Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Why the Naval Academy will continue to have problems with its football team

By Robert Goldich Best Defense department of third rail issues Gee, what a surprise — Naval Academy football players doing something bad. This is not the Navy per se at all. It is the result of a perfect storm of rotten policies, all directed at making the Academy football team able to compete in Division I and ...

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By Robert Goldich

Best Defense department of third rail issues

Gee, what a surprise -- Naval Academy football players doing something bad. This is not the Navy per se at all. It is the result of a perfect storm of rotten policies, all directed at making the Academy football team able to compete in Division I and win games generally. I wrote about this in a lengthy CRS report I did in 1997 on the service academies, but there are no indications that things have changed at all, except possibly to get worse. These policies, and a geographical factor, include: 

By Robert Goldich

Best Defense department of third rail issues

Gee, what a surprise — Naval Academy football players doing something bad. This is not the Navy per se at all. It is the result of a perfect storm of rotten policies, all directed at making the Academy football team able to compete in Division I and win games generally. I wrote about this in a lengthy CRS report I did in 1997 on the service academies, but there are no indications that things have changed at all, except possibly to get worse. These policies, and a geographical factor, include: 

  • Turning the Naval Academy Preparatory School into an institution designed to enable academically weak athletes to scrape by at the Academy, a terrible turn from the original intent of the institution (all three academies have them), which was to give a leg up for deserving enlisted personnel who obtain an Academy appointment. This really stinks. 
  • Using football as a method for recruiting African-American midshipmen, all too many of whom have both academic and behavioral problems that would keep anybody but football players (regardless of race) out of the Academy, but are accepted into the Academy because of a culture that says the athlete can do no wrong. There is a really repulsive racist aura, that of the bigoted stereotype of physically strong but mentally weak black men, operating here. Furthermore, it discredits affirmative action to recruit minority midshipmen based on their potential to be good officers, not primarily good football players
  • Whole battalions of retired admirals and captains floating around Annapolis and the whole DC metro area who exert enormous pressure on the Academy to excel in football in the all too typical rah rah culture of alumni from schools where football is a metastatic part of the culture (think Penn State).
  • One factor for which neither the Navy nor the players can be blamed, and which extends far beyond the football business: the geographical placement of the Naval Academy right in the middle of a fairly large town which is a party place and beach/sailing resort, creating many more opportunities for off-base partying and lots of alcohol consumption. The contrast with West Point and the Air Force Academy, both of which are much more geographically isolated and distant from anyplace with fleshpots, is obvious.
  • Letting football players have all kinds of special privileges at the Academy, which creates in the minds of many a sense that they are untouchable. This includes time off from various onerous duties that other midshipmen must perform and pressure on professors to let the slide by with low grades.

The absence of one or two of these would probably tamp down these offenses, but there are so many negatives that it’s hard to avoid incidents of this nature.

Robert L. Goldich retired from the Congressional Research Service in 2005 as its senior military manpower analyst. Currently he is consulting and drafting a book on the history of conscription.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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