Army-Navy date could be problematic

The College Football Playoff's management committee will discuss Navy's eligibility for this season's New Year's Six bowls because of the academy's new conference affiliation and the timing of its annual game against Army.

Navy will join the American Athletic Conference in the fall.

The commissioners' concern is if the Midshipmen are ranked high enough to earn one of the New Year's Six bowl bids -- and then lose the following week to Army. That loss would not count toward Navy's final ranking, penalizing other teams that would have earned a New Year's Six bowl bid if the loss was factored in.

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said this isn't a Navy-Army issue, but believe any schools playing after the final rankings are released should be ineligible for a spot in the College Football Playoff or a New Year's Six bowl.

"All games should be done by Selection Sunday for those teams to be considered for a College Football Playoff bowl," Thompson said.

The College Football Playoff management committee (the 10 FBS conference commissioners plus Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick) will discuss the Navy-Army situation at its next meeting in April, several commissioners said.

All 11 members of the management group were contacted by ESPN. Four declined comment.

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said the current policy states "the rankings compiled by the committee on selection day (Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015) will be the final version for purposes of identifying the teams in the playoff." So if the policy doesn't change, Navy could be the highest ranked Group of Five champion and then lose to Army and still would receive a New Year's Six bowl bid.

If the management committee opts to make any changes involving the playoff, there is not a vote, Hancock said.

"It's a consensus," Hancock said. "We agree as a group."

The highest ranked champion from the Group of Five conferences (AAC, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt) receives a bid to either the Peach or Fiesta bowl this season. While the Army-Navy game most likely would impact the Group of Five conferences, it also could have a major impact on the CFB Playoff if the Midshipmen ranked in the top four in the final ranking -- earning a berth to one of the semifinals -- only to lose the following week to Army.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby best described the delicate matter facing the management committee.

"Given the rich history of the Army-Navy game, its patriotic significance and pageantry, I can appreciate the desire of the academies to play on a stand-alone date with the eyes of the nation able to watch," Bowlsby said. "However at this juncture, I'm not sure how best to address the impact of the game's outcome on the CFP given Navy's move into the American Athletic Conference, and the potential for it to secure a spot in the structure as a conference champion, or highly ranked non-champion.

"I will want to discuss this possibility and viable options with my FBS commissioner colleagues before formulating a recommended course."

MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher and Benson also indicated the policy needs to be reviewed. Besides Navy and Army, another possibility, a commissioner suggested, is what if other schools opt to play the week after the final rankings are released and, win or lose, would remain eligible for the New Year's Six bowls? Also, what would keep independents Notre Dame and BYU from trying to schedule a 13th game the week after the final rankings?

AAC commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference will hold a league title game for the first time this year, said he already has discussed the Navy situation with Hancock and several commissioners.

"We're perfectly aware of the issues, and it behooves us to solve it," Aresco said. "It's not a game anyone wants to move."

Aresco said he has some "creative solutions" that would allow the Navy-Army game to be factored into the final rankings, but said it was premature to share them publicly. The Navy-Army contract with CBS has four years remaining through the 2018 season and requires the game to be played on the second Saturday in December, a Navy spokesman said. Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said moving the Navy-Army game from the second Saturday in December is not an option.

"It needs to be a stand-alone game," Gladchuk said. "That game has become a focal point for America. It's just a wonderful event, an opportunity to showcase what America is all about.

"I'm hopeful [the committee] will find a solution and I'm confident they will."

The College Football Playoff final rankings are released on the Sunday following the first Saturday in December. They can't be moved back another week because it would delay the other 30-something bowl pairings, putting even greater hardship on fan bases traveling to the bowls.

"If the rule is established [that teams playing after final ranking will not be eligible for New Year's Six bowls], Army, Navy and their TV partner [CBS] will have to make a decision when to play the game," Benson said. "There is an easy way to rectify this."

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said he hasn't spent any time considering the situation. Commissioners Mike Slive (SEC), Larry Scott (Pac-12), John Swofford (ACC) and Britton Banowsky (C-USA) declined comment.

"It's unique for a host of reasons," Swarbrick said. "I can think of a host of ways it could be addressed. I'm not sure which one is best."

Swarbrick said it's important to maintain college football's traditions.

"You want to try and honor and preserve traditions -- look at how we protected the bowls," another commissioner said. "Army-Navy is one of the more significant traditions in college football. How do you preserve that tradition without unsettling the basic elements of the playoff structure?"

One commissioner said 126 of the 128 FBS teams are conforming because of the College Football Playoff -- except for Army and Navy, who play the only game after the rankings are released.

"That," the commissioner said, "is the fundamental tension."