Army-Air Force rescheduling keeps Commander-in-Chief's Trophy series alive for 2020
By KEN MCMILLAN | The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. | Published: November 28, 2020
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WEST POINT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — There was great relief within the Army football program when it was announced Wednesday that the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy series would be preserved for this season with the re-scheduling of the postponed Air Force game.
The COVID-19 virus has turned the sports world upside down in 2020, and so too is the CIC series. Navy and Air Force opened the series as normal in October, but now the Army-Navy game on Dec. 12 will set up the potential clincher on Dec. 19 — both games will be contested at West Point's Michie Stadium.
"We're sharpening our sword," said Army co-captain Amadeo West.
Following the Air Force game, Army will likely take on a Pac 12 Conference foe in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26 in Shreveport, La., marking this the first time Army has ever played three December games, all huge and all consecutive.
"I would compare it to the NFL," West said. "They have the playoffs and each game gets bigger and bigger, and all three of them are the biggest games right now we've ever played in, so we're excited."
Monken said Friday evening that he's glad to get to play the game and fight for the CIC Trophy, which goes to the winner of two games within the three-game annual series.
Air Force backed out of the original Nov. 7 date, citing a COVID outbreak within the team and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Last-minute attempts were made to salvage the contest, but to no avail. With no available open dates for both teams, the game was endangered and the series would have been declared a no contest.
The Dec. 19 date was not ideal from Army's perspective because West Point would have preferred having a bye week to prep for the program's fourth bowl game in five seasons. Playing the game next spring was not an option, and shifting the game to early January would have prevented the West Point cadets from getting any sort of break since their arrival on post on June 1.
"We were hoping we'd get a chance to play it at some point," Monken said. "At least the scheduling part of it worked out."
There was actually a chance the game could have been played this Saturday. Colorado State had to back out of Saturday's game with Air Force due to COVID problems. Army athletic director Mike Buddie and Air Force counterpart Nathan Pine briefly discussed re-scheduling for this week but the logistics of moving the Falcons' football equipment by truck across thousands of miles made it impossible. So the academies settled on Dec. 19.
Buddie said the academies and Mountain West Conference, of which Air Force is a member, had discussed shifting the Falcons' Dec. 3 contest with Utah State, which could have freed up a Dec. 5 meeting at West Point but that plan did not come to fruition.
"I guess temporary relief," was how Buddie described the conclusion of the process. "We're thrilled we were able to get a date. This date is not ideal in terms of our competitive schedule, but you don't get a chance to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy if you don't play all three games."
"Not playing the game was never really entered into the conversation," Buddie added.
Army co-captain Mike Johnson said the obvious focus is on the next game, which is Navy, but is thrilled for the opportunity to play Air Force.
"I'm super excited and super blessed to be able to play that game again," Johnson said. "It's an awesome game to play in.
"It's a great series — that's one of the best series, in my opinion, in college football," he added. "Being able to play that game, with everything that's going on with the pandemic, it is a blessing in and of itself."
Like the Navy game, the Air Force contest is set for 3 p.m. at Michie Stadium. The Navy game will air on CBS Sports (WCBS-2 in New York) while the Air Force game airs on CBS Sports Network. West Point officials have not allowed spectators for six home games this season, other than the Corps of Cadets. That will also be the case for the Navy game, but Buddie said West Point may re-visit that policy for the Air Force game, making no promises.
Army first played Air Force in 1959 and contested the series in odd years through 1971. Navy met Air Force for the first time in 1960 and played in even years from 1966-70. The three service academies initiated an annual series starting in 1972, with the winner of two games taking possession of the massive trophy.
Air Force already had a leg up in this year's series, beating Navy, 40-7, on Oct. 3 in Colorado Springs. When the November date was canceled, Monken voiced his displeasure on a number of occasions, stating he believed Air Force did not want to play because the Falcons were missing some key personnel and used the COVID outbreak as an excuse. As it turned out, West Point also had an outbreak, with cases and contract tracing extending into the football team, but Monken said that was kept in control and believed both squads had enough healthy players to suit up for the showdown.
The war of words is sure to spice up a heated rivalry. Buddie understands how his coach felt at the time but doesn't feel there will be a lingering resentment.
"It's a great rivalry and two really competitive coaches," Buddie said. We love the competition and we understand that the more challenging it gets, the more intriguing the matchup (but there's) definitely not consternation. At the end of the day, their cadets are getting ready to serve the country just like ours are, and so we want to beat the crap out of them once a year. I think it was more we were all disappointed because we were prepared, we were ready to play that week. and as a college football coach here you are on a mission every week. So any chance ... you're going to lose a mission, and at that point we weren't sure that we'd be able to make it up, so we were all a little bit frustrated at the time.
"But big picture, it's a great rivalry and we can't wait for the opportunity to play them."
Army must beat Navy to stay in the CIC hunt. An Air Force win over Army would give the Falcons the trophy for the 21st time and first since 2016. Army would need to beat Navy and Air Force to claim the title for the ninth time, the last two coming in 2017 and 2018. Navy has won 16 times. The three schools shared the trophy four times.
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