Out On A Limb: Would Navy Make Sense As The SEC’s 14th?
The SEC does not appear, as of the moment I’m writing this, to have settled on a 14th member. In previous articles I ranked the contenders and even prepared a dossier on West Virginia, but in truth, nobody seems to know much of anything. Based on Internet chatter, it would seem that the SEC presidents want Missouri, but Missouri remains trapped in the not-dead-yet Big 12. Conversely, West Virginia wants badly out of the sinking Big East, but the SEC leaders are leery at best of welcoming the couch burners of Morgantown. And while others beat the drum for Florida State — which certainly makes more football and economic sense than the other two choices — there’s no reason to believe the presidents have backed off their commitment to only add schools from new states.
So I’m going to propose a radical yet politically intriguing alternative: Navy. The Midshipmen have been on the fringes of realignment talk, primarily as a possible addition to the we’ll-take-anyone Big East. But Navy has always been independent and given the unique circumstances of the service academies, it is a counterintuitive fit for a conference as powerful as the SEC.
I won’t try and sell this as an ideal football decision. This would be a political move to solve the problem of getting a 14th member — which is necessary to prevent a long-term scheduling meltdown — with a minimum of fuss or public backlash. Navy won’t greatly improve the quality of SEC football, but it would be a good cultural fit and it would, more likely than not, only burnish the conference’s public standing.
Obviously, Navy is in Maryland, which is not in the Southeast. But it’s a closer fit than Missouri. More importantly, there’s a substantial naval presence in the Southeast. Every current SEC state (save Arkansas) has a naval base. Three military commands are based in Florida. And a number of SEC schools were founded as land-grant colleges that, for many years, required students to learn military tactics and serve in uniform. Texas A&M still retains a Corps of Cadets, including two Naval divisions, which produces more military officers than any school outside the service academies.
Right off the bat, then, you would have a perfect cross-divisional rivalry between A&M and Navy. Navy would otherwise fit neatly in the SEC East, eliminating the need for the much-discussed Auburn move that would compromise the Iron Bowl. Navy is more than competitive against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and just last week the Midshipmen came within three points of beating South Carolina.
Navy also brings three marquee non-conference rivalries into the SEC: Army, Notre Dame and Air Force. Navy has dominated Notre Dame in recent years following an extended losing streak, and the service academy rivalries are always intense. And just imagine the SEC regular season capped by the Army-Navy game. (Admittedly, the game would have to move back two weeks to accommodate the SEC Championship.)
In terms of realignment politics, admitting Navy would have no discernible downside. The SEC wouldn’t be “raiding” another conference. It wouldn’t be settling for a school with a lesser football (Missouri) or academic (West Virginia) tradition. Television isn’t a barrier, since Navy, like the SEC, has a contract with CBS. Navy won’t hold the rest of the conference hostage for more money (Oklahoma) or special treatment (Texas). And it’s about as stable a school as there is.
It’s also hard to imagine any current SEC member objecting to Navy. There’s no geographic overlap, the travel to Annapolis is relatively easy, Navy has a presence in the Baltimore-Washington media market, and there should be a modest recruiting advantage to having the Midshipmen on your schedule every year (or every few years if you’re in the West).
Again, Navy isn’t Florida State in terms of football power. But over the past decade Navy has rededicated itself to building a quality football program. The Midshipmen would not be an embarrassment to the SEC, and the public relations value of adding the marquee service academy (in football terms) could be substantial. If nothing else, the SEC could spin this as protecting Navy’s viability as a major program if and when the “superconferences” emerge and split from the rest of Division I FBS.