Shutdown forces cancellation of games at service academies

10/2/2013
NEW YORK TIMES

The impact of the federal government shutdown spread into college sports Tuesday, when the Department of Defense temporarily suspended all intercollegiate athletic competitions for the service academies.

This left their athletic departments scrambling to figure out which games needed to be canceled, which could be rescheduled and what to do about two football games — and all the money involved — scheduled for Saturday. In a statement on its Web site, the Air Force Academy said that all sports travel had been canceled, including travel for its football game at Navy, which was sold out and scheduled for a national telecast on CBS. Army is scheduled to play at Boston College on Saturday.

Navy said a final decision on the football game would be made by noon on Thursday, leaving some wiggle room should the shutdown be resolved. That decision will be made by the Department of Defense. A Navy men’s soccer game against Howard on Tuesday was canceled, as was an Army men’s soccer game against Long Island University-Brooklyn.

Hope for a resolution lingered for those involved. Harvey Schiller, a member of the Air Force Academy Athletic Corp. board of directors and a longtime sports executive, was planning to attend Saturday’s game, and said the board is scheduled to meet Friday night.

Schiller noted the impact of a potential cancellation: lost revenue from ticket sales, canceled hotel rooms and restaurant reservations, and a time slot to fill for CBS. The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, given annually to the winner of the Army-Navy-Air Force football triangle, could go to no team. Those possibilities struck Schiller as minor in the grand scheme of the shutdown, but they remained significant.

“You see athletic events canceled for some sort of tragedies,” Schiller said. “In terms of something like this, no athletic contests for the academies, I’ve never heard of that before.”

The closest comparison was in 1995, when Army, Navy and Air Force played on Nov. 18 despite a government shutdown. Army and Navy won their games; Air Force fell to Notre Dame.

This government shutdown was the first in 17 years. Up to half of government employees and hundreds of thousands of civilians employed by the government face furloughs for the length of the impasse between the House of Representatives and the Senate. Much of the support staffs for the athletic departments at the academies fall into that category, and they are not allowed to travel during the shutdown. Coaches in nonrevenue sports also faced the possibility they could not work.

The Capital Gazette, a newspaper in Annapolis, Md., reported that upperclassmen cadets at Air Force were considered military personnel and would thus be subject to the same restrictions on travel.

Those travel restrictions also placed several scheduled away games for the service academies in jeopardy. Army’s football team, for example, plays at Temple (Oct. 19) and Air Force (Nov. 2), and Navy plays at Duke (Oct. 12) and Toledo (Oct. 19).

An Army athletics spokesman said the university was not “making any assumptions” about the status of its game at Boston College. Brad Bates, the athletic director at Boston College, posted on his Twitter account that the Eagles had been in “close communication” with Army and that their shared intention was “to exhaust all possibilities to play.”