AFA FOOTBALL

The Air Force Academy defensive line takes to the field for drills on the first day of football practice for the 2014 season Thursday, July 31, 2014 at the Holaday Athletic Center. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Air Force is sticking to its policy of strict silence even as a national report suggests it might go against the grain if the Mountain West resurrects a fall football season.

Dominoes from around college football that had fallen in August began to stand back up on Wednesday, starting with the Big Ten announcing a comeback and then other conferences making statements about attempts to also squeeze in a season this fall instead of the spring season that had become the plan. The Mountain West, to which Air Force belongs, released a vague statement, saying it was “working daily on solutions to the existing challenges in order to facilitate a return to play … at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Where things took a turn for the bizarre for Air Force was when Stadium’s Brett McMurphy tweeted late Wednesday that the Mountain West was “aggressively exploring” an eight-game fall season, but Air Force, Fresno State and Hawaii were the “biggest unknowns for full season.”

The Gazette reached out to Air Force on Thursday, asking for a statement on the Mountain West’s attempts to play a fall season — if Air Force would be willing and able to participate in a fall season; if reports are true that Air Force might join Fresno State and Hawaii in not being able to play; and, if that were the case, why?

Air Force responded by saying it didn't have anything for those questions.

Short of the academy addressing these issues with the public that funds it, the gray areas presented by Air Force's silence are left to be colored in with educated guesses.

Here are three potential explanations.

- McMurphy’s report could be incorrect and Air Force, already scheduled to play Navy and Army, would join the Mountain West in a cobbled-together fall season should it come to fruition.

- Air Force would decline a chance to play a Mountain West schedule because it would conflict with the Nov. 7 game against Army. The Mountain West has always accommodated the Falcons as they play Navy on the first weekend of October and Army on the first weekend of November. This year, with the Mountain West playing a conference-only schedule, it is possible the league needed Air Force to be all-in for conference games during the limited framework of the season and the Falcons declined.

- The Falcons may not feel comfortable taking on a full — or nearly full — season with their current roster. Multiple sources have told The Gazette that 40 football players received administrative turnbacks for the fall semester and returned home. The academy has refused all questions regarding this topic. Turnbacks are designed to assist cadets facing hardships, and they allow those cadets to separate from the academy for a semester/year and return with any lost time then tacked onto their time at the academy. In the instance of a cadet missing a semester, they would then graduate in the December after their class exits in May.

For football players, this would have allowed them to depart for this semester — missing only the games against Army and Navy — and then return for a spring season. Because the NCAA is granting athletes an extra year of eligibility in the wake of the coronavirus, this would allow those players to then tack on an extra fall season before their December graduations. So the turnback, while allowing the cadet time and flexibility to deal with any hardships — and there are surely no shortage of those during a pandemic — also provides what amounts to a redshirt year (something for which coach Troy Calhoun has long been an advocate).

If Air Force sent those athletes home for a turnback, it would be unlikely the academy would permit them to return during this semester.

Aside from one of those reasons, The Gazette knows of no obvious explanations as to why Air Force wouldn’t be able to play. Colorado State isn’t listed among teams in question, so it would seem the state is on board with a return. The conference is apparently trying to move forward, so that’s no longer a roadblock. And with Army and Navy already in-season, the military and federal government has shown its approval to the service academies playing.

As things currently stand, Air Force is scheduled to host Navy on Oct. 3 and travel to Army on Nov. 7. Anything beyond that, the academy isn’t willing to discuss.

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