Air Force-Navy, Army-BC in limbo

WASHINGTON -- Army, Navy and Air Force might be forced to skip their football games next weekend because of the budget impasse in Congress.

The Defense Department temporarily suspended sports competition at the service academies Tuesday as a result of the partial government shutdown.

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

Meantime, the suspension put a pair of college football games in jeopardy: Army at Boston College, and Air Force at Navy.

AP Photo/Doug McSchooler

The budget impasse in Congress may force Army, Navy and Air Force to cancel their football games this weekend.

The U.S. Naval Academy said in a statement that a decision will be made by noon Thursday about whether the Midshipmen will play the Air Force. Navy's football team did practice Tuesday.

Air Force associate athletic director Troy Garnhart said travel for his sports teams was being halted -- including for Saturday's football game at Annapolis, Md. A scheduled news conference with Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun and players was canceled Tuesday "due to the government shutdown," according to a statement.

Defense Department spokesman Bill Urban said lawyers are trying to determine whether non-appropriated funds might be used by the Air Force team to travel to Navy and the Army team to travel to Boston College for Saturday's scheduled games.

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

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

The U.S. Naval Academy fully funds its athletics 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 athletics 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. Currently, a legal review is underway. The service academy's football games for this weekend have not been canceled as we speak."

As for Army against Boston College, BC athletic director Brad Bates said in an email to ESPNBoston.com: "We are in constant communication with West Point and they are telling me it is not a simple dollar and cent issue."

Bates indicated Wednesday that the school even 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)."

The U.S. Military Academy issued a statement saying, "Sporting competitions can still be at risk but are being assessed by our chain of command and Department of the Army."

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.

Navy's soccer game against Howard, scheduled for Tuesday night, was called off. It was not immediately known whether it would be made up.

Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com and Jack McCluskey of ESPNBoston.com contributed to this report.

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