than forty years have passed since Army last fielded a football
team that was competitive at the very top of college football. It
is, thus, statistically probable that only half the parents of present-day
cadets had been born when the Black Knights haunted the ranks of
the nation's powerhouses.
has been four decades since the cadets were at the pinnacle. Now
they are at the bottom, by consensus the worst of the 117 colleges
that play NCAA Division 1-A football. Things have never been this
bad. Never. Losing is anathema at West Point-intolerable. Defeat
does not go away with the Christmas leave. No, it persists through
the bitter West Point winter, in what the cadets call "gloom
period," covering the gray rocks like a pall. Something must
must be a corollary to the axiom, "If it ain't broke...."
And that would be, "If it's broke, fix it." Well, it's
broke. The proposition, then, becomes a matter of how to fix it.
awfully inviting to attack with conventional resolve. "We'll
fire this coaching staff, bring in someone who knows how to win.
We'll double and redouble the recruiting effort. There are plenty
of kids out there who can play football at this level and simultaneously
brook differential calculus. We'll launch a desperate reverse engineering
program-take the system apart, inspect, then reengineer and enhance
as necessary. Then we will drive on to the fray just like we have
work. We'll continue to get our heads beaten in every Saturday because
the game of college football has changed far more than West Point
and the Army team have changed, or can change.
years ago, and before, when Army could go head-to-head with any
college team in the country, the game was played by a bunch of college
kids playing another bunch of college kids. This is no longer true.
Speaking now in terms of typicality and not universal, it is obvious
the opponent the cadet faces on the field is bigger, faster, and
much more athlete than student. The guy the cadet looks at across
the line of scrimmage cannot do half the things a cadet can do and
probably nothing as well. Except for football. And that is because
he has grown up cultivating little more than playground prowess;
he has been, for as long as memory serves him, mesmerized by the
lure of the money and the glamour of professional football
there are many other reasons-from cultural to biological-why the
playing field is tilted to the disadvantage of the cadets. But one
of them is not that the cadets are not athletically gifted. They
are, and they are superbly intelligent; they are honorable; and
they are to be the leaders of the nation. Pit student body against
student body, and Army wins the national championship-every year.
Under present conditions, however, the cadets must grapple with
athletes who wouldn't know a pixel from a hypothesis, who couldn't
lead a lemming to the cliff, who couldn't qualify for West Point
if we added their weight to their ACT score.
elitist? Yep. But elitism-that's what West Point is all about. That's
why we can not, must not, be last among the football-playing colleges.
We must fix it, and we must fix it with full allegiance to General
MacArthur's inviolable counsel: "There is no substitute for
ploy is to sell out, to succumb to whatever under-the-table scheming
in recruiting and coaching is required to succeed. We could cut
deals with star athletes that would open the possibilities of professional
football in lieu of service in the Army. We could marshal the prodigious
force of the assembled graduates to cajole and bribe prospective
football heroes. We could lower admission standards for recruited
No. We can do none of that. Unwavering fidelity to the mission of
the United States Military Academy is imperative. Loosely stated
that mission is to educate, train, and inspire the Corps to a lifetime
of selfless service to the nation. We don't get there by compromising
ever on anything.
what do we do? Well, we have to do this: we must embark on session
of creative and critical thinking followed quickly by resolute action.
We must come to believe that football, as now played in Division
1-A, is not nearly as important as it is commonly thought to be.
We must adapt to the unthinkable and enthusiastically pursue a program
of competing with institutions that have an acceptably realistic
concept of what "scholar-athlete" means and, further,
hold their athletes to the same academic standards that obtain to
their student body in general. Perforce we must withdraw from Conference
USA and assume the status of NCAA Division 1-AA, abiding by that
level of rules as those rules apply to Army's unique situation.
We must replace the current football coaching staff and athletic
administration with Westpointers who fully comprehend the role of
football to the Corps and our intercollegiate relationships.
this mean Ivy League? Yes-that is ideal-but only if they are up
to getting hammered by Army. Many years ago there were wonderful
rivalries between Army and Yale, Army and Harvard, and so on. In
fact, when the concept "Ivy League" was originated, the
inclusion was Army, Princeton, Yale, and the others. But if the
Ivy's don't want us, or if that doesn't work for any reason, there
are better solutions. Our long-standing philosophy of scheduling
our traditional Eastern rivals and, as well, playing a true national
scheme on a rotating basis will work since the cadets come from
all over the country. We should be able to scrape up games with
Rice, Vanderbilt, Cal Poly, Citadel, Duke, and the likes.
undertaking will demand much courage, candor, and clear thinking
by all who have to approve it, execute it, or hold an attachment
to West Point and Army football. Guts-that's what the Superintendent
and the other principals at West Point and Department of the Army
are gonna need lots of. It's a good bet that some cadets, some parents,
and nearly all "Disgruntled Old Graduates" will mount
stiff resistance to the whole proposition. Candor by those who can
explain the necessity must induce the clear thinking by those who
must accept. Worst of all will be the specter that we are profaning
MacArthur's immutable words, "no substitute for victory."
On the contrary. We are but revising the application so that we
can better "sew the seeds that, on other days on other fields,
will bear the fruits of victory."
is a stillness to the guns. It is ephemeral. We shall again build
the victory fires along the Hudson.
Class of 1960
Note: Jere is a regular contributor to the WPPC-MS newsletter.
We appreciate his time, his talents, and his great penchant for
writing wonderful stories. While the articles we print do not necessarily
reflect the views or endorsements of any or all of the WPPC-MS members
and this newsletter, we do appreciate their contributions. We do
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