Army gears up for the 2020 season
"I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player."
Although there is some debate whether General George Marshall ever enunciated these words, they are employed to inspire every Army football cadet prior to his autumn battles.
Even if the words are more myth than fact, it's the message that's important.
Those words will be invoked, for the Army Black Knights of the Hudson are set to kick off their football season. Yes, that gridiron spectacle, the game that has been prostituted by other universities in the big, politically influential conferences making them gazillions of dollars each autumn by "employing" scholar athletes to wear the colors of their alma maters and compete for even more money, corporate sponsored bowl invites, more money, and the potential of playing for the national championship.
And thus make even more money.
Now, Army takes its football seriously, too, and these guys want to win just like the big boys. But not at all costs.
This year, while the politically connected schools and conferences like the Big 10, Pac 12, and Big 12 decided to postpone, suspend, and then cancel their fall sports, including football, the United States Military Academy looked at its suddenly truncated season and, rather than give in, kneel to, indeed, surrender to the pandemic, Army instead decided to solve the schedule problems by cobbling together an almost entirely new one.
And save the season. Not just for them, but for their students, their fans, and America.
By playing, they are providing hope, comfort, and escape for millions of college football fans and Americans who may have had connection to the military by playing football games for all of September, October, and November.
Then "The Game": Army vs. Navy.
Army is an independent in football and a dinosaur in college football, since most Division One schools are aligned to some conference, including their military rivals Navy (American Athletic Conference) and Air Force (Mountain West). By not being a member, Army must each year figure out a schedule. Sure, they can pencil in traditional rivals Navy and Air Force, and they do meet Notre Dame several times each decade, but for the most part, they start from scratch. Fortunately, they answer to no members of the conference or the conference administrators.
Perhaps going it alone was an advantage as the athletic department faces constant annual pressure of creating a competitive schedule. They display the same skills that the cadets learn on the USMA campus: adapt, adopt, and adjust to life's changing events.
So this year:
Out is Bucknell University, member of the Patriot League, as its conference postponed the season.
In: Middle Tennessee State, home game this Labor Day weekend.
Princeton, from the prestigious academic Ivy League, "woked out" real early due to Wu Flu.
That didn't bother Army. They stepped up from the Division 3 school to schedule the tougher, more competitive and athletic University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats have been ranked in the preseason Top 25.
And Army didn't blink when Oklahoma and the Big 12 decided to take a flyer on this season. The Sooners insisted on playing in Michie Stadium so that its players could experience the entire West Point atmosphere, including one of the most beautiful panoramic views in college football. Army is hosting independent Brigham Young University that has traditionally been known for having a high-octane pass-happy offense.
Army strategically scheduled seven home games, agreeing to move some of the games to 1:30 kickoff resulting in a potentially larger national audience. In fact, CBS plans to broadcast the Middle Tennessee State game on its regular station instead of CBS Sports Network to replace an SEC game postponed because of the pandemic.
They're still playing, but not as early as Army.
Here's hoping Army and Navy go undefeated before they meet a few weeks before Christmas.
With the president-elect Donald Trump flipping the coin once again.
And perhaps flipping off the left as well.
Image: Black Knights, West Point.