Behind guarded gates, Air Force is preparing for a possible two-game football season in ways it is opting not to share.
The Falcons kept Navy (Oct. 3) and Army (Nov. 7) on the football schedule even as the Mountain West’s postponement of fall sports that took away the other games on the 2020 slate. This past week Air Force began promoting the home game against Navy and the series for the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy on social media. The team is also practicing at regular-season levels (20 hours a week) and has held at least one scrimmage.
So, it would seem all signs point toward a two-game season this fall. But the Falcons aren’t ready to talk about it.
“We should have an announcement on the clarity of the Navy game next week,” a spokesman wrote in an email to The Gazette on Friday.
An interview request for athletic director Nathan Pine made by The Gazette on Aug. 12 has not been granted. No availability of coaches or players has been offered by Air Force as practices have been held, nor has media been kept apprised of practice schedules or been given remote access to the access on the field.
Air Force has traditionally made most practices open to media and the public, though that would be complicated this year with the academy remaining closed to the public because of the coronavirus.
With the football team kept under tight wraps, it is difficult to ascertain what its roster would look like if it were to proceed against Army and Navy.
Quarterback Donald Hammond III is presumably unavailable, having lost his good standing as a cadet. The Gazette sent an inquiry to Air Force public affairs July 21 asking about the status of other players on the team, and the information has not yet been provided. Among players on The Gazette's projected two-deep roster following spring practice, only Hammond was not listed on the current team roster (though he remains on the team's "master roster," the academy confirmed Aug. 10).
Multiple sources have informed The Gazette that many sophomores, juniors and seniors on the football team — a number as high as 40 — have applied for administrative turnbacks. The turnbacks were created to give cadets facing personal hardships an opportunity to separate from the academy for a semester, putting them on a track to graduate in nine semesters instead of eight. In the case of football players, this would mean leaving for this semester, returning in the spring and gaining an extra season of eligibility.
USAFA public affairs has denied The Gazette’s request to identify cadets currently on turnbacks or provide the number of cadets who have received them.
“To ensure the protection of sensitive cadet medical and personal family details, including personally identifiable information , the Air Force Academy will not release any information publicly on cadets requesting to leave school and return at a later date,” Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said in a response to The Gazette. “The academy remains fully committed to supporting cadets who face unexpected challenges and hardships, and thoroughly reviews every request on an individual basis to best assist that cadet.”
When the Mountain West joined the Pac-12, Big Ten and Mid-America Conference in postponing fall sports in early August, Air Force immediately said it would forge ahead with plans to play its rival service academies in order to fulfill the mission of the academy.
That decision hasn’t been met with universal approval.
“They practice four months to get ready for us? All the while, we’re getting beat up in other games?” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said in August.
“I don’t know if it’s in our best interest to play Air Force.”
Does Air Force still see it as being in its best interest?
It’s not saying.