Shutdown might ground Navy, Air Force, Army football games

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Saturday should be a fine day to be in Annapolis, Md. The forecast calls for a high of 78 degrees under partly cloudy skies — ideal October weather — and the Navy athletic department has a big show planned.

With Air Force coming to town for the academies’ annual rivalry game, Navy will honor its 1963 Cotton Bowl team, including quarterback Roger Staubach, before a crowd that is expected to set an attendance record for Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.

“Huge reunion weekend, recruits from all over the country, every hotel is booked from here to Baltimore, you’ve got all the catering, concessions,” said Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk. “Everything is wired for takeoff.”

But the government shutdown is set to scuttle the academy’s plans.

The Department of Defense on Tuesday suspended all intercollegiate athletics at its service academies while the dispute remains in effect. The immediate impact of that decision saw Navy and Army cancel soccer games set for Tuesday night, but questions remain about whether Saturday’s football games will be played.

Navy is set to host Air Force at 11:40 a.m. in a game to be televised nationally by CBS, and Army is slated to visit Boston College for a 1 p.m. kickoff. All parties seemed to be in a holding pattern Tuesday, hoping the situation would be resolved in time to salvage this weekend’s games.

Air Force released a statement saying all travel for athletics is canceled “at this time,” including the game at Annapolis. But Navy said a decision on whether to go forward with the Air Force game would be made by noon Thursday, in case the budget showdown ends in the meantime.

The game is one of the most anticipated in years in Annapolis. In addition to ceremonies connected with Staubach’s squad, which beat Michigan, Notre Dame and others 50 years ago en route to a year-end No. 2 national ranking, Navy is expecting to set an all-time attendance mark. The stadium record is 37,970, set three years ago for a game against Pittsburgh, but ticket sales for Saturday’s sold-out game already have exceeded that total.

“The economic impact for the academy and the local community is just devastating if this game doesn’t happen,” Gladchuk said, “so we’re hopeful that they can find a way to make it work.”

Air Force canceled coach Troy Calhoun’s weekly press conference Tuesday. Much of the athletic administrative staff at Air Force, including athletic director Hans Mueh, was furloughed due to the shutdown, according to The Gazette of Colorado Springs.

Army released a statement saying “Sporting competitions can still be at risk but are being assessed by our chain of command and Department of the Army,” while Boston College held out hope for Saturday’s game.

“We have been in close communication with Army athletics officials regarding the potential impact of the government shutdown on this Saturday’s football game,” B.C. athletic director Brad Bates said in a statement. “Obviously our intention is to exhaust all possibilities to play the game and we will communicate the information promptly as soon as we have resolution.”

Just one day in, the government shutdown already has proven to have a long reach, from the closing of Yosemite National Park on its 123rd birthday to barricades being erected around National Mall icons. College athletics is a miniscule part of the equation — which is exactly Gladchuk’s point in arguing that the games should go on.

The athletic departments at the service academies receive varying levels of federal funding, but Navy football is entirely under the umbrella of the Naval Academy Athletic Association, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that is not technically a part of the academy or the U.S. government.

“One thing that we’ve done is we’ve illustrated clearly that absolutely no government funding is used for any purpose regarding Navy football,” Gladchuk said. “It’s a completely self-funded entity, so therefore there’s no pressure at all on government funding to support it. Air Force may have an issue with some dimension of the travel being government-funded, but I know that they’re looking at the possibility of gift funds or non-government funding to cover those costs as well. So I think if both of us can illustrate that it has absolutely no impact on the government financially that we might be granted a reprieve.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, told the Associated Press the suspension is being reviewed by Pentagon lawyers to determine whether funds used for athletics are congressionally appropriated.

If the games are postponed, Dec. 7 is a likely makeup date for both. Army and Navy are off that weekend ahead of their Dec. 14 showdown in Philadelphia, and Air Force and Boston College are scheduled to finish their seasons Nov. 30. The ACC Championship Game is set for Dec. 7, but Boston College (2-2) would have to finish strong to win the Atlantic Division and make the cut.

But all parties involved would rather it didn’t come to that — and wish it hadn’t already come to this.

“Somehow we ought to be able to get organized as a country,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun told The Gazette. “But we live in a world where a lot of times you think you absolutely have to be either a conservative or a Democrat, one or the other, rather than some unity.”

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