The Case For Air Force vs. Army/Navy on Fox Friday Night Football

Fox will air weekly Friday night games on over-the-air TV. Though unlikely, Air Force’s games against Army and Navy could benefit from the Friday night lights.

Air Force has played two weeknight games against their Service Academy rivals, in 2004 and 2006.
Source: U.S. Air Force Photo/Ken Carter

"You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify college football upon a cross of gold."

These are some of the most famed words in American political rhetoric, uttered by William Jennings Bryan at the 1896 Republican National Convention in his famed “Cross of Gold” speech. Well, he did not mention college football; that was me. Still, the words resonate as the insatiable greed of athletic directors and TV executives grows continuously.

The latest move towards darkness saw Fox becoming the first Big Four network )ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) to air a weekly Friday night game featuring the Big Ten, Big 12, or Mountain West. Friday night games are not a new concept for college football, but the Fox attempting to make these games "can't miss" events has disheartened scores of college football fans. Many argue this move undermines the institution of college football. These are all valid points. TV executives are becoming greedy with its accumulation of TV windows and trampling on local traditions associated with high school football. However, the network can save face.

Enter the Service Academies. The Army-Navy Game has long enjoyed a network TV spot with limited competition, much to the chagrin of their younger Service Academy counterpart, Air Force. Air Force plays Army and Navy in the middle of the season with much less fanfare. Only recently has CBS given Air Force’s game with their Service Academy foes time on the main network.

Appearances on CBS give the Air Force-Army and Navy-Air Force rivalries solid exposure, but Friday night games on network TV could take viewership to another level. Air Force and Navy’s clash this past season at Noon ET on CBS on October 21 drew 1.21 million viewers and a .7 rating, meaning .7 % of TV viewers in the U.S. watched the game. This number pales compared to Fox’s Thursday night season opener between Nebraska and Minnesota. A game between two schools combined for a 13-12 record drew 3.49 viewers and a 1.9 rating, nearly tripling Air Force-Navy’s viewership. Let that sink in.

Furthermore, TV executives have moved Service Academy games to weeknights before. Air Force’s 2004 game against and Navy and its 2006 game against Army were both weeknight games televised by ESPN. While a weeknight move goes against tradition, it is wrong to assume that Military football is immune to the greed of TV executives.

Finally, inter-Service Academy games on a Friday night would be a change of pace for Fox. Instead of airing manufactured matchups between schools that should never be in the same conference, Fox can showcase the true heart of college football by airing Air Force-Army or Air Force-Navy. Showcasing rivalries that transcend sports instead of the growing shift from college football roots, is the proper way to utilitarian a Friday night network TV slot.

Air Force’s games with Army and Navy have long played second-fiddle to the Army-Navy game. The Army-Navy game gets its own week, while Air Force’s Service Academy matchups are afterthoughts on loaded college football Saturdays. An occasional move to Friday night gives Air Force’s games with Army and Navy long overdue respect.

Viewership will increase, and those will essentially become standalone games on Friday nights. Perhaps some cooperation with the greed of TV executives could increase the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy’s standing as one of college football’s most important rivalries.