Monday’s federal government shutdown came with a long list of service disruptions, including closures of all the national parks, monuments and any other facilities or services deemed “non-essential.” While it’s certainly not critical to the functioning of the republic, one unexpected casualty has been college athletics.
Travel budgets have been frozen for athletics at the service academies and Navy has already had to cancel Tuesday’s soccer game against Howard University. Two of this weekend’s scheduled college football games are now in jeopardy: Air Force at Navy and Army at Boston College.
Navy is in a favorable position here, as it funds its athletic programs through ticket sales, concessions and licensing. Army and Air Force use government funds for athletics, and so are in less control of their own spending. Boston College has offered to pay for Army’s travel to this Saturday’s game, and Navy has done the same for Air Force.
Of course, neither of these brotherly acts are at all altruistic: The admirals at the Naval Academy and the Jesuit brothers at Boston College all know quite well the value of a home football date in comparison to the cost of a chartered plane.
The U.S. Department of Defense is expected to announce Thursday whether Army’s players are allowed to get on a bus to Boston, and a Pentagon spokesman speculated Wednesday as to whether concession proceeds from the Naval Academy football program could be used to fund travel for the remainder of their season.
It is difficult to determine what is more bothersome — that the soccer season at Navy was in jeopardy because of Congress’ obstinacy or that the nation’s military leaders have been scrambling for three days to arrange funding for a football game. Once again, the needs and well-being of student-athletes seem to be a peripheral consideration at best.
The administrations at the academies aren’t at fault here. Like the rangers at Yellowstone National Park or docents at the Smithsonian Institution, they are victims of out-of-touch decision-making and a business climate where public relations tend to wash out truth and common sense.
This weekend’s games will probably be saved. But for the athletes at the service academies have been left in a week of limbo, not knowing if the practices they’re slogging through all afternoon will be for an inter-squad scrimmage or one of the biggest games on their schedule.