In the arrested reconfiguring of whatever the 2020 season will be, most teams still playing college football this year have reduced their total number of games by closing ranks and staying in conference. But Army, the sole independent program among the three FBS service academies, navigated the uncertainty of 2020 upheaval to create a new 12-game schedule that features eight home games.
Details that often work against West Point in recruiting players — no conference affiliation, having a national footprint but not a regional one, the rigidity of service academy life versus a normal collegiate experience, the triple option — also make it difficult to schedule games. In the unique tumult of this offseason, those factors actually helped the Black Knights create a favorable schedule that, if the games are all played, could make Army the FBS’ most prolific team.
Here’s Army’s original 2020 schedule, pre-pandemic, featuring six home games, five road games and (for now) the neutral site finale against Navy:
Sept. 4 BUCKNELL
Sept. 12 at Rice
Sept. 26 OKLAHOMA
Oct. 3 at Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 10 PRINCETON
Oct. 17 EASTERN MICHIGAN
Oct. 24 BUFFALO
Nov. 7 AIR FORCE
Nov. 14 at Tulane
Nov. 21 at UMass
Nov. 28 at UConn
Dec. 12 vs. Navy (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Note the home game with Oklahoma, the biggest non-conference opponent to come to West Point in decades. Sure, playing four consecutive home games and then three on the road is a little chunky, but it’s not an uncommon practice for FBS independents who have to deal with scheduling around other leagues’ in-conference play.
Almost every FBS schedule is determined years in advance; right now Army has their 2026 schedule finalized. But here’s what the Black Knights managed, in the span of under two months, as programs up and down their schedule dropped or postponed or changed their seasons due to COVID-19:
Sept. 5 MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Sept. 12 LOUISIANA-MONROE
Sept. 19 BYU
Sept. 26 at No. 20 Cincinnati
Oct. 3 ABILENE CHRISTIAN
Oct. 10 THE CITADEL
Oct. 17 at UTSA
Oct. 24 MERCER
Nov. 7 AIR FORCE
Nov. 14 at Tulane
NOV. 21 GEORGIA SOUTHERN
Dec. 12 Navy*
Tulane and fellow academies Navy and Air Force are the only opponents remaining from the original lineup. Starting in May, Army athletic director Mike Buddie tried to examine potential scheduling losses, including a scenario where a total overhaul of the schedule would be required.
“I met with [senior associate AD] Bob Beretta, who does our schedule. We ran every scenario we could think of, and under the assumption we would have an opportunity to play, we started to prepare for the worst,” Buddie said.
Once the Ivy League cancelled its season in early July, removing Princeton, Buddie and his team began actively contacting replacements of every size.
“That was the first domino, and we knew that if the Ivy makes a decision, the Patriot League is likely soon to follow, which meant we’d lose Bucknell,” Buddie said.
November road games at fellow independents UConn and UMass disappeared next when both cancelled their seasons, creating a headache. Most of college football plays conference games at that time of year, and the few programs with open dates weren’t in love with the idea of prepping for a triple-option team that took Oklahoma and Michigan to overtime in consecutive years.
“But I remember saying, ‘Well, as long as the MAC stays strong [The MAC suspended its fall sports schedule a month after the Big Ten, which had ten games scheduled against the MAC], we’ll keep those three games [Eastern Michigan, Miami Ohio and Buffalo] and be able to work out replacements. We can adjust.’ And after their announcement, it felt like an all-out scramble,” Buddie said.
Here’s the blueprint for how Army flipped nine opponents in six weeks:
1. Open channels with other FBS independents
The list of non-conference FBS programs is motley — Army, UMass, UConn, New Mexico State, Liberty, BYU and Notre Dame — but that odd group created an open channel to communicate during the cancellations. Once the home game with Oklahoma was postponed indefinitely, Army became aspirational, pitching themselves to top Power 5 programs still playing in 2020.
“To be honest with you, we struck out,” Buddie said. “But that’s how BYU showed up, and now we have a very intriguing matchup with two national fan bases.”
With the Cougars’ schedule also in disrepair, BYU agreed to a home-and-home, going to West Point this season with a return date in Provo slated for 2032.
2. Add on FCS teams from conferences (or states) still playing
The Black Knights will face three FCS opponents in their revised schedule, swapping Princeton and Bucknell for Abilene Christian (Texas), Mercer (Georgia) and The Citadel (South Carolina).
In a normal year this might be a problem, as NCAA rules state that FBS programs like Army can only count one win over a FCS opponent for the six needed to qualify as bowl-eligible. The NCAA passed a waiver in July allowing for two FCS wins to count this season, meaning that IF the 2020 slate is even played to completion, and IF bowls happen at all this winter, Army can count two wins from that trio of games towards postseason eligibility.Army normally doubles up on FCS teams to complete their schedule, so adding a third in this insane year makes some sense.
3. Swap the MAC for the Sun Belt
Army actually ended up with eight home games thanks to the SEC. Because that league cancelled all of its non-conference games to play a 10-game, all-SEC schedule, Group of 5 FBS programs in the Sun Belt and C-USA who had already budgeted travel for their “paycheck” games at SEC schools needed road games.
With Air Force at home and BYU coming to Michie Stadium, Army was already up to five home games with three FCS opponents. Army offered guaranteed payments to Georgia Southern and MTSU to help defray their costs, and signed another home-and-home with ULM.
4. Navy could be the NINTH home game on the schedule
As of now, the Army/Navy game is scheduled to be played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia this December, as originally planned. However, if those plans have to change or fans aren’t allowed to attend, it’s possible the game could move to a campus in front of a restricted crowd. Army is designated as the home team for 2020, meaning it’s at least possible the game could move to West Point for the first time since 1943.
“We’ll play that game in Montana if that’s the only safe way to play it,” said Buddie.” “We will consider every option.”