News & Politics

Shutdown Threatens to Cancel Navy-Air Force Football Game

Congressional inaction is interfering with college sports.

Air Force beat Navy 35-34 in the service academies' 2011 matchup. Photograph courtesy of US Navy Public Affairs.
Members of the military are largely spared from the effects of the government shutdown, thanks to a last-minute bill passed last night that authorizes they continue to be paid—but even if military personnel will get paid, they may lose Pentagon bragging rights. The annual football game between the US Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy, scheduled for Saturday in Annapolis, could be scrapped after the Defense Department announced today that all sports at the service academies have been suspended.
The Air Force-Navy matchup is the first game in the annual series in which the three service academies vie for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Even without the Pentagon’s announcement today, it’s possible the Falcons couldn’t make the trip from Colorado Springs, Colo. Upperclassmen at the service academies are considered military personnel, and the Defense Department’s shutdown contingency plan states that any temporary duty travel not related to the war in Afghanistan or other foreign engagements be canceled. (There are a few exceptions for top brass, but not for football players.)
Unless the shutdown ends, Saturday’s game, which is slated for a national broadcast on CBS beginning at 11:30 AM, is likely off. The shutdown also threatens to cancel Army’s scheduled game against Boston College.
The shutdown is already taking a toll on other programs at the service academies. Tonight’s men’s soccer game between Navy and Howard University has been canceled, and a women’s soccer game tomorrow at American is probably getting nixed, too. Although some service academy athletic programs are paid for by non-governmental funds such as booster clubs, the decision to suspend intercollegiate sports at the academies rests with the Pentagon, says Scott Strasemeier, a spokesman for Navy’s athletics department. A final decision about the Navy-Air Force game will be made by noon on Thursday, Strasemeier says.
Ticketholders are probably getting antsy, to say nothing of Annapolis residents who rent out their lawns for overflow parking. The game, to be played at 34,000-seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, is completely sold out.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.