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PHILADELPHIA — Navy is still on board for Big East football in 2015.
The Midshipmen remain committed to joining the unsettled conference for football only, starting in 2015. Navy has been playing football since 1879 without conference affiliation until it made the decision last year to join a Big East — a league that has undergone a massive facelift in 15 months.
"Right now, nothing's changed in terms of our attitude or ambition in terms of joining in ‘15," Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk said Wednesday. "We're just going to see how it all unfolds."
Gladchuk was in Philadelphia to promote the 113th Army-Navy game on Dec. 8 at Lincoln Financial Field. The U.S. Naval Academy agreed last year to give up more than 130 years of football independence to join a conference that is in the middle of a massive overhaul. Louisville on Wednesday became the fourth school in 15 months and seventh in the past decade to leave the Big East for the ACC. The Big East also lost Rutgers last week. The reinvented conference added Tulane and East Carolina this week.
Though both schools are bolting for different conferences, Louisville plays at Rutgers on Thursday night with the conference's bid to the Bowl Championship Series berth on the line. While Gladchuk said the caliber of schools departing the Big East is, "not necessarily what we envisioned," he said the Midshipmen could no longer continue as an independent, and he believes the conference could still fill their needs in terms of scheduling and desirable TV deals.
"Navy wants to remain relevant as a program with national stature," he said. "We know we've got to be affiliated with a conference. That's why the Big East right now is our direction."
The Midshipmen (7-4) secured a bid to play a Pac-12 team in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29 in San Francisco. The Big East will allow Navy to maintain its annual rivalries with Army, Air Force and Notre Dame, and that the Army-Navy game will still be the season finale for both teams, regardless of when a future Big East championship game is played.
Ken Niumatalolo has coached the Midshipmen in four other bowl games since 2007. He has Navy back in a bowl after a 5-7 record last season.
He's pitched the idea of playing in the Big East to recruits but remained concerned the shifting landscape among the major conferences could still come back to bite Navy.
"We're trying to get ready for our big game," he said. "But that's in the back of our mind, where's our program going?"
For now, the only answer is Philadelphia. Navy plays Army with the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy on the line for the first time since 2005. The trophy is awarded to the team with the best record in games between the three service academies. Both teams have defeated Air Force. Navy has a whopping 10-game winning streak against its biggest rival in its biggest game of the season.
But the question looms, will the Big East still be the right fit for Navy in three more years?
"We're trying to improve our facilities, we're trying to build up our infrastructure, we're trying to get ready to go," Niumatalolo said. "My only question is, if we don't go to the Big East, what happens to us? Is it just going to be those five big conferences and everyone else becomes I-AA football?"
The Midshipmen were more concerned Wednesday with the health of freshman quarterback Ralph Montalvo. Niumatalolo said Montalvo remained in a medically-induced coma after he was critically injured in a car accident near his home last week in Florida.
"Some days his signs are better, sometimes his signs are not as good," Niumatalolo said. "He has a wonderful family that's been very supportive of him at the hospital. Hopefully, he's having a good day today."