When rumors come up that the Big East is interested in Air Force, Navy’s name is almost always mentioned in the same conversation. And according to Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo said, Navy isn’t too thrilled about the idea of jumping into a conference.
“We’d like to stay who we are,” Niumatalolo said. “We like the freedom of being independent. We recruit nationally, so we like to go into homes and say ‘We’ll be playing close to your home.’ We like the independent schedule.”
The problem is, Niumatalolo is concerned the landscape may force Navy to join a conference or be left out. He brought up the rumors of mega-conferences taking over all the real power in college football, including the bowls.
“So No. 65-120, what do we become?” Niumatalolo said. “What’s going to happen for the rest of us?”
Air Force will be wrestling with some of the same issues, whether to stay in a comfortable place in the Mountain West or make a move. The uncertainty has led to some uneasy times.
“If we can stay where we are, I’d love to do it,” Niumatalolo said. “But there’s so much uncertainty, we’re not saying no to anything, and we’re not saying yes to anything. We’re just keeping our eyes open.”
Join AFA beat writer Frank Schwab and college hockey reporter Joe Paisley for the weekly Gazette sports chat at 10 a.m. Mountain on Wednesday at gazette.com.
The time was moved up from the usual noon start because of the annual hockey luncheon. Talk Navy football with Frank and what you think of the preseason hockey polls with Joe.
You’re also welcome to email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org before and during the event.
Outside linebacker Patrick Hennessey might not miss 8-10 weeks after all.
Hennessey had surgery to put a pin in his hand a couple weeks ago, a result of a broken bone near the base of his thumb. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said he would be out 8-10 weeks, which would have kept him on the sideline for most, if not all of, the remainder of the regular season.
But Hennessey was back at practice on Monday, with a big club cast on his hand, taking a few repetitions. Hennessey returning to at least a limited practice means that his timetable for a return has probably changed.
“Yeah, I think so,” Calhoun said. “But he has to have the right kind of cast before he can do anything.”
Hennessey would have to be cleared by Air Force’s medical staff before he can return. He would also need to be fitted for a special cast.
“He’s got to be able to use at least some of his hand,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun said there’s some healing that still has to happen, so he didn’t want to put a date on when Hennessey could return. Calhoun didn’t want to speculate if there’s any shot at Hennessey playing this week against Navy.
“I’m not sure what that timetable is,” Calhoun said. “It’s still a ways off.”
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun is a voter in the coaches’ poll, and he has agreed to share his ballot with The Gazette every week. Here’s this week’s ballot:
4 Boise State
8 Oklahoma St
9 Virginia Tech
11 South Carolina
14 South Florida
15 Texas AM
17 Texas Christian
19 Georgia Tech
22 Florida State
23 Mich State
24 West Virginia
Tim Jefferson hadn’t said much about the possibility of becoming Air Force’s all-time winningest quarterback, but after getting his 23rd victory as Falcons starting quarterback to pass Dee Dowis, he acknowledged it was pretty special.
“I must say, it is an honor,” Jefferson said after Air Force’s 63-24 win against Tennessee State. “I’m very grateful for it.”
Without missing a beat, Jefferson did what he has done whenever he has been asked about that record, which is deflect the attention to his teammates.
“The quarterback doesn’t win a game by himself,” Jefferson said. “When you look at this record, you especially have to look at the senior class. We’ve gone through the grind and we’ve done this together. It’s not just me. It’s people like Jonathan Warzeka, Asher Clark, Jon Davis and Anthony Wright, it’s all of us. Put as asterisk by my name when you look in the record book at this record. It’s not just me.”
Jefferson’s effort on Saturday was worthy of his record-setting day. He completed 11-of-13 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns. His teammates understood the importance of Jefferson’s record.
“You can go down the list – Blane Morgan, Mike Thiessen, Dee Dowis, Shaun Carney – guys that have been in the program that have proven themselves to be pretty good players,” Warzeka said. “To put T.J. above all them, that says a lot about him. He’s not going to admit it, but he’s a pretty good quarterback.”
Nice day today for a football game. Should be good for Air Force to gain some confidence and get what should be an easy win heading into Navy next week. One thing to keep an eye on is linebacker Ken Lamendola, who is dressed out for this game. He hasn’t played in almost two years.
Also, as I’ve written about extensively, Tim Jefferson could become Air Force’s all-time leader in wins for a starting quarterback today. You can vote for Jefferson for the Davey O’Brien Award, given to the nation’s top quarterback – he is currently running 53rd. The fan selection counts in the final vote for the award.
All conference realignment discussion begins and ends with football. Other sports, even men’s basketball, are almost always afterthoughts. That doesn’t mean there aren’t major repercussions for the sports other than football when a school changes conferences.
As Air Force considers what options it might have – Big 12? Big East? Independence? Status quo? – the Falcons’ coaches and players in sports wonder about their future, which might not be as high profile as the football team’s plans.
If Air Force is accepted into the Big East, it will most likely be for football only. If the Falcons go independent in football it almost certainly won’t go independent in all sports – scheduling would be almost impossible. And the Mountain West might not be keen on the idea of keeping the Falcons’ other sports while football goes somewhere else. If Air Force does anything but stay in the Mountain West, it will be a big shift for the other sports.
The coaches and players in the other sports signed up to play in the Mountain West. A drop down to, perhaps, the Missouri Valley Conference (the West Coast Conference, which took on BYU’s other sports, could be another option if it comes to that) would make an already difficult job of recruiting tougher for Air Force, and for many competitive folks, they would not be thrilled to go play in a smaller conference. Also, travel would be more difficult in another conference. The counter argument could be made that Air Force’s other sports could be more competitive in a smaller conference, but it’s still not likely to appease everyone.
When Lt. Gen. Mike Gould and whoever else will be involved in the final decision on Air Force’s future, they’ll consider the sports other than football. If the decision is something other than staying in the Mountain West, there could be some upset people at the academy.
Well, we’ve gotten to the point of conference realignment speculation where Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is apparently breaking news. Here’s what Pitino had to say about Air Force and the Big East, to ESPN.com:
“Pitino said he was told that the Big East will add service academies Air Force and Navy by the end of the week — but only in football,” ESPN.com’s Andy Katz wrote.
For what it’s worth, from what I know Air Force-to-Big East is not imminent – not to say it won’t happen, but it hasn’t happened yet. There are a lot of factors that will go into that decision – not the least of which is that the Big East has taken some major hits already and might take some more. But, the academy has been very quiet on the issue – I was told yesterday very clearly that Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, Air Force’s superintendent, would not be speaking about the matter to me – so nothing can be dismissed.