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It's not usually something we associate with one of college football's most storied rivalries, but according to a recent report by the Navy Times it soon could become a reality. As Times writer Chris Amos reported last week, Naval Academy Superintendent Jeffery Fowler recently met with executives in Detroit, Michigan about the possibility of extending corporate sponsorship for the annual game (including name rights), which will be played for the 109th time this December. According to the report, as well as subsequent articles in the Baltimore Sun and Dallas Morning News, both Naval Academy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuck and West Point Athletic Director Kevin Anderson have looked into the idea of corporate sponsorship, with General Motors already being discussed as a possible candidate to sponsor the historic rivalry. In addition to sponsorship, Mr. Gladchuck confirmed that the game was also opening bids for host cities after 2009, when the game's contract with Philadelphia runs out. Dallas has already thrown its name into the hat of non-East Coast cities expressing interest in bringing the game cross country.
Look, I'm a realist. I understand that that the Army-Navy game is going to be shopped around as leverage to get a better deal out of Philadelphia or Baltimore, which more than likely will continue to host Army-Navy games in the foreseeable future. I even understand that one day another city outside the eastern seaboard may host it, and you know what, I'm all for it if that were to happen (well, at least as long as Southwest flies there.) But when it comes to this whole corporate sponsorship idea I'm not willing to give an inch of ground. Maybe it's just me, but there just seems something almost heretical about attaching a corporate name to the Army-Navy game, even if it was done in the classier "Army-Navy game presented Company X" approach. I mean, would you stick something like that on the end of Michigan-Ohio State or Notre Dame-Southern Cal? Just think how folks in Alabama would react to "The Iron Bowl presented by Dick's Sporting Goods." Frankly it just doesn't work, which I'm sure most Texas or Oklahoma fans will tell you now that their hallowed Red River Rivalry has become the AT&T Red River Rivalry. Long story short; you just don't mess with historic rivalry games, especially those which go back over a century and supposedly transcend the usual host of corrupting factors which have by now arrived most of college football at the hazy gray-area somewhere between amateurism and semi-professionalism.
While I trust Naval Academy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuck's discretion with this matter, I worry about the influence of Kevin Anderson when it comes to setting up corporate sponsorship. Anderson, who recently told the Baltimore Sun that corporate sponsorship would be done "in good taste," seems to have been influenced too much by the idea during Army's "rivalry" game against Texas A&M. What bothers me is that Anderson could be thinking solely with his pocket book, and could be rushing the game into a situation that it is either not ready for or (and I would argue more likely) was never meant for.
After all, doesn't a deal like this undercut exactly what the Army-Navy game is supposed to be about. Still holding strong to the mantras of a by-gone era where college football was played by true amateurs who held little or no ideas of pro contracts or endorsements after their final game, the Army-Navy game has continued to stand as a solitary tribute to the history of a sport that is becoming increasingly more commercialized. Alright, so maybe that particularly worded notion is a little too idealistic by today's standards, but is it too much to ask for auto makers and defense contractors to at least leave their name out of the game's title? After all, they've already filled up the pages of my "collectable" media guides and coffee mugs, not to mention virtually every waking second of commercial time on the broadcasts. The Army-Navy game is, at its core, a symbolic game. And practical or not, a move to corporate sponsorship would represent a break from that symbolic tradition we fans love to uphold when praising the game's many merits. But if we can't hold on to that tradition, and if we're in any way forced to relinquish or compromise that claim to unspoiled amateur sport rivalry, then who are we to place the game on a pedestal over the other eleven contests each team engages in each fall?
If confronted with the issue it is not an easy question to answer, which is why I'm hoping that both Mr. Gladchuck and Mr. Anderson arrive at the conclusion that the health of the game lies not in gimmicks or corporate support, but in the defining factors which have made it an American institution for over 100 years.
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