After 134 years as an independent in football, the Naval Academy officially became a member of the American Athletic Conference on Wednesday morning.
Joining a conference in football had been discussed for nearly a decade and Navy formally accepted an invitation to join the Big East on January 24, 2012 and kept that commitment when the football-playing members of the Big East became the American Athletic Conference after conference expansion.
By joining the American Athletic Conference, Navy will have the opportunity to reach the most prestigious bowl games nationally under the postseason structure that began last season. Obviously the top four teams in the nation, regardless of conference affiliation, are selected for the College Football Playoff. But if Navy wins The American championship and is ranked higher than four other conference champions, it would play in a New Year's Bowl.
“This is a significantly important day for the U.S. Naval Academy family,” said Vice Admiral Ted Carter, Superintendent of the Naval Academy. “The American Athletic Conference provides us a unique reach and exposure to different parts of the country, as well as the athletic parity we’re looking for on the football field. I speak on behalf of the entire Academy when I say we are thrilled to be a part of this conference.”
“We are very excited about joining the American Athletic Conference and playing in the West Division,” said Navy director of athletics Chet Gladchuk. “The programs at Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane and Tulsa are run in a very similar manner as ours and we feel that we can be competitive in that division and compete for a championship. We not only look forward to playing the teams in the West, but the schools in the East as well. Facing UCF, Cincinnati, UConn, East Carolina, USF and Temple will provide great challenges to us, and it is one of the reasons we joined the conference. Independence had become outdated for the Naval Academy. Scheduling and TV contracts were being monopolized by the conferences and we felt that we had to join a conference in order to be able to maintain the stature we've enjoyed for so many years.”
“I am proud and delighted to take this opportunity to welcome the United States Naval Academy into the American Athletic Conference as a football-playing member,” said American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco. “We extend a warm welcome to Admiral Ted Carter, Superintendent of the Naval Academy, athletic director Chet Gladchuk, head football coach Ken Niumatalolo, his team and all the Midshipmen and administrative personnel of the Naval Academy as well as to United States Naval and Marine Corps servicemen and women, friends and fans throughout the world. As I have said on many occasions, the Midshipmen represent the best this country has to offer. We are proud and grateful for the service they render to our country, and we are privileged to have them in our conference. We all look forward to Navy’s inaugural conference football game against familiar foe East Carolina on Sept. 19 and we know that Navy’s players and coaches will have a great experience competing in the American Athletic Conference.”
"Joining the American Athletic Conference has given us another goal," said Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo. "Now, not only do we have the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy to play for, but a conference championship as well. I do know there are very good football teams in this league and it’s going to be a huge challenge for our program. Every week we will have a tough opponent to play.”
After opening the season with Colgate on Sept. 5, Navy will welcome East Carolina to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Sept. 19 for the school’s first conference football game.