Heading into next week’s College Football Playoff meetings in North Texas, what to do about the Army-Navy game seems to be the most vexing issue facing those in charge of the postseason system.
With Navy joining the American Athletic Conference this season, the Midshipmen are now eligible to earn a bid to a New Year’s Six bowl as the best-ranked champion from among the AAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Mid-American Conference.
The playoff selection committee sets the bowl lineup on Dec. 6, but Navy’s regular season doesn’t end until it plays Army on Dec. 12. If nothing changes, the Army-Navy game wouldn’t count toward the final rankings — which is a problem, especially with a $4 million bowl bid on the line.
“It’s a challenging issue and it’s a system-wide issue and it has me concerned,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said.
American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco has been working to find a solution that allows Army-Navy to keep its late date while also giving the academies a chance to be in the mix for a marquee bowl bid.
“It is on the agenda and the commissioners know they have some scenarios from me, from our group, that we think work,” said Aresco, who declined to share details of his proposals.
The 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick that make up the College Football Playoff management committee will gather in the Dallas-area starting Monday.
Army-Navy has been played for years on a Saturday at the end of the season with few or no other major college games. For a while it was played on the same day as several conference title games. When that first weekend of December became cluttered with big games — the American championship game joins the schedule this season — Army-Navy was moved to the second weekend of December, giving it a day all to itself.
“I think it’s incumbent on all of us to figure out a way where Army-Navy can stay where it is,” Aresco said Wednesday. “It’s such an iconic national institution. A national treasure of a game.”
The Army-Navy problem is a tricky one because there are so many hypotheticals to consider. The most obvious potential pitfall: What if Navy is the highest ranked Group of Five champion on Dec. 6 and loses to Army six days later?
The Cadets have had only one winning season since 1997 and have lost 13 straight to the Midshipmen.
And then there are the not so obvious scenarios. What if the rankings are very close and Navy were to beat a poor Army team by a slim margin? Should that open the door for another team to move ahead of Navy and take that marquee bowl bid?
Or, what if Navy is ranked slightly behind the highest-ranked Group of Five team on Dec. 6 and the Middies beat a good Army team? Should that game allow Navy to push past another team in the rankings?
Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said he believes having a selection committee picking the teams, instead of the polls and computer formulas used by the old BCS, could make it easier to deal with the what-ifs.
“It’s not quite as black and white as this or that,” he said.
The 13-member panel could weigh-in when Navy is or is not a contender for the Group of Five bid and leave that New Year’s Six bowl spot open until the Middies season is complete. But that would also require a contingency plan with another smaller bowl, and force organizers from two games to wait a week for a matchup.
Football Bowl Association Executive Director Wright Waters said most bowl tickets are sold soon after the teams are announced. Delaying is far from ideal, especially for a game scheduled to be played before New Year’s Eve.
Working in Aresco’s favor, though, is the American partners with the other group of Group of Five conferences on several bowls.
“That could help in reaching a suitable compromise,” Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said. Though Benson added: “Our respective memberships can’t be put at a disadvantage.”
Aresco said despite the competition between conferences vying for those value bowl bids, the commissioners are capable of compromising.
“I think there’s a lot of goodwill in that room,” he said. “I think there is strong desire to try to figure this out and a recognition that this is a very unique situation.”
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP