Home cooking an advantage for Navy going into Military Bowl
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 22, 2017
No college football team wants to be home for the holidays. That usually means you failed to qualify for a bowl game.
Navy finds itself in the rare position of playing a postseason contest at its home facility, hosting Virginia in the Military Bowl on Dec. 28 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. So the Midshipmen are going to a bowl without really going anywhere.
Actually, that is not totally true as the Navy players and coaches are staying at the Renaissance Washington Hotel in downtown D.C. from Saturday through Wednesday. As with any bowl, the Midshipmen will participate in a variety of scheduled activities such as a bus tour of the national monuments, a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and a team dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl.
However, Navy will take a pass on one standard element of the Military Bowl with head coach Ken Niumatalolo electing to not practice at a high school somewhere in the District of Columbia. Instead, the Midshipmen will board buses and travel back to the Naval Academy for practice sessions scheduled on Monday and Tuesday.
“We’ll make the 45-minute drive back to Annapolis so we can have our training room, our weight room, our equipment room and our meeting rooms,” Niumatalolo said. “I just think from a preparation standpoint you can’t beat your own facilities.”
Navy is one of three schools playing a bowl game in its own stadium this postseason. Florida Atlantic drew a berth in the Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium while Memphis was selected for the Liberty Bowl.
Normally, playing in the postseason means traveling to a fun and exotic location and being treated like royalty by the host city and bowl committee. In years past, Navy has appeared in bowls held in Charlotte, San Diego, Forth Worth, San Francisco and Houston.
Navy is now part of the American Athletic Conference bowl lineup, which could have meant trips to Alabama (Birmingham Bowl), Florida (Bocan Raton Bowl, Cure Bowl in Orlando, Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg), Texas (Frisco Bowl) and Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl).
Naturally, it was somewhat disappointing for the players to find out they wouldn’t be leaving Annapolis, other than to stay in a hotel in D.C. However, as Niumatalolo indicated, there are some advantages to playing a postseason contest at home – most of which are logistical and financial.
“What is the old saying? There is no place like home,” Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said. “I know there is some sentiment among the players and coaches that they would rather go somewhere. However, there are a lot of positives about being at home. First and foremost is the obvious factor that the football team is playing on its home field at a stadium in which it has been so successful.”
Gladchuk went on to tick off several other reasons why appearing in the Military Bowl at nearby Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was beneficial. The Midshipmen will basically be able to follow the routine of a regular home game.
“This situation eliminates numerous distractions and uncertainties. We’re playing a bowl game in an environment in which everyone is very familiar,” Gladchuk said. “In my mind, there is no downside other than it would be nice to be somewhere where it’s 80 degrees and there is a beach.”
From an athletic director’s standpoint, being in the Military Bowl eliminates the very real possibility of losing money by playing in the postseason. Navy now receives a modest stipend from the American Athletic Conference to partially cover travel expenses. Had the Midshipmen played in Florida, Texas or Hawaii, the Naval Academy Athletic Association would have needed to sell a considerable amount of tickets in order to break even on the trip.
Gladchuk said the cost of flying the entire Navy traveling party to another location then providing food and lodging for a week was considerable – upwards of half a million dollars.
Finances are no longer a concern because travel costs have been minimized while the NAAA has almost sold the entire allotment of tickets it was required to take by Military Bowl organizers.
“Playing at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium has clearly helped with ticket sales. The ability to sell 9,000 tickets in three weeks – that’s not going to happen in Frisco or St. Petersburg,” Gladchuk said. “There is a very significant financial benefit from being able to sell all the tickets that were allocated.”
For Niumatalolo, the advantages are much more practical. Last year for the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Navy practiced about a half hour out of town at Kennedale High. For the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, the Midshipmen practiced at the University of California-San Diego at La Jolla.
Both arrangements produced logistical obstacles as the Navy equipment, training and strength staffs must set up temporary headquarters for the week. Greg Morgenthaler normally must transform a hotel ballroom into a makeshift equipment facility with boxes of cleats stacked in one corner and various practice gear hanging from industrial coat racks.
Morgenthaler, Navy’s longtime associate athletic director for equipment operations, is responsible for transporting everything the football program would need in order to practice for a bowl game at a remote location.
That means loading up the Navy football tractor trailer with exercise bikes, blocking sleds and various practice attire. Everything used by the training room staff – from athletic tape to modalities – must be transported. Same goes for all the video equipment used to tape practice sessions and enable members of the coaching staff to break down film on their personal computers.
“Our truck only needs to go a mile to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium as opposed to going 1,300 miles,” Morgenthaler said. “Also, there is not as much pressure to get the truck packed with every possible piece of equipment that might be needed on the trip. So being at home simplifies things immensely.”
Navy’s equipment staff must wash laundry following every football practice. That is much easier done at the facility located in the basement of Ricketts Hall as opposed to a high school in Texas.
If a player blows out a cleat during practice, Morgenthaler only needs to walk inside the building to find a replacement.
“When we go away to a bowl, we have to move the entire operation. Anything we have here in the equipment room must be shipped to either the team hotel or the practice location,” he said. “You can’t always think of everything or predict certain scenarios. There have been times when we’ve been away for a bowl and I’ve had to go to a local sporting goods store to get something we may have forgotten or didn’t have for some reason.
Jim Berry, Navy’s associate athletic director for sports medicine, echoed those sentiments. Navy has a state-of-the-art training room in Ricketts Hall with all the latest and greatest technology. It would be impossible to transport that entire operation to a high school or hotel in another state.
Navy football players come to the training room throughout the day for treatment, another element that would difficult to duplicate at a remote location. Tre Walker, a junior slotback, suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this season. He reports to the training room at some point every day to go through rehabilitation.
Walker would not travel to a bowl game with the football team, meaning he would not be able to work with Berry or other trainers assigned to the program during that time period.
“I look at this as an advantage. We’re home and have the full complement of our training room at our disposal. Everything that we use on a daily basis,” Berry said. “We can treat everyday ailments and still do long-term rehabilitation. It’s important that we have all the tools at our disposal to help these players out.”
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