After months of speculation over whether Navy would relinquish its status as an independent and join the Big East, the academy made it official on Tuesday by announcing it has agreed to become a football-only member beginning in 2015.
By aligning with the Big East, Navy ends its independent standing that has been a badge of honor for well over a century and becomes part of a conference that automatically qualifies for a BCS bowl. The Big East is one of six conferences with automatic qualifier rights.
The decision comes months after initial reports surfaced indicating Navy was ready to commit to the Big East, which is losing Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC and is in litigation to prevent West Virginia from departing for the Big 12 before the start of next season. But Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk disputed those reports as erroneous at the time and indicated the Midshipmen were in no rush to join, citing conference instability.
The Big East, though, moved aggressively to allay those concerns, most notably doubling its exit fee to $10 million for schools wishing to leave before providing the mandated notice of 27 months stipulated in conference bylaws.
“It’s a changing dynamic,” Gladchuk said during a teleconference on Tuesday. “Television is changing. The BCS is changing. The bowls are changing. So again we’re not certain in terms of what the future will be, although we’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s in place if the Big East stays intact as it should. I believe that it will, and that withdrawal fee was a step in the right direction in bringing confidence to the Naval Academy that we’re all in this together.”
In 2013, the Big East will add Boise State and San Diego State as football-only members and Central Florida, Houston and Southern Methodist in all sports. Those programs are in line with the level of competition Navy has faced over the past decade, when it has become among the winningest programs in college football.
“We always believed this was a perfect union,” Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said.
Gladchuk has maintained throughout the realignment process that Navy would not jeopardize its annual service academy games against Army and Air Force and its long-standing series with Notre Dame, which is part of the Big East in all sports except football. The conference accommodated Navy in that regard, and those games will remain on the schedule when the Midshipmen begin Big East play.
The Big East, which will have at least 11 football members by 2015, initially expressed interest in pursuing Army and Air Force, but the Black Knights are staying independent, and the Falcons since have stated they will remain in the Mountain West. With Navy set to join the Big East, Army, Notre Dame and Brigham Young are the only independents left in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Midshipmen last year had their first losing season since 2002. Navy (5-7) had gone to a service academy record eight consecutive bowl games entering this season and has beaten Army 10 straight times, the longest such streak by either school in the history of the storied rivalry that dates from 1890.
“If it happened at any other time, I don’t know if I’d be for it,” Midshipmen Coach Ken Niumatalolo said of joining the Big East. “There’s a storm getting ready to come, a hurricane getting ready to come. It’s been great for us being an independent, but with the landscape of college football changing, that’s changed. We’re out in the open. We’re fighting for ourselves. We had to find a home, and we feel like we found a great home in the Big East.”