Football Carries Clout At Navy

December 10th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Football Carries Clout At Navy

Baltimore Sun
December 10, 2006
Pg. 1

But critics say Mid players are held to looser standards
By Bradley Olson, Sun Reporter
If Navy upsets Boston College in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on New Year's weekend, thousands of midshipmen who attend -- spending up to $400 in travel funds supplied by the Naval Academy -- could get an extra weekend off, according to tradition.
The football program will get priceless publicity, and the school's athletic department will collect at least a million-dollar windfall that could push profits above last year's $6.2 million.
Win or lose, Paul Johnson will walk off the field as one of college football's highest-paid coaches, after getting a hefty raise on Thursday.
Football, and the money that comes with it, is an integral part of academy life. But at a school whose primary mission is to produce combat leaders, some recent off-the-field conduct has prompted critics to wonder whether too much emphasis is placed on football and whether players are held to a different standard -- one that is easier and more privileged -- than other midshipmen.
"Frankly, I hope that America is being defended by the best Navy men and women that the academy can get and not by some doofus that could catch a football," said Murray Sperber, a former English professor at Indiana University who has been an ardent critic of how far colleges go to make exceptions for athletes.
The team's reputation has been blemished in recent months by two highly public rape trials, former star fullback Kyle Eckel's involuntary expulsion from the military, and the revelation that seven players used steroids in early 2005. Five of those players were almost immediately allowed to participate in spring practice and scrimmages, hobnob with President Bush, and play in 2005's bowl-winning season.
Navy's troubles are minor compared to those of some other top football programs, and the team's 98 percent graduation rate ranks it first among all 119 Division I-A teams.
Through an academy spokesman, top athletic and administrative officials declined to be interviewed for this article, and in a written response to questions, school officials declined to discuss any specific disciplinary cases, citing privacy restrictions.
"All midshipmen are held to the same high standards and requirements and are held accountable for their actions," the statement read. "It is highly unusual when one of our 4,200 midshipmen is alleged to fall short of the standards we seek to imbue in our future officers. In those rare instances where there are allegations of misconduct, we take them seriously, investigate fully and act on the facts."
Last year, the team earned $16.6 million in revenue, almost three times the amount taken in during 2002, the last losing season before Johnson arrived and pioneered a football renaissance. That season, the overall athletic program lost more than $3 million, but Navy's winning ways -- including four consecutive bowl appearances and victories over Army -- have led to a sharp turnaround. In the 2004-2005 academic year, varsity sports at the academy generated a $3 million profit.
Navy football helps finance the school's 30 other varsity sports, a huge commitment for a school with an enrollment around 4,200. According to financial reports compiled annually for the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, the football program is the only varsity sport in the black.
The team's overall revenue also compares well with other big college programs. In the 2004-2005 academic year, the Maryland Terrapins football team had about $9.3 million in revenue, compared with Navy's almost $15 million.
Johnson's salary of at least $1.5 million, incentives included, compares with coaches' pay at perennial contenders Alabama, LSU and Texas.
Despite its 9-3 record and bowl date, Navy is no longer the first-rank football power it once was. In the 1950s and '60s, the academy nurtured national title aspirations, competing in the Sugar, Cotton and Orange bowls and fielding two Heisman Trophy winners: halfback Joe Bellino in 1960 and quarterback Roger Staubach in 1963.
Today, the Sagarin ratings index -- one of six computer rankings used by the Bowl Championship Series -- ranks Navy 43rd among Division I football programs, and rates its strength of schedule just 91st.
Still, for a school that does not award athletic scholarships and rarely produces a pro prospect, it does well. The Terps, also bowl-bound with an 8-4 record, are ranked 48th by Sagarin through the games of Dec. 2.
During the fall, life at the academy to a certain degree revolves around Navy's wins and losses. Attendance at home games and pep rallies is mandatory, with sometimes severe penalties levied on those who don't show. Spirited cheering can mean a weekend off, and for plebes, a win can mean a break from having to run everywhere they go in the dormitory.
"It's clear that football is a central institutionalized activity that has become part of the [midshipmen's] military obligation," said Bruce Fleming, an English professor at the academy who has been critical of lenient admissions policies for athletes. "I think that skews the priorities of an institution whose goal is to create effective officers for the Navy and Marine Corps."
Football players, meanwhile, are allowed to skip morning formation and often miss noon formations for team meetings, several midshipmen said. At meals, they eat together instead of with their companies, the sub-group that forms the midshipman chain of command. Some bigger football players are given easier physical fitness standards, such as being allowed to pass an endurance requirement by riding a stationary bike rather than running 1.5 miles.
"The point of this school is to make officers, and everybody seems to work really hard towards that goal except for the football team, because no administration forces them to work hard for it," said a midshipman, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. "They force them to play hard, but that's it."
The Sun revealed last month that the academy waited two months to give drug tests to five players who admitted to steroid use in early 2005, enough time for all traces of the illegal substance to leave their bodies.
All the players caught using were punished with several weeks' restriction to their dorm rooms.
Despite calls for an internal investigation from several members of Congress, including Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Henry A. Waxman of California, academy officials said last week that they will not launch an internal review.
Sen. John McCain, arguably Congress' most ferocious opponent of steroid use in sports, has declined to make any public statements about the steroid use of Navy players. McCain, a 1958 academy graduate who sits on the school's board of visitors and whose son attends the academy, recently attended the Army-Navy game.
Although many hold up the recent rape trials of 2005 quarterback Lamar S. Owens Jr. -- he was acquitted -- and Kenny Ray Morrison as examples of the academy taking alleged misconduct by athletes seriously, some complain about how players are treated in less-serious cases.
"People aren't mad because the football team doesn't get harsh punishment," said David Danelo, a 1998 graduate and former Marine. "People are mad because other people, non-football players, do. And the result is that midshipmen of far lesser character are retained simply because they could perform on a field before a stadium, and that performance permitted them to go on and do whatever it is they wanted to do."
Former Midshipman Frank Shannon of Middle River was expelled from the academy six weeks before last May's graduation after falling 20 seconds short on a running test. Mids who had consensual sex in the academy dorm have also been kicked out recently.
A 1995 report by the General Accounting Office noted that a midshipman had been expelled for lying that he had exercised over the weekend.
By comparison, in 2001, two football players, caught cheating after they turned in identical history papers, were allowed to graduate. In 1998, three midshipmen, including one woman, were expelled on charges of sexual misconduct, but standout quarterback Chris McCoy, who admitted having sex with the female Mid, was allowed to stay.
Eckel rushed for 2,905 yards -- the fourth-highest in Navy history -- and scored 25 touchdowns before graduating last in his class in 2005. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots, and the Navy allowed him to practice with the team while he chipped away at his five-year service commitment at the nearby Naval Academy Preparatory School.
He was later released by the Patriots and picked up by the Miami Dolphins. But he was not allowed to participate in team functions while he was stationed in Norfolk, Va., nearly 1,000 miles away.
Eckel was kicked out of the Navy on Oct. 31. A Navy spokesman declined to say why, noting privacy restrictions. Through a team spokesman, Eckel declined to comment for this article.
Dave Bethel, a 1979 graduate and retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who played basketball for the midshipmen, said varsity athletes deserve a little slack because sports bring recognition to the academy.

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