Air Force, Navy, Army await approval

Army, Navy and Air Force will be playing football games this weekend pending final approval by the Secretary of Defense, a source told ESPN's Brett McMurphy.

The Defense Department temporarily had suspended sports competition at the service academies Tuesday as a result of the partial government shutdown stemming from the budget impasse in Congress. All schools involved have said that a decision would be made by noon Thursday.

"The games (Air Force at Navy, Army at Boston College) have been approved to be played by everyone at the service academies, even the lawyers," the source told McMurphy. "Everyone is in. All the boxes are checked, just waiting for approval by the Secretary of Defense, who has final say, which would make it official."

The source also said that costs would be taken care of by "non-government funding."

"Not a dime of expenses: travel, game expenses, anything. Not one dime of government money will be spent," the source said.

A Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, said Tuesday that the decision was being reviewed by lawyers to determine whether the funds used for such activities are congressionally appropriated.

"There are differences in how each academy funds their athletics programs," Defense Department spokesman Bill Urban told Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com on Tuesday. "One academy can pay for its entire program through non-appropriated funds. Others do not have that setup."

The U.S. Naval Academy fully funds its athletic programs through unappropriated funds by using earnings from sources such as ticket sales and TV rights. But the U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy partially fund their athletic programs through appropriated funds, so they would be affected by the government shutdown.

Urban said at least a couple of offers have been made to pay for the service academy football teams' travel costs to games if the government shutdown doesn't end before Saturday, but he declined to identify the potential donors.

"There are a lot of questions up in the air," Urban said. "It's a complicated question. We're currently investigating whether non-appropriated funds could be given to a program to travel for an athletic competition."

The football rivalry between Navy, which practiced Tuesday, and Air Force dates to 1960, and they have played each other every year since 1972. Saturday's game is sold out.

BC athletic director Brad Bates indicated earlier Wednesday that the school offered financial assistance for Army's travel arrangements.

"We have been considering and engaging all possibilities in order to play Saturday's football game, including offering financial assistance to Army for travel," Bates said in a statement. "We have been told by officials at the US Military Academy, however, that this is not solely a financial decision. I remain in close communication with Army AD Boo Corrigan and we expect a decision will be made by noon (Thursday)."

Meanwhile, Division III Coast Guard will play its home game against Western New England on Saturday as planned because coach Bill George and his staff are also faculty members and therefore exempt from the furloughs.

Lt. Paul Rhynard, a Coast Guard spokesman, says because it is part of the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is making its own decisions regarding sports and "right now, the plan is to hold any at home athletic events."

The Coast Guard equipment staff, sports information director and other civilian employees in the athletic department, however, are on furlough. As a result, George was doing his team's laundry Wednesday morning.

"I just hung up every football player's (laundry) bag," he said. "I told the team, too many of you guys are putting your own stuff in there. My top receiver had five pairs of skivvies in there. I told him, go up where the cadets do laundry and do these yourself. They might get away with that with the regular equipment guy, but not with us."

Each of the three service academies played games during one of the last government shutdowns from Nov. 14-19, 1995, but each of them played games at home. On Nov. 18, 1995, Army defeated Bucknell 37-6 at West Point, N.Y.; Navy defeated Tulane 35-7 in Annapolis, Md.; and Air Force lost to Notre Dame 44-14 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Brett McMurphy of ESPN, Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com and The Associated Press contributed to this report.