Last Thursday, The Washington Post published a story by Dan Steinberg, highlighting the relationship that Navy football has with the media that covers them. The piece went semi-viral as various media figures tweeted about the contrast between Ken Niumatalolo’s openness and the secrecy that other coaches demand. Navy football is as media-friendly a program that you’ll find anywhere.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Showtime announced yesterday that their documentary series, A Season With, will head to Annapolis to follow Navy football through the 2017 season.
From the press release:
A SEASON WITH NAVY FOOTBALL will feature signature access and storytelling, providing a glimpse into one of the world’s most unique collegiate institutions and its dedicated student body. The weekly series will introduce viewers to a team that embodies the term “student athlete,” young men who sacrifice on and off the field in preparation for serving their country for a minimum of five years. As viewers will learn, the Midshipmen approach the game with the same goal of gridiron glory as players in other major college football programs but with unique demands off the field.
A SEASON WITH NAVY FOOTBALL will take viewers behind the scenes as the midshipmen return for their 137th season and 10th under Niumatalolo. The weekly series will document Navy’s preparation for each matchup of the 2017 season, the pageantry and the intensity on game day, while showcasing the requisite selflessness and dedication it takes to compete at the Naval Academy. From grueling summer practices to the annual rivalry showdown with Army, A SEASON WITH NAVY FOOTBALL will deliver all the sights, sounds and drama as Navy aims to conquer the 2017 season while developing future leaders of America’s military.
From a football perspective, there is no question that this series will be a boon to recruiting efforts. One of the biggest challenges that the coaches face when talking to high schoolers is the belief held by many that the Naval Academy is essentially a four-year boot camp. Getting recruits to visit the Yard is a top priority; once they see that USNA is indeed a college, they start to listen a little more carefully to coaches telling them about what it has to offer. With Showtime putting the daily lives of midshipmen on display both on and off the field, players that might never have thought to make the trip will get that exposure.
The show will also feature the best recruiting tool that the Naval Academy has to offer: the midshipmen themselves. Just as some people think that USNA is a boot camp, many also believe that everyone who attends the school is G.I. Joe. Seeing that mids are regular people from every walk of life will make it easier for recruits to envision themselves following the same path.
A significant recruiting benefit comes from simple association. The Naval Academy is only the third school that Showtime has chosen to highlight; the first two were Notre Dame and Florida State. To be in that kind of company says something very good about the Navy football program’s place in the college football universe.
That brings us to a larger point. The series’ benefit to the football program is considerable, but it’s only one part of a bigger picture. That Navy is being featured along with two of college football’s powerhouse programs highlights the very reason why USNA plays football at the highest level.
It isn’t difficult to find critics of service academy football. Every once in a while a column pops up that questions the necessity of playing FBS football when a lower level would supposedly suffice. After all, the Ivies are held in high esteem, and they play at the FCS level. There are some excellent academic institutions that play Division III football. If a lower level is good enough for them, then why not the Naval Academy?
The answer is because those other schools do not share the Naval Academy’s mission. While USNA’s academics are top-notch, the school does not exist simply as an academic institution. It exists to produce the core of the nation’s career officers in the Naval service. Creating the most talented officer corps requires attracting the most talented candidates. You don’t want to miss out on students that would have made excellent officers simply because those students hadn’t heard of you. You want to reach the greatest number of potential applicants as possible. It is vital, then, for the Naval Academy to position itself as a mainstream institution. Like it or not, the way that American colleges and universities do so is through FBS football.
Football raises awareness. Playing Notre Dame and the Army-Navy game, contending for conference championships and major bowl games, top 25 appearances… All of it enhances the Naval Academy’s name-brand recognition in ways that aren’t possible at lower levels of the sport.
A Season With Navy Football is one more feather in Navy’s cap, and a big one. Notre Dame and Florida State are two of the most famous names in football. It doesn’t get more mainstream than that. For Navy to receive the same treatment as those programs, from such a highly acclaimed documentary series, is a big deal. It will allow the school to reach new audiences while making their existing audience more aware of what USNA is all about.
This is tremendous news not just for Navy football fans, but for anyone who wants the Naval Academy to be the best it can be.
Talk about this and more in The Gouge!