While the American has a reputation for consisting of major conference leftovers with no other connection, snagging Navy from the independent ranks is a huge win which brings a lot to the conference and fits well with the rest of its members.
The addition of a United States Service Academy stands in stark contrast to some of the recent shamelessly money-grubbing additions made by other conferences. The ACC for example, a conference which prides itself on academic merits, recently added Louisville- a commuter school that currently sits tied for 161st in the US News College Rankings (Not to mention they employ Bobby Petrino). Before that they added Syracuse, who are coming off a “self-imposed” NCAA Tournament ban and heavy-handed sanctions from the NCAA for academic impropriety.
Navy, on the other hand, is one of the most selective colleges in the country- and part of an organization which keeps this country safe. They help provide the national security which offers UNC the freedom to make up classes and Jim Boeheim the right to go golfing in March. Every member of the AAC should be very proud to be affiliated with the US Naval Academy.
Similar to the highly-coveted BYU, Navy Football has a national fanbase tied to a well-respected institution. According to the Navy’s official website, there are 326,404 active duty personnel and 109,834 in reserves. They employ nearly 200,000 civilians as well. When adding children, extended families, inactive personnel, and an enrollment of nearly 5,000, one can be certain that Navy helps the AAC reach a large national audience. It will be a big part of Mike Aresco’s negotiations to help the AAC bridge the gap between their TV contract and those of the Big 12 or ACC.
The Midshipmen also have a successful football tradition. The Army-Navy game carries great fanfare dating back to its inception in 1890, making it one of the longest standing traditions in college football. The program boasts two Heisman trophy winners, Roger Staubach in 1963 and Joe Bellino in 1960, and also the 1926 national championship.
The product on the field has been good recently as well. In the past six years, Navy has finished 44th, 58th, 92nd, 65th, 40th, and 45th in Football Outsiders’ Final F+/- Rankings. This is undoubtedly a better six-year average than UConn, and probably a good chunk of the rest of the conference. Last year, they would have graded out second.
The Midshipmen were never competing for a national championship, or ever ranked during that time, but the football team has been on an upward trajectory ever since Paul Johnson took over in 2002. Joining the AAC allows them to invest further in the program and continue to improve recruiting. They will be playing in the West division, which will give them plenty of opportunities to play in Texas where they recruit heavily.
Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo is going into his 8th season at the helm. The Midshipmen have won two straight bowl games, and three overall in six appearances under his watch. They should be pretty good again this year behind star quarterback Keenan Reynolds. The move into a conference gives them stronger bowl tie-ins than they had before and eliminates the burdens of scheduling as an independent.
Niumatalolo’s son is actually a Class of 2016 linebacker prospect who is considering UConn.
The addition of Navy brings AAC Football membership up to 12, which now means that the conference will have a championship game. The first American Athletic Conference football championship game will be played at the home stadium of the higher seeded team between the winner of the East and West divisions.
Adding Navy to the AAC tapped into a massive national following, brought a good football program, offers a lovely away game destination, and allows for a conference championship game- all great things! This is a Navy team which put a scare into eventual national champions Ohio State last year, and has beaten Notre Dame three times since 2007. They could make a serious bid for the West Division title in their first year. For a deal that was announced back in January 2012, this is playing out quite well for both parties.
Annapolis, Maryland isn’t too far for UConn fans (6 hour drive from Storrs) compared to most of the rest of the conference. The Huskies will be making a visit next year as part of an exciting 2016 slate. We’ll have a more detailed preview of the team later in the summer.