Independent status may keep Mids all alone during bowls

Invitation is no guarantee despite team's eligibility

Navy notebook

October 29, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

It is conceivable that Navy's football team could finish with a 10-1 record and be shut out of the bowl games.

Conference affiliations rule the bowl picture, so Navy, as an NCAA Division I-A independent, has no choice but to wait for openings in bowls for which members of affiliated leagues didn't qualify. Teams need six wins to be eligible for a bowl.

Navy played in the Houston Bowl last season after the Southeastern Conference failed to fill its slot with an eligible team.

"There is no guarantee at all," said Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk. "We've discussed the possibility with the executive directors of at least eight different bowls. But we're looking for an at-large slot. We could go 10-1 and not have a place to land. Right now, our bowl game is Army-Navy."

Last season, a 10-2 Northern Illinois team that owned victories over three major-conference schools - including Maryland - was ignored by the bowls. The Huskies are members of the Mid-American Conference, which has two bowl tie-ins that virtually always go to the league's top two teams. Northern Illinois' two losses came in the league, so the Huskies didn't finish first or second and therefore didn't qualify for a tie-in.

Navy is an attractive team to bowls because of its national appeal and the heightened pageantry and feeling of patriotism it brings to the game. This past December, the academy's postseason image with bowl committees was upgraded even more when 25,000 people, including 60 percent of the brigade, followed the team to Houston.

So, the Midshipmen must play a waiting game. With more than a month remaining in the regular season, there are still too many possibilities to pinpoint where they could play. Speculation by some media outlets has them appearing everywhere from Houston again to Hawaii.

"There is quite a lot of interest," said Gladchuk. "But this won't come to a conclusion for two, maybe three weeks. We won't lose any sleep over it; we believe the cards will fall into place eventually."

Gladchuk said the academy is committed to remaining independent because the football program is sustaining itself.

"We can manage our schedule, we've got an outstanding television package and it's not critical for us to be in a revenue-sharing association [as many conferences are]," he explained. "The three main items - scheduling, TV and finances - are all in order as an independent."

Bowl invitations are an exception.

"There will always be disappointment if we don't go," he said. "But we think that each year there should be a slot or two available. Certainly, the pros of staying independent outweigh the cons."

12th man

John McLaughlin, a co-captain of Navy's club lacrosse team, will shake off four years of football cobwebs tomorrow when he plays on the coverage team the first time the Midshipmen kick off to Delaware.

"It's been great," McLaughlin said while working out with the team this week. "Everything and everybody has been real positive about this whole thing. They've been telling me to stay safe."

One of two seniors chosen from the brigade by the Navy coaching staff as part of the new "12th Mid" program, he is 6 feet 3 and weighs 215 pounds. He was a tight end and defensive end at Deer Park High on Long Island, but hasn't played football since he graduated.

McLaughlin, who will wear Roger Staubach's "unretired" No. 12, came to the academy to play lacrosse and was on the junior varsity briefly as a plebe. But he did not make varsity because "those guys were really tough," he said. He also plays rugby.

His father, Mike, was a three-time lacrosse All-American at Navy.

End zone

Tackle Casey Hughes is questionable this week with an ankle sprain that has dogged him all season. ... Navy has not scored in the first quarter for four straight games. ... Eric Roberts is trying to become the first player since All-American Ron Beagle (1953-55) to lead Navy in receiving three straight years. His 10 catches are currently the most on the roster.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Delaware (6-1) vs. Navy (6-1)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

When: Tomorrow, 1:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: CN8/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

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