Why the gap between Navy and Army football is no coincidence

Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (left) helped the Midshipmen to a 14th consecutive victory over Army this season.

Tommy Gilligan/Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Stewart Mandel’s Dec. 16 Mailbag. For his full Mailbag, click here, and to submit a question for next week, email Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.

Stewart: Navy just beat Army for the 14th year in a row. Have you seen an annual game between two historically even-matched rivals become so one-sided? This isn’t Florida vs. Kentucky or Notre Dame vs. Navy, where one team will always have superior talent. Navy and Army recruit the same players. They are almost the same teams. What has happened?

— Daniel from Houston

They may have been the same team in the 1940s, but not today. Navy established a consistent program beginning under Paul Johnson and continuing under Ken Niumatalolo, whereas Army has been struggling to find its identity. Jeff Monken is the sixth different Army coach who’s lost to Navy during this streak. Army’s had one winning record this century. Navy’s only had one losing season since 2003. If a recruit who qualifies to play for the two were choosing his team solely for football, he’s probably going to choose the one that’s winning.

But obviously, nobody chooses to play for a service academy solely for football, because they’re also committing to military service after football. And those familiar with the academies will tell you it’s no coincidence the programs’ disparate trajectories began not long after 9/11. The U.S. military has been involved in some form of foreign conflict near constantly ever since.

While plenty of future Navy and Air Force officers go on to serve in dangerous areas, the Army is more universally associated with combat — which makes it a lot harder to persuade a 17-year-old to sign on.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.