Navy-Air Force football game in jeopardy because of shutdown; Department of Defense suspends service academy games

October 1, 2013

The Department of Defense on Tuesday suspended all intercollegiate athletics at the service academies because of the government shutdown, jeopardizing Navy’s football game against Air Force in Annapolis on Saturday.

Navy spokesman Scott Strasemeier said a decision regarding the game’s status would be made before noon Thursday.

The Department of Defense did not issue an official statement about the suspension of service academy sports and did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail requests seeking comment. Instead, it sent an order suspending the sports to the Navy Superintendent’s office, Strasemeier said.

Reached via telephone, Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk said the best-case scenario would be the shutdown ending so the game can proceed.

“At this stage we’re taking it basically a half a day at a time, holding our breath that they can bring [the shutdown] to resolution,” Gladchuk said. “The game on Saturday, I mean it’s a huge issue. The stage is set for one of the most significant event statements we’ve had in a long time, so the timing couldn’t be worse.”

The game is sold out, and athletic department officials are anticipating a record crowd at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Navy is planning to honor the team that went to the Cotton Bowl with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach 50 years ago. The Pro Football Hall of Famer is expected to attend, along with then-coach Wayne Hardin, a recent inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, and other members of the ’63 team.

“There’s just too many strings attached to this ballgame to assume that we’re not going to play it,” Gladchuk said. “We’re hopeful again that the government can bring resolution to their issues and we can move forward.”

If the game is postponed, it could be rescheduled for Dec. 7. Navy has three weeks off between its game at San Jose State on Nov. 22 and its annual contest with Army on Dec. 14. Air Force is slated to close its regular season on Nov. 30 at Colorado State.

Army’s football game at Boston College on Saturday also is in limbo. Reached via e-mail, an Army spokesman said Athletic Director Boo Corrigan would not be conducting interviews.

“We have been in close communication with Army athletics officials regarding the potential impact of the government shutdown on Saturday’s game,” Boston College Athletic Director Brad Bates said in a statement released by the school. “Obviously our intention is to exhaust all possibilities to play and we will communicate the information promptly as soon as we have resolution.”

At Air Force, the shutdown impacts members of the Falcons’ support staff, classified as civil service employees. They would be ineligible to travel during the shutdown. According to a report in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Air Force Athletic Director Hans Mueh, assistant football coach John Rudzinksi and the school’s sports information department were furloughed Tuesday.

In a statement posted on the school’s athletics Web site, Air Force said, “At this time, travel for all intercollegiate athletics is canceled — this includes the Air Force-Navy game on Saturday, 5 Oct.”

Back in Annapolis, Navy’s players practiced Tuesday afternoon as if the game would be played.

“I’ve heard a lot about it from other people here at school, Facebook. I’ve seen the articles,” Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds said of the shutdown. “As far as we’re concerned as a football team, we’re preparing just like the game’s on Saturday. We’re not thinking about what could be or what may happen. As far as we’re concerned, the game’s still happening and we’ve got to get ready to go.”

During the last government shutdown in 1995, five of the eight employees in Air Force’s sports information department were furloughed. Staffers from the Western Athletic Conference and nearby Colorado State pitched in so the football team’s home game against Notre Dame on Nov. 18, 1995, could go on as planned (the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish won, 44-14).

Navy and Army also played on that Saturday in 1995 during the first of two government shutdowns that year.

“I’ve been here 16 years, and it’s never happened” over that time frame, Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “It’s the first time ever, so obviously it’s a unique situation. I’m not the smartest guy in the world. I’m just a football coach, so we’ll just prepare for inside the white lines. That’s all we can do.”

The academy announced the men’s soccer game against Howard scheduled for Tuesday night has been canceled. It is unknown whether the game will be rescheduled. The Midshipmen women’s soccer team is scheduled to travel to American on Wednesday afternoon, and the school’s swimming and diving teams were to host George Mason and Loyola (Md.) on Thursday.

Elsewhere, the Army Ten-Miler on Oct. 20 and the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 27 are not likely to be affected by the shutdown, according to a Runner’s World Newswire report.

More than 22,000 runners crossed the finish line in last year’s Army Ten-Miler, the second-largest 10-mile race in the country. The shutdown is “not going to affect our race,” a spokesperson told the outlet.

The Marine Corps Marathon, the country’s third-largest marathon with a field of up to 30,000 runners, will be run by a staff that “is paid with nonappropriated funds. The race will go on,” said Tami Faram, the marathon’s public relations coordinator.

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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