Decades ago, in the days of Doc Blanchard, Army football was a national powerhouse.
But today, despite its storied tradition, the program is no longer a force to be reckoned with. If Army football is going to ever regain its dominant form, West Point is going to have to modify service requirements for its athletes.
When Army won back-to-back championships in 1944 and 1945, the allure of a career in the National Football League was not what it is today. In fact, by many accounts, a career in the military would have been considered much more lucrative than a career as a football player.
That is not to say that players cannot play football for West Point today and still move on to the NFL. After serving three years in the military following graduation, Army’s all-time leader in single-season rushing yards, Colin Mooney, signed with the Tennessee Titans this past spring.
Having seen Mooney play in person numerous times, I can say without a doubt that the man was a beast. That is why he averaged over 100 yards per game as a senior, but could it be possible that he has lost a step since college? If Mooney plays poorly for the Titans, or worse gets cut, it will certainly raise questions as to how three years without football impacted him, and it could make an impact on future recruits.
So how can West Point find a way to attract more talented recruits? The college is going to have to institute a waiver system that allows athletes drafted by NFL teams to opt out of their military service. This, of course, is a complicated matter because the education of West Point students is financed through public funds.
Some might suggest deferred service or duties performed during the NFL offseason, but I think that the answer is simpler: have athletes pay for their education if they want to forgo their military service. There’s no need to complicate matters. An athlete drafted by an NFL franchise could use his signing bonus to pay for a buyout. If the athlete couldn’t afford the buyout, he would have have to fulfill his military obligations.
Other schools may have a problem with this, though. Think about it. All West Point students are there on scholarship, so no one on the football team pays a dime for his education. If the military requirement could be bypassed, there would be no reason for a potential NFL star to look past playing for Army.
Of course, even if the challenges created by military obligations could be solved, the academic requirements of West Point may eliminate Army as an option for some of the country’s top football recruits.
Billy Obenauer is a life-long Army football fan who has been attending games since 1988.