Coaches making sure Coast Guard game will go on despite government shutdown
HARTFORD, Conn. — Coast Guard football coach Bill George was doing his team's laundry Wednesday morning.
That's not normally one of his duties as head coach of the Division III program, but his equipment staff, sports information director and other civilian employees in the athletic department were furloughed this week when the federal government shut down.
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George said the coaches are picking up the slack so the academy can keep the program going and play its home game in New London on Saturday against Western New England.
"I just hung up every football player's [laundry] bag," he said. "I told the team, too many of you guys are putting your own stuff in there. My top receiver had five pairs of skivvies in there. I told him, go up where the cadets do laundry and do these yourself. They might get away with that with the regular equipment guy, but not with us."
The Defense Department temporarily suspended sports competition at the service academies Tuesday as a result of the budget impasse in Congress. But Lt. Paul Rhynard, a Coast Guard spokesman, says because it is part of the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is making its own decisions regarding sports.
"Right now, the plan is to hold any at home athletic events," he said. "As far as any events that are off campus and require travel, that decision has not been made yet."
George is a civilian federal employee, but he and three assistant coaches are also faculty members at the academy and therefore exempt from the furloughs.
"A lot of the people in the athletic department teach classes here," he said. "We teach personal defense, swimming, lifesaving. I'm sure the coaches at the other academies, which are Division I, do not teach. The teaching part exempts us."
As of Wednesday afternoon, Navy's game against Air Force at Annapolis, Md., and Army's game at Boston College on Saturday are in jeopardy of being postponed or canceled because of the shutdown.
George said the school did cancel its weekly media luncheon, but is trying to keep the weekly schedule as normal as possible.
He said the coaches will get to Cadet Memorial field early Saturday to put up the set up the field for the 1:30 p.m. game, putting up the goal posts and yard markers, and doing other jobs normally handled by employees who are on furlough.
He was unsure how the team will handle keeping statistics or running the press box, but said other faculty in the athletic department will be chipping in where they are needed.
Athletic director Tim Fitzpatrick was meeting Wednesday afternoon with New England Football Conference Commissioner John Harper to discuss the impact of the shutdown, and what, if anything the conference can do to help the academy.
Harper said everyone is taking a wait-and-see approach.
"Could everything be up and running by Saturday, well we can only hope," Harper said. "But we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves and say this is what we are going to do after this week."
Meanwhile George said his coaches and players are taking things in stride.
"I think here at this place, we've already been used to doing other duties, because we don't have a support cast of 50 people like they do at the Naval Academy," he said. "I have a retired college coach that coaches with me. I have a local high school teacher who comes down and coaches the defensive line. I'm not sure the adjustment is as big for us as it is at those places."