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Air Force cancels all athletic events, practices during government shutdown

January 20, 2018 Updated: January 20, 2018 at 9:21 pm
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A sign overs up the 'Today's Event' at Cadet Field House that reads that the Air Force Academy had canceled all athletic events on Saturday January 20, 2018 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. This was due to a federal government shutdown that began overnight. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)

Game off.

All of them.      

Air Force announced Saturday that it would cancel all athletic events as a result of the government shutdown. The ruling was immediately effective and wiped out Saturday’s scheduled home men’s basketball game against Fresno State and the home hockey game against Sacred Heart.

Academy teams were scattered around the country this weekend, with swimming teams in Las Vegas, rifle in Fort Worth, Texas, and women's basketball in Fresno, Calif.

None will be allowed to compete.

“In the event a solution is reached, the academy will work to reschedule as many missed events as possible," the academy said in a statement.

Air Force public affairs director Lt. Col. Allen Herritage said the "determination was made that no practices or events would take place" during the shutdown.

Coaches were informed of the decision prior to 8 a.m. Saturday, with news then trickling to players via the ESPN news ticker, social media and texts.

The men’s basketball team gathered for pregame activities in hopes that the game would continue as normal, and visiting Fresno State held its morning meal at the Colorado Springs Marriott and went through its final preparatory walk-through before realizing a reprieve wasn’t on the way.

The hockey team held out hope for a resolution in Washington through 3 p.m. MT before officially pulling the plug on the game.

Now, the teams wait.

Air Force athletic officials knew this might be a possibility in the days leading up to the shutdown, but had hoped to gain exempt status for enough support staff to keep events going. They said it would be an "11th-hour decision.”

At issue is the designation of essential and nonessential employees and the use of government money, the stream of which has been shut off. Trainers, some coaches and much of the athletic support staff cannot work during a shutdown. Athletic director Jim Knowlton is among those who will not be allowed to work during the shutdown.

In the past, the Falcons had been able to find patchwork solutions to keep games going during shutdowns. During sequestration in 2013, sponsor USAA provided a $230,000 check to allow Air Force football to travel to Navy for a game. In the 1990s, ways were found to allow football and basketball to play during a fall shutdown.

Herritage offered this explanation when asked why teams like women's basketball that were already on the road were not allowed to play Saturday.

"We made that decision based on Air Force guidance as well as our assessment of minimal requirements necessary to support our mission to train future Air Force officers," Herritage told The Gazette in an email. "Athletics are a huge part of how we develop future officers at USAFA. They instill character traits that will serve these airmen well throughout their entire careers. That said, due to the government shutdown we've had to cancel activities not directly related to national defense."

Herritage added that classes will continue as scheduled Monday and will be taught by military faculty members. 

"In a few cases, some classes may canceled or rescheduled," he said.

Army and Navy are continuing as usual because of a difference in funding. Though all academies are supported by athletic corporations that operate as nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations, those at Army and Navy are almost all-encompassing in defraying costs away from federal money.

A Navy representative said Saturday a few coaches are paid with government money and will not work during the shutdown, but nothing else is impacted.

Air Force's football and basketball coaches will be able to continue to travel for recruiting during the shutdown, a key point in advance of the Feb. 7 signing day because funding comes from the Air Force Academy Athletic Corp.

The Mountain West has not yet determined if any games ultimately canceled by Air Force will be considered forfeits by the Falcons.

"I do not know the details of all of that," a Mountain West spokesman said by phone Saturday morning. "I would assume they’ll make every best effort to make them up."

For Air Force men's basketball, the disruption comes at a particularly lousy time. The Falcons are fresh off road wins at San Jose State and Colorado State, their first road wins in Mountain West play in three years.

Any attempt to ride that momentum was squashed, though the players intend to practice on their own until the coaching staff can work with them again.

"Bruh why do they have to cancel our game? Smh," senior guard Jacob Van tweeted on Saturday morning.

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