There is no easy way out for football players at the Naval Academy.
There is no easing of the strict entrance standards. No easy major. No easy classes.
Off the field, football players must conform to the same standards as their classmates, or they are asked to leave. They know that before they start.
"You don't come here to get to the NFL," said Capt. Leon A. Edney, commandant of midshipmen, which is equivalent to the dean of students. "You come here to become military leaders. We're recruiting leaders for a volunteer armed forces. We want ensigns, second lieutenants and future military officers. If a guy is a football player, too, then that just makes him more attractive to us, but we aren't going to bend any rules for him, not to get him here or to keep him here."
If this is the training ground for military leaders, then why bother with a football team at all?
"It's the best public relations vehicle the Naval Academy has," said Athletic Director J.O. (Bo) Coppedge. "If we're successful, we'll get publicity."
"We're in the recruiting business and the exposure we get from football is of tremendous value," Edney said.
That exposure will peak when Navy plays Army on national television Saturday, then again when the Midshipmen play Ohio State in the Liberty Bowl Dec. 30 in Memphis.
At the moment, all eyes at the academy are focused on the football team. But for most of the school year, a Navy football player is generally looked upon as just another midshipman, subject to the same life style as the rest of the brigade.
Every midshipman gets a free education, and the value of the diploma in opening up doors in the military and the private sector is immeasurable. The only real obligation is a five-year commitment to the Navy or the Marine Corps after graduation.
According to Edney, Navy athletes get special treatment in only a few minor areas.
* They get to register for classes early so they can get a schedule that doesn't interfere with practice.
* They are exempt from evening meal formation, and are usually excused from parades.
* They are excused from Friday classes if they have to travel to a Saturday game.
* They have a training table for meals during their season.
Few universities with Division I football teams assimilate their players into the general student body as well as a service academy. Navy's student body, 4,500 strong, is known as the brigade. It is divided into two regiments consisting of three battalions. There are six companies in each battalion.
There is no athletic dormitory. The football players are assigned to companies. They live in rooms of two, three or four and are dispersed just about evenly throughout the 36 companies. Few football players even room with each other.
Eighty percent of all midshipmen major in some area of engineering. Twenty percent major in humanities, but still have a certain mathematics-oriented curriculum they must follow.
The 80-20 ratio holds for the football team, as well, with a vast majority of the more than 100 players majoring in applied science, physical science, mechanical engineering, oceanography or systems engineering.
"For the most part, academically, football players don't get any breaks," mathematics Prof. James D'Archangelo said. "Math is so important here and everyone has to take three semesters of calculus, one of differential equations, plus two semesters of physics and two of chemistry. If you can't do the work, you won't stay and if they didn't think you could do the work, they wouldn't have let you in in the first place."
On a 4.0 scale, the cumulative grade point average of the brigade is 2.77. For all Navy athletes, it's 2.70. For the football team, it is 2.42.
"You get zero breaks in the classroom," said Gene Ford, a Navy defensive back from 1973-75 who is a Navy lieutenant working as a minority admissions counselor at the academy. "It couldn't stay the type of school it is if it gave athletes special treatment."
"We all knew what we were getting into when we came here," said Eddie Meyers, Navy's all-time leading rusher. "I have no regrets. How can I? I'm set for life."
The day at Navy starts with morning formation at 7:35. The first class period begins at 7:55. There are six periods in the day, each running 50 minutes, with a 10-minute break between.
The football players are exempt from the 6:30 evening meal formation, but, like other midshipmen, must study 8-11 p.m. All meetings or other activities must be finished before then.