Air Force says no to Big East

December 6, 2011
photo - The Falcons are happy where they are and could remain in the Mounain West.  Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE
The Falcons are happy where they are and could remain in the Mounain West. Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE 

As the landscape of college athletics continues to shift, Air Force has decided to stay put.

Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould announced Wednesday that Air Force will remain in the Mountain West, passing on a chance to join the Big East for football. All of the Falcons’ sports that are in the Mountain West will stay in the conference.

“You have to wonder, why are people making these decisions?” Gould said. “That’s for various schools to answer that question, but it’s not for us right now.”

Gould said he called Big East Conference commissioner John Marinatto last Friday and informed him Air Force would not be leaving the Mountain West.

“I told him, now is not a good time for Air Force to move to the Big East,” said Gould, who added he would like to maintain dialogue with Marinatto. “The primary draw was the potential for big TV money. Potential, I emphasize.

“The primary draw to stay put has to do with loyalties, has to do with regional affiliations with traditional rivals, has to do with the commitments we’ve made, and what I feel is the right thing for our cadets, for our Air Force Academy and for our Air Force.”

Gould said he and athletic director Hans Mueh met with Gen. Norton Schwartz, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, and Michael Donley, secretary of the Air Force, last week in Washington, D.C. Schwartz and Donley were in favor of staying in the Mountain West. The conference was pleased to retain one of its founding members on a day San Diego State and Boise State announced they would be among five teams to join the Big East.

“We appreciate Air Force and are extremely bullish on the future of the MW,” conference commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement to The Gazette.

Air Force makes about $1.2 million in television money, and the Big East thinks it could provide $8-12 million annually per school. But Air Force couldn’t be sure the Big East’s next TV contract would be that lucrative, now that it has lost Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia.

But there was the potential to make a lot more money, which would have put the Falcons’ athletic department on sound footing. Gould said the academy gets good support from government officials in Washington, D.C. to help fund the athletic department, and the formation of a non-profit corporation for the athletic department to operate under will also help revenue.

“We’re real optimistic we’re going to be OK here,” Gould said.

The potential for more money from the Big East didn’t override other factors, such as more travel time — for athletes and fans — and how much class time would be missed.

“That’s not who we are,” Gould said. “We don’t make decisions based solely on the potential for a big TV contract. We’re about taking care of our cadets.”

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