferences themselves," Gladchuk said. "Our position isn't one of panic. It's one of evaluation and opportunity. We need to make sure Navy doesn't lose its position as a program that is nationally respected."

Multiple outlets reported this week the Big East, which lost Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference, was interested in adding Navy. Gladchuk said he had conversations with four conferences about the Midshipmen joining as a football-only member but did not specify which leagues.

Navy appeared in bowl games for the past eight years, collecting at least eight wins in each season. The academy has a television contract with CBS Sports Network (formerly CBS College Sports) to televise all of its home games and has agreements for intersectional home-and-home series extending nearly a decade into the future.

All along, Navy has thrived as an independent, though Gladchuk said he met with several conference commissioners when he first came to Navy a decade ago to gauge if any would be a good fit for the Mids (Army was a football-only member of Conference USA at the time). The potential consolidation of conferences could create concerns with scheduling, postseason slots and attractiveness to television for Navy.

"We've looked at this in a very calculated way," Gladchuk said. "We put our program in position to succeed like it is today, and our driving force is not panic but forethought and vision to figure out what's best for us down the road. We feel like we're in a safe harbor today."

But if the landscape changes? Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo believes the program's current formula works, but doesn't want to see the Mids bypassed because of short-sightedness.

"It's like the weather: We have to watch it, but we can't predict it," Niumatalolo said. "But we'd be stupid not to watch and we'd be stupid to say 'We're going to do this no matter what happens.' I think that would be ignorant on our part. We just have to have our minds open so we make the right decision."

While Navy typically plays a diverse schedule — six major-college conferences are represented among the Mids' 12 opponents this year, as was the case in 2010 — it only has a few long-running series. Only five of this year's dozen foes were on the schedule last year.

However, Gladchuk said Navy's most notable rivalries would have to be protected as part of any future agreement to join a conference.

"No matter what, whether we're in or not in a conference, no one is going to touch the Army-Navy game," Gladchuk said. "The Army-Navy game will happen for 100 years. Our contract with Notre Dame goes through [2026]. And Air Force is the other leg of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. That's sacred ground. That has to fit. That's non-negotiable."

Gladchuk said any jump would affect only one sport; the rest of the Mids' programs would remain in the Patriot League. Of course, football is Navy's most visible sport, and Gladchuk is determined not to let it fade into obscurity after its impressive rise in the past eight years.

If the tumult in college athletics continues, that could mean Navy joins a conference for the first time.

"The last thing I want Navy football to be is irrelevant," Gladchuk said. "Eight years from now, I won't be here. This is the job they're asking me to do and to protect the future. The superintendent is on top of it as well. He's not going to be here then, either. We could both say 'Just another day at the office,' but we feel compelled to make sure we're studying this very carefully."

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