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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

Service academy athletics disrupted by shutdown


For a moment on October 1, the world wasn’t thinking about sports. After several days of arguing, debating and a particularly dull rendition of “Green Eggs and Ham” by Senator Ted Cruz, Congress failed to reach a decision on the government’s new spending budget.

For those of us who aren’t up to speed, each year the government must decide where and how it will spend its money for the upcoming year that runs from October 1 to September 30. Congress was heavily split on the issue, especially on the funding of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act with House Republicans trying to chip away from its budget while Senate Democrats vehemently opposed such action.

Without a decision on the morning of October 1, the government “shut down,” with any spending that came from Congress coming to a screeching halt. Everything from Yellowstone and the National Parks, the Smithsonian, 700 thousand government employees and IRS audits for the most part, ceased, at the start of the shutdown without any money to continue their funding.

On top of all that, a lack of government funding also affected our nation’s Service Academies. With all of them being funded almost exclusively by Congressional appropriation, almost all operations were halted because of the shutdown. Students were sent home from classes, their teachers deemed “nonessential.” Employees and several administrators were furloughed and told not to come to work.

Additionally, the Department of Defense announced on Tuesday that all Service Academy varsity and intercollegiate athletics were to cease their operations until further notice. The announcement came as a surprise to many of the Service Academies’ opponents and fans, especially those hoping to catch the much awaited Air Force – Navy football game on CBS this past Saturday evening. Initially the game was expected to be cancelled, but thanks to private funding from USAA and other organizations the game was played as scheduled.

At the time of the announcement of the suspension last Tuesday, Air Force’s coach was not available to comment on the potential cancellation of their Saturday evening game because he had been sent home while the team practiced without him. Other athletic directors and sports information employees also stayed home while the Department of Defense decided their future during the shutdown.

The issue springs from what is defined as essential and nonessential, as well as the source of funding for the Academies’ athletics and travel expenses. When the government goes into shutdown, none of the subsequent departments that draw their funding from Congress, like the Department of Defense are able to spend money because it legally has not been appropriated to them. While there are exceptions such as active duty military and interests of national security, paying the travel expenses of Air Force Academy’s football team does not come up in the “essential spending” column.

Navy’s athletic department, on the other hand does draw funds from private funding. The upcoming football game against Air Force had been a long standing event to compete for the Commander in Chief trophy. This year was to be the first that it would be nationally broadcasted. Add that to a record breaking, sold out crowd, it is estimated that Navy would have lost over 4 million dollars in revenue had the game not been played. 4 million dollars that is necessary to fund the Academy’s 33 other varsity athletic teams.

The losses wouldn’t just stop at money though. Roger Staubach, famed Super Bowl winning quarterback and Navy alum, 200 Navy football recruits and their families and 38,000 ticket buying fans with hotels and flights booked, would be sent home without a contest. Staubach was set to be honored with his teammates in celebration of the 1963 Cotton Bowl team on Saturday.

It was at this point that Air Force’s athletic conference, the Mountain West Conference, offered to fund their travel expenses from Colorado to Annapolis. United Airlines even tweeted to give the Falcons a ride simply because they hate cancellations. Either way, the Department of Defense was forced to spend a lot of time investigating the legality of these offers. The Mountain West’s funding of Air Force’s travel expenses is essentially a donation to a Service Academy and had to be legally cleared. Additionally, prior to the lifting of the suspension on their collegiate athletics, Department of Defense lawyers were hard at work tracking the source of funding for each school’s expenses, travel and coaching.

In addition to the football game between Air Force and Navy, Navy was forced to indefinitely postpone soccer games with Howard and American University. Even Loyola’s own swimming and diving team were forced to reschedule their meet with Navy due to the cease of operations. The postponements and cancellations caused the fear that Loyola may not face Army in either of its volleyball or women’s soccer contests this past weekend.

Boston College was set to play Army this weekend for their Homecoming game. Boston College Hall of Fame inductees and alumni from their 1988 Emerald Isle Classic team were to be honored during a ceremony at the game. Had it been cancelled, Boston College athletic director Brad Bates remarked that both the financial and emotional loss would be “incalculable.” Bates also extended any help he could to Army and the Defense Department, going so far as to offer to fund the Black Knight’s travel expenses to Chestnut Hill.

In the end though, Bates was told that there was more at play here than just funding and travel expenses. While some of the Service Academies’ have a private funding program for their athletics, not each of the schools possesses a program that funds everything. Both Army and Air Force have part of their programs partially funded by the government, especially scholarships. However, Naval Academy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk stated that Air Force and Army could make their trips without government funds. Why then the issue of cancelling and postponing games?

Gladchuk called the matter an issue of “optics.” From the start of the shutdown, members of the government and civilians alike felt that a football game simply did not hold the same importance as finding out whether veteran’s benefits would continue to come in on time. In the grand scheme of things, the suspension of college athletics didn’t matter as much as all the other government programs that had been halted by the shutdown.

After much discussion and investigation into the legality of the Academies’ funding, the Department of Defense announced on Thursday that the two football games and other athletic events scheduled for the weekend, including Army’s contests against Loyola were to proceed as scheduled. Additionally, the Defense Department conceded that games cancelled during the suspension would be rescheduled for later dates.

Despite the resuming of athletic activities, had the shutdown prevented any of the games from being played, the situation could have played out much differently. With a loss to Bucknell on Wednesday, the Loyola Women’s Soccer team could have acquired their first Patriot League win against Army due to a forfeit; had the game not been rescheduled.

From my own perspective, it would have been unfortunate to have any of the school’s games cancelled. Student athletes work years, sometimes their entire lives going to practices, playing on travel teams and taking private lessons to get into the school’s of their dreams and continue their athletic careers. To sacrifice time from something they’ve worked their whole lives for because of a lack of cooperation in Washington would have been a very negative consequence of the shutdown.

Instead, Navy was able to take down Air Force 28-10 in front of a record breaking crowd on a beautiful day in Annapolis. Loyola earned its second Patriot League victory as volleyball took down Army while Loyola soccer fans were treated to a highly contested overtime match up against the Black Knights. Sports have a way of distracting its fans from the negative aspects of daily life and right now, we could all use a little distraction.

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Service academy athletics disrupted by shutdown