Navy could move to the Big East by 2013
The college football season officially ended Monday night, but for Division 1 schools like the Naval Academy, the recruiting season is about to enter the fourth quarter. Fortunately, Navy’s coaches have a few “go to” plays on the trail this January, and plan to make the most of exposure received from a pending move to the Big East conference, as well as an acclaimed documentary from Showtime.
Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has reason to be optimistic. Despite coming off a 5-7 season that saw his program fail to make the postseason for the first time since 2002, Navy has been making unprecedented strides on the recruiting trail. Speaking in an exclusive interview with GoMids.com, Niumatalolo said Navy continues to attract talented prep football players from around the country, thanks in large part to Showtime’s A Game of Honor documentary, as well as what many assume to be the school’s inevitable move to the Big East as a football-only member.
“I think recruiting is going well,” Niumatalolo said. “We got some great exposure with the (Game of Honor documentary). There is nothing we can do -- and there’s no recruiting service we have in our budget -- that will allow us to get that kind of exposure.”
Produced and directed by 22-time Emmy Award winner Pete Radovich, A Game of Honor chronicles the 2011 Army and Navy football seasons as seen through the eyes of the players, coaches, and administrators of West Point and Annapolis. Navy recruiting coordinator Dale Pehrson, who credits CBS’ Army-Navy Game broadcast as helping to make recruits and high school coaches aware of the documentary, said the exposure generated for Navy and its historic rivalry by A Game of Honor has made his job easier.
“I think that has been a really big selling point,” Pehrson said. “Anytime you can get your program in front of young guys that’s going to be a big seller. Most of the guys I’m recruiting have watched it – in fact, most of them have taped it and watched it several times.”
Pehrson said the documentary – combined with an Army-Navy game broadcast which saw the arrival of President Barack Obama – has helped to convince recruits of the uniqueness of the Academy football experience. For recruits on the fence about playing football at Navy, seeing the pageantry and history behind a dynamic rivalry like the Army-Navy game could make all the difference in helping them eventually choose to play their collegiate ball in Annapolis.
“We had about 20 recruits at the Army game, which if you can get them to that it’s a pretty good selling point,” Pehrson elaborated. “There’s nothing like it. Even if the guys have been to other games throughout the year, and then they come to that one, it’s a pretty special environment.”
“And again, most of the guys I’ve recruited or that I’m in contact with have watched it and we get really positive returns on that,” he added.
Aside from A Game of Honor, Navy has also picked up a flurry of interest from recruits thanks to what many consider a “done deal” move to the Big East conference as a football-only member. According to CBS Sports Navy could join the Big East as soon as 2013, provided the Annapolis school restructures its future schedules.
“There are a lot of guys excited about that,” Niumatalolo said of the future move. “As of today we’ll be going in if everything stays status quo. Our recruits are definitely excited about the opportunity to get an education at the highest level but also being able to play at the highest level too.
Recruits not only confirm that Navy’s assistant coaches are actively bringing up the possibility of playing the Big East, but offered that playing in a high-profile setting with the chance of going to a BCS bowl as a real attraction towards the Naval Academy over other schools.
“One of the coaches talked about how (Navy) might be going to the Big East,” said Bishop Gorman (NV) senior and current Navy target Marc Phillipi. “Having offers from some of the smaller schools, that really is intriguing. Aside from getting an education paid for, you want to play big-time football when you have the opportunity. That makes it more intriguing, especially with the BCS bid.”
Phillipi represents the typical Navy recruit in that his list of scholarship offers doesn’t read like a veritable Top 25 poll. For recruits like him, as well as recent Navy commitments like Florida quarterback Kenneth Mouton Jr., the chance to play against the very best in the country on national television represents an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
“That’s a big time opportunity to play in the Big East and getting the chance to make a BCS bowl selection game,” said Mouton Jr., whose only other scholarship offer was an unofficial one from Football Bowl Championship (FCS) member Bethune-Cookman.
“That’s pretty awesome,” he added. “(The Navy coaches) are real excited about their situation. They’re looking forward to it and I’m looking forward to it also.”
It’s too early to tell whether a move to the Big East could help Navy land more highly sought after players. Currently, Navy seldom competes with BCS conference schools for recruits, although the possibility of competing to play in a BCS Bowl in the future gives Niumatalolo hope that the Mids can begin competing with other premier academic institutions in BCS automatic qualifying conferences. The hope, said Niumtalolo, is that Navy will be able to even the table with academically demanding schools like Stanford and Northwestern who currently can offer their recruits the exposure of playing in a BCS conference.
“I definitely feel like it would help us,” Niumatalolo said of the move. “Hopefully, if nothing else, to get in the mix with some other academic schools – the Northwesterns, the Dukes, the Vanderbilt’s – being able to compete and who knows, steal a couple of kids from them.”
“They can’t sign everybody,” he concluded. “But maybe being in a BCS league – if everything stays the same with the automatic bid, and the money is right for our school – I see it hopefully it increasing the type of guys that would be interested in us.”
Adam Nettina has been covering college football at the Naval Academy for the past five seasons. He is the former Sports Editor of the Utah Statesman and currently writes his own sports and pop-culture blog called Option Pitch and Waffle Crisp.