As a long-suffering backer of the Sons of Slum and Gravy, I was not shocked to see another opinion piece tilting at the windmill of Army football. College sports are a favorite whipping boy, and football takes the lion’s share of the lashes. Army football is no stranger to such criticism. The latest salvo against the role of football at the nation’s premiere service academy came early last week. Maj. Dwight Mears—a West Point history professor—offered his thoughts on academy leaders’ efforts to reinvigorate a flagging program. After a dozen losses to the U.S. Naval Academy and years of losing seasons, West Point is considering taking “educated risks” to restore its program to respectability. Mears believes football derails the Academy from its mission of producing Army officers. Not only is he wrong, but the facts he chose to fit his conclusion undervalue the sport and West Point’s players.

Mears believes that West Point cheapens itself for football. He points out that 60% of the current team entered through the Academy’s prep school. The elitist implication is that these young men dilute the talent pool because they don’t meet West Point’s rigorous standards. Yet those prep school graduates make up roughly 18% of a West Point class—about 200 cadets. Of those, only about 50 to 60 cadets play football. The balance of a prep school class consists of athletes recruited for other sports, minorities, and enlisted Army soldiers seeking to become officers. Apparently, Mears believes the overall success of the academy hinges on that handful of young men he feels don’t measure up, to say nothing of the rest of the prep school graduates. His real concern appears to be the existence of a prep school at all, and his laments suggest he believes that the prep school fails at its “preparatory” mission.

As evidence of football’s detrimental effect on West Point’s ability to produce the “best possible officers for long-term service in the Army,” Mears claims football players leave the Army earlier, or fail to reach the higher ranks. An examination of the Army careers of top cadets would likely yield similar findings. The most talented grads often leave the Army swiftly for more lucrative opportunities. West Point boasts 89 Rhodes Scholars, but only three became top generals. Mears takes no issue with the effect of that mass exodus, though. Bell curves have two tails, and those at either end of the USMA academic talent pool do not make the Army their long-term home. Geniuses who depart the Army at five years are worth no more to the institution than a hard-nosed linebacker who does the same. In fact, they may sometimes be worth less.

West Point grads know that for every football player who struggles with math, a math-whiz struggles with pushups. Officership is not a purely academic affair, despite Mears’ insistence on measuring cadets’ worth in such narrow terms. Until smart cadets failing fitness tests are televised on Saturdays, though, football will be the easy bogeyman.

Mears does not see the value of football because he views it through an antiquated lens. He subscribes to longtime cadet trainer Herman Koehler’s view—that athletics are “for the good the individual gets out of them.” How delightfully Victorian! Perhaps every cadet should take a cold shower each morning for its invigorative properties, too. The Mess Hall should serve castor oil with each meal to embolden young bodies against the rigors of winter weather.  All of these notions are laughably antiquated and sadly myopic. West Point is not Eton College, and athletics at all levels offer cadets far more than the staid lessons of graceful losing and healthful living.

No longer the Ivy League affectation it was in Koehler’s day, college football is now the second-most popular sport in America. Such visibility cannot be dismissed offhand. West Point must still sell itself to the next generation of the best and brightest youngsters. Yet, despite two very visible wars, the Army and its academy have become ever more distant from the public. Football is vital to the institution’s image in America. The hallowed ground of Michie Stadium makes West Point visceral and real in the minds of youngsters pondering their bright futures.

West Point’s mission is to make combat leaders. In so many ways, such leadership is the art of taking educated risks. Retired general and Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins is right: making West Point a place of winners is worth such risks. To say otherwise is to shy away from the challenge—a challenge to which the Naval and Air Force Academies have risen without their walls crumbling. Critics of West Point’s efforts to improve the football program never make the argument that football has ruined the Naval Academy, because it has not.

The Army is a contact sport, and despite Mears’ disdain for Gen. MacArthur’s famous quip, there truly is no substitute for victory. The ethos of total victory is why soldiers and graduates have sacrificed life and limb for over 230 years. That ethos must mean something every day—including Saturdays. The will to compete against the powers of college football is a bold declaration of the fighting spirit West Point instills in each graduate.  Winning must be the exclamation point.

Perhaps West Point’s greater concern should be that one of its history professors believes that the post-MacArthur outcome of the Korean War was an acceptable substitute for victory.

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Outrageously handsome. Infinitely practical. Stunningly insightful. An Ozymandian tour de force of college football punditry. Makes Jesse Palmer's tie look fat.

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  1. Geoff Earnhart

    MAJ Mears is a combat aviator with multiple deployments. He has plenty of time overseas and is strongly devoted to producing the best officers for the Army. He may not have done as many deployments as some others, but according to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Martin Dempsey, having an advanced civilian degree is at least as important as years and years of combat deployments. The government paid for his masters degree, not his PhD. Any instructor who desires to continue past the masters degree does so on their own dime.

    This response is both myopic, cliché, and poorly informed. Let me address a few key highlights because I am bored and this is easy pickings. These are my views and I am not speaking for MAJ Mears:

    “Apparently, Mears believes the overall success of the academy hinges on that handful of young men he feels don’t measure up, to say nothing of the rest of the prep school graduates.” — Let’s assume “Fumblerooski” is correct and 50-60 of the 200 prep school candidates are football recruits with the rest being Army vets, racial minorities, etc. That is 50-60 opportunities lost for veterans to attend USMA. If more “risk” is taken with football recruits, how many more slots will they need in the prep school? Who is going to lose out? My guess is enlisted veterans looking to become officers.

    “Mears does not see the value of football because he views it through an antiquated lens.” – About 300 cadets play NCAA athletics. That is 300 out of the 4400 cadets at USMA. The remaining 4400 have far fewer resources devoted to their athletic development. That includes all the “math-whiz’s” struggling with pushups. By the way, muscle can be strengthened even in the weakest new cadet, but bottom line intellectual ability isn’t something USMA can pump-up easily.

    “Yet, despite two very visible wars, the Army and its academy have become ever more distant from the public. Football is vital to the institution’s image in America.” – Society and the military are moving away from each partly because some of the top leaders in the Army mismanaged those two highly visible wars for reasons that playing football would not have fixed. More importantly is the changing social attitudes towards military service, the gradual transformation of officership into a family trade, and the feeling that soldiering is what “other people’s kids do.” Football is not going to fix those issues one bit.

    “Perhaps West Point’s greater concern should be that one of its history professors believes that the post-MacArthur outcome of the Korean War was an acceptable substitute for victory.” – Leave the study of war to people who study war, please. In the history of the United States, there have been only three occasions where we achieved “total victory”: the Mexican-American War, the US Civil War, and World War II. Looking at military history in breadth, one quickly sees that total victory as described by MacArthur is the exception, not the rule. Also, let’s put MacArthur in his proper context. He was an exceptionally gifted operational military leader, but he was also an insubordinate narcissist. How would you react if the CENTCOM commander told the press that President Obama didn’t know what he was doing in Afghanistan. Perhaps “Fumblerooski” would like to reply to this comment about what he would have considered “total victory” in Korea given the military situation and geopolitical situation in 1953.

    I’m not saying Army football is a bad thing, and I would like to see them winning more games as well. Almost all of West Point NCAA teams achieve much more competitive success than the football team, but they aren’t as visible. There is no Army-Navy lacrosse game televised in CBS. But, a platoon of soldiers who may face combat deserve a disciplined, fit, AND intelligent leader to lead them into battle. “Accepting risk” on football recruits, means denying admission to candidates that are less talented on the gridiron but perhaps more talented in those areas that really matter for being a good officer. Areas that cannot be developed by doing pushups.

    Reply
    • Fumblerooski

      MAJ Mears is a combat aviator with multiple deployments. He has plenty of time overseas and is strongly devoted to producing the best officers for the Army. He may not have done as many deployments as some others, but according to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Martin Dempsey, having an advanced civilian degree is at least as important as years and years of combat deployments. The government paid for his masters degree, not his PhD. Any instructor who desires to continue past the masters degree does so on their own dime.

      While we can (and have, internally) debate MAJ Mears’ “combat” experience all day, that misses the point. It’s too easy to mock Army fixed-wing aviators, so we’ll leave it alone. It’s not germane to the issue. It’s great the GEN Dempsey feels that was about a masters. Of course, he’s done nothing to actually afford a decent degree program to Army officers, so one must wonder how much he and his subordinate CSA actually care when the Army continues to be a force built on mail-in masters degrees. Nonetheless, you’ll find very few soldiers and NCOs who value a leader’s degree in Russian History as much as combat experience. But, they’re not generals so they’re probably wrong. Good for MAJ Mears for having a degree. I couldn’t care either way, which is why I didn’t mention it.


      This response is both myopic, cliché, and poorly informed. Let me address a few key highlights because I am bored and this is easy pickings. These are my views and I am not speaking for MAJ Mears:

      Don’t use my words. It makes me sad. By the by, I’m not sure you understand what “easy pickings” are. So, we beat on…


      “Apparently, Mears believes the overall success of the academy hinges on that handful of young men he feels don’t measure up, to say nothing of the rest of the prep school graduates.” — Let’s assume “Fumblerooski” is correct and 50-60 of the 200 prep school candidates are football recruits with the rest being Army vets, racial minorities, etc. That is 50-60 opportunities lost for veterans to attend USMA. If more “risk” is taken with football recruits, how many more slots will they need in the prep school? Who is going to lose out? My guess is enlisted veterans looking to become officers.

      This is why arguments based on guessing are a bad idea. You’re shooting from the hip and aiming for the “veteran” heartstring. You shot sails wide. Annually, West Point has great difficulty filling its allotted slots for active duty veterans. Plainly, it’s hard to find enough young, motivated, fit, unmarried, Soldiers who are willing to leave a steady career behind for a chance to start over in that same career after four or five years of struggle in a college environment which is Spartan by comparison to their lives as E3s. The idea that football players are “taking” slots which veterans are dying to use is completely false. But, it sure hits those emotional notes that make hating the football program easier.

      Secondly, let’s talk of veterans for a moment. Mears beats the drum of academic standards and points to the prep school as Exhibit A of the academy marginalizng itself for the people it needs. Like it or not, Mears’ disdain for football players applies equally to veterans if we take his words about lowered standards at face value. He believes that WP should be producing the best, without compromise. Veterans are a compromise. Almost every soldier who goes to West Point must go through USMAPS to raise his/her skills to a level where academic success becomes possible. The academy is willing to do that for them because it believes veterans provide an intangible benefit to the Corps—the same way it does for academically marginal football players, academically marginal minorities, and academically marginal women. Those folks get assistance via USMAPS because they also provide a huge benefit to the institution. Whether some people like it or not, the football program does, too.


      “Mears does not see the value of football because he views it through an antiquated lens.” – About 300 cadets play NCAA athletics. That is 300 out of the 4400 cadets at USMA. The remaining 4400 have far fewer resources devoted to their athletic development. That includes all the “math-whiz’s” struggling with pushups. By the way, muscle can be strengthened even in the weakest new cadet, but bottom line intellectual ability isn’t something USMA can pump-up easily.

      A fantastic red herring argument there. Yes, NCAA athletes have more money and resources allocated toward their physical development. First off, so what? Is that a surprise to anyone? Smart cadets have far more money and resources dedicated toward their academic achievement. You are aware that USMA’s scholarship winners are the result of a class section which teaches, coaches, and prepares them for scholarship competition, aren’t you? Is that somehow less unequal than the division of resources between Johnny Gung-ho Average Cadet, and his Corps Squad counterparts? No, but grooming little geniuses is always more socially palatable, isn’t it? I’m waiting with bated breath for Mears’ article about the misallocation of academic resources to a certain few at the expense of the greater whole. Something tells me I’ll pass out.

      You’re right, intellectual muscle is harder to pump up. That strikes right at the heart of several academy issues. If, as Mears contends, smarts matter above all, then he cannot be in favor of accepting veterans into the Corps, or under-represented minorities, or anyone else who lacks the academic pedigree of a co-applicant. There in lies the danger for Mears, you, and all others who sound the alarm claxon over academic standards: you’re saying a lot more about a great many more people than you think you are. You’re saying you’re against a lot more than football players. Do you believe that black cadets from inner-city schools who show promise should be denied a spot in favor of a white, private school applicant from the same district? It would seem so, since that intellectual muscle is so much harder to pump up. The same goes for veterans. After all, GEN Dempsey said that academics is as good as experience, so why waste time trying to make soldiers fit the WP model? Just find a candidate who is smarter—whose intellectual muscles might need less pumping-up—and be done with it.

      As for to the notion that USMA doesn’t lower physical standards for smart cadets—total hogwash. Spend some time working with admissions and you’ll realize why there is no official cut-off score for the CFA. There are norms and benchmarks, but a brilliant academic candidate can get in with a physical profile that would keep an average candidate out. Again, I assume Mears will be railing against the WCS admissions model and the allowances it makes for such deficiencies any minute now…

      Moreover, is anyone shocked that NCAA athletes have more dedicated to their development? Even so, WP is an embarrassment of physical riches. Saying that football players get more at the expense of other cadets is like grousing to a street urchin about the injustice of the football team getting gold spoons while other cadets only get silver spoons. Every cadet has more developmental activities at his fingertips than he can generally stomach. Just ask DPE. NCAA athletes get more, but it’s not at the expense of the average cadet. Anyone who thinks so isn’t paying attention.


      “Yet, despite two very visible wars, the Army and its academy have become ever more distant from the public. Football is vital to the institution’s image in America.” – Society and the military are moving away from each partly because some of the top leaders in the Army mismanaged those two highly visible wars for reasons that playing football would not have fixed. More importantly is the changing social attitudes towards military service, the gradual transformation of officership into a family trade, and the feeling that soldiering is what “other people’s kids do.” Football is not going to fix those issues one bit.


      Interesting…so you maintain that the divide began and widened because of two mis-handled wars? I think you probably don’t mean that. You have, however, done a wonderful job of supporting the original point about the Army team. No one wants to believe that football sells the Army. But it does. It just plain does. Do you think it’s an accident that every Big Ten game is sponsored by the United States Marine Corps, and chock full of Ooh-rah Marine Corps commercials? No, it is not an accident. Football is the direct line to the eyeballs and minds of young Americans. Without football, how do you sell West Point? Without the Army-Navy game, how does the average high-schooler from Arizona know about West Point? He doesn’t. It’s lovely that you want to make officership a “family trade” (ah, the trappings of a budding aristocracy!), but you can’t wish it so. NCAA sports—particularly football—are literally the best vehicle for that. If that’s truly your desire, you should be leading the charge at Michie.


      “Perhaps West Point’s greater concern should be that one of its history professors believes that the post-MacArthur outcome of the Korean War was an acceptable substitute for victory.” – Leave the study of war to people who study war, please. In the history of the United States, there have been only three occasions where we achieved “total victory”: the Mexican-American War, the US Civil War, and World War II. Looking at military history in breadth, one quickly sees that total victory as described by MacArthur is the exception, not the rule. Also, let’s put MacArthur in his proper context. He was an exceptionally gifted operational military leader, but he was also an insubordinate narcissist. How would you react if the CENTCOM commander told the press that President Obama didn’t know what he was doing in Afghanistan. Perhaps “Fumblerooski” would like to reply to this comment about what he would have considered “total victory” in Korea given the military situation and geopolitical situation in 1953.


      I’m not sure how I’d feel if a military officer very publicly and very pointedly said a senior leader didn’t know what he was doing on an issue. Let’s ask LTG Caslen. I’m sure he has some insight into a situation like that…

      Total victory in Korea was achievable in 1950 and 1951. To consider it in 1953 is no different than saying “well, let’s assume Dunkirk didn’t happen” and then talk about how we win WWII before 1943. Truman overestimated the strategic danger of sweeping across the Yalu and we’ve paid for it ever since. However, you miss the point. Whether or not you believe Truman and MacArthur were right or wrong matters not. The point remains: there is no SUBSTITUTE for victory. What resulted in Panmunjom may have been the only workable solution at the time. That, however, is completely separate from whether a 60-year truce and the resultant geopolitical mess was a substitute (i.e. an equally worthy solution) to victory (it is not, nor ever will be). Would you rather have total victory in Afghanistan, or what we’ll end up with? The former may not be possible at this juncture, but that does not make the latter the preferable outcome.


      I’m not saying Army football is a bad thing, and I would like to see them winning more games as well.


      Yes, it seems like you want the magical Have-Your-Cake-And-Eat-It-Too Fairy to make the team competitive free of charge in any and all ways. Let me know if the fairy does arrive, because I have an SUV I’d like to see get 68 mpg and have go-kart handling.


      Almost all of West Point NCAA teams achieve much more competitive success than the football team, but they aren’t as visible. There is no Army-Navy lacrosse game televised in CBS.


      Correct. As I said, American watches football. If speed skating was our national love, we’d be talking about that instead. But we aren’t Dutch. You can’t bend the national attention to your will, but you can focus your outreach efforts where people are always looking.


      But, a platoon of soldiers who may face combat deserve a disciplined, fit, AND intelligent leader to lead them into battle. “Accepting risk” on football recruits, means denying admission to candidates that are less talented on the gridiron but perhaps more talented in those areas that really matter for being a good officer. Areas that cannot be developed by doing pushups.

      Completely false. Be very careful about what you assume. The risk the SUPT is considering is not “let some dumb jocks in.” The risk involves tailoring schedules, rethinking summer training, and revamping the inner workings of the program to make the team more capable while still meeting the academy’s mission. Only Mears is claiming that this means a wholesale cheapening of the Academy, and his motives are highly suspect. His article, which some claim was “well-researched” offered nothing in terms of references that one could actually critique (oh, an obscure reference to an “internal study”…bravo) and curiously cited Lance Betros as a “historian” rather than as West Point history faculty. Interesting choices all around.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Interaction is always good. Best.

      FR

      Reply
      • Lecho LaMay

        Great debate points here fellas. Just one bone of contention Mr. Fumblerooski:
        “You are aware that USMA’s scholarship winners are the result of a class section which teaches, coaches, and prepares them for scholarship competition, aren’t you? Is that somehow less unequal than the division of resources between Johnny Gung-ho Average Cadet, and his Corps Squad counterparts?”
        The answer to this question is unequivocally YES. USMA scholarship winners are not equivalent to D-1 recruited athletes. Unless the academy starts a program where super-nerds unable to otherwise qualify for the academy are recruited and sent to a special program that allows them to circumvent/fudge certain academy standards and bypass aspects of cadet life in order to win scholarships, AND cadets outside of this program are not eligible for the scholarships and benefits of such a program, this is a false equivalency.

        Good points, both of you. Truthfully, this is not an empirical debate. The argument comes down to your opinion of how much the success of the football program supports the academy mission. Does the benefit outweigh the drawbacks? Hopefully people on both sides can keep this civil, since any claim of a “factual” answer to this debate can only be issued from your 4th point of contact. Then again, this IS the internet.

        Personally I believe that a strong Army team is good for everyone, and as a lifelong fan, it has been a long painful fall from the glory days (and I don’t even mean championships, I just mean frim 1996). I want the team to be better. I don’t want the academy to relax standards or change admissions in the name of sports. The question is whether those two ideals are simultaneously achievable.

        Hails.

      • Fumblerooski

        Two points:

        1. There is a system for bringing in “super-nerds” who would not otherwise physically qualify for the academy. It’s called the Whole Candidate Score model and it’s how virtually every candidate matriculates to WP. As COL McDonald or any RC can tell you, there is a reason the Candidate Fitness Assessment does not have pass/fail minimum. Quite simply, a “super nerd” can gain admission with physical scores that would keep an average candidate out. That is a fact that is often overlooked for its potential to admit poor future officers, because WP cherishes its academic pedigree.

        2. The scholarship program is the analog of ODIA and the perks corps squad athletes receive. Earnhart’s point was that the football program steals resources that other cadets should be using for physical development, taking on outsized portion of academy attention and money. Make no mistake: the scholarship program is another outsized expenditure of resousces on a select few. Those scholarships do not just happen as a result of hardworking cadets. That is a manufactured outcome. USMA trounces USNA and USAFA on scholarships because USMA leaders devote exceptional resources to securing scholarships of all kinds. They, like a winning football program, are a public jewel in the USMA crown which cannot be achieved without extra effort and focus the average cadet does not receive. Rhodes Scholarships neither enhance officership nor enhance the outcomes for the class as a whole. They are, however, a great selling point. USMA is happy to chase them as a result. One cannot be at ease with the extra attention and devotion the scholarship cadets receive while simultaneously being opposed to the extra physical development the football team receives. They are both special populations with special talents–talents which the academy hones and focuses on to achieve very visible outcomes in the name of making WP’s image.

    • Fumblerooski

      Addendum: It’s ironic that you and Maj. Mears both bring up MacArthur for criticism—MacArthur, as many point out, was a self-declared professional genius who sought to aggrandize himself by dragging his superiors’ names and decisions through the mud, speaking “truth to power” in the papers to force his own agenda in keeping with his singular view of how the world should function. He and Mears have more than just their alma mater in common.

      Reply
  2. Faculty Member

    What the author fails to consider is that spot offered by admissions to an academically “at-risk” football player is one that cannot be offered to a better-qualified applicant. What the author fails to appreciate is just HOW subpar many West Point football players (and other recruited athletes) are academically. I’ve been on the faculty for nearly two decades and can tell you with certainty that there are athletes with verbal or math SAT scores that dip below 400. Not only are these individuals not qualified to be West Point cadets and Army officers; they are also not qualified to be in college. The author’s notion that the smartest cadets are more likely to be out-of-shape weaklings is also false. While the Academy drops academic standards to admit top sports recruits, it does not drop physical standards to admit applicants with superior academic records. I have no doubt that the author means well. But I suspect that he or she appreciates neither just how poor some of our athletes are as students nor how dangerous it is to place such people, if they make it through West Point (much easier now since, to accommodate athletes, we offer not one but THREE summer school sessions for the many who flunk), in positions of grave responsibility as officers.

    Reply
  3. Jason

    @Geoff Earnhart, Make sure you aren’t talking out of your ass before you call someone out for doing the same. The Army DOES fund PhD programs for selected officers in various programs across the Army be it West Point, medical services, etc.

    MAJ Mears, the “multiple tour combat veteran” obviously doesn’t understand that whole “2nd and 3rd order effects” thingy real, effective leaders actually learn. He does his best behind the safety of acadamia. Geoff, verbose statements do not make you correct, they make you look stupid.

    Reply
  4. Geoff Earnhart

    This will be my final comment on this thread but I wanted to offer a limited response to some of the critiques of my earlier post.

    @Jason. Do not use the word “thingy” in your comment and then accuse me of looking stupid with my statements. Rotating instructors at USMA, like MAJ Mears, do not receive funding for a PhD. If the Academy accepts someone as an Academy Professor, then that person receive funding for you PhD. I chose my words carefully. The second order effect of this decision is to send a clear message that being competitive on the football field is more important than being successful in the classroom. Does not matter how nuanced you make the statement, that is the message.

    @Fumblrsooski:

    First, BG(ret.)/Dr. Lance Betros is the provost of the US Army War College and has a PhD in history from UNC Chapel Hill. He is both a former faculty member and a historian.

    Here is my argument:

    Professional debate about the health of West Point as an institution is not the same as the insubordination MacArthur showed to Truman during Korea. Yes, MAJ Mears does disagree with LTG Caslen with respect to accepting risk on the academic abilities of football recruits; much like a major at CGSC might publish a paper questioning the applicability of a certain doctrine in “Military Review.” And the decision is very much about accepting some risk with their academic abilities as the following quote from Corrigan makes clear: “We want to be able to take an educated risk on someone that we’ve identified holistically. We’re not talking about five deviations from the average cadet.” And this quote from BG Dawkins: “It’s entirely fair to accept some risks and then tutor them and make them successful. I think it’s something we can do without compromising the standards and culture of the place.” If the changes being considers may include more than just baseline acceptance standard, but that is the public face of this.

    Football should not be the method by which we seek to reconnect to the nation. Former SecDef Gates expressed his concerns about the growing civil-military divide. Having a veteran mother or father makes one far more likely to join the military, as does growing up in the mountain West, rural South, or Midwest. Football is not going to change that trend, no matter how many games the Army team wins. It may make West Point more visible, but there are certainly other ways to make that happen.

    I stand by my comment that our recent wars were mismanaged. Comparing our national policy objectives and operational plans to the outcomes of Iraq and Afghanistan leaves me no other opinion but that something went terribly wrong. The problem was not at as much at the tactical level where courageous Soldiers and junior leaders excelled, but at the strategic level. Thinking strategically starts with academic development at the undergraduate level, so I reject the idea that all West Point must do is produce good platoon leaders. Our Army is entering a period when “victory” must be redefined from the World War II paradigm. Much more likely will be conflicts that end with an unsatisfying status quo, much like the warfare of the 18th and 19th Centuries. “There is no substitute for victory” leaves us incapable of accepting that reality. For evidence, see Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Perhaps, the debate around the football program is an analogy for the wider debate about what West Point is supposed to be. Is it primarily an officer factory or an academic institution? Is the development it provides principally academic, or should academic learning be on par or subordinate to physical, emotional, tactical, and social development? Is it a lieutenant preparation course or the beginning of the education of future generals?

    I once had a conversation with a colonel who asked whether my class would care about Army football 40 years from now. He asserted that perhaps the drive among the alumni for a winning program had more to do with nostalgia for their cadet experience than with a harsh appraisal of the role West Point and Army football will play in the 21st Century. In my opinion, this decision has more to do with the past than the future.

    Nice debating though. I needed the intellectual scrimmage.

    Reply
    • Fumblerooski

      Professional debate occurs among professionals. Posting an Op-Ed in a national newspaper takes that discussion from a “debate” among professionals and invites every rank amateur with an internet connection to take part. Mears’ decision to criticize the USMA leadership in the most public of forums was no more a professional debate than the two muppets in the opera box. A professional debate occurs in a professional setting. This was anything but, and Mears knows that. Of course, it doesn’t take much digging to discover why that choice was made.

      Dawkins’ points are his own, and while his legend runs deep he is not the superintendent. His views on the hows, whys, and wherefores of academic development are simply that: his views. They cannot be upheld as West Point’s policy and then attacked as a proxy for forthcoming changes. The changes remain to be seen, and the initial set of changes goes far beyond academics.

      I’m well aware who Lance is and his current state of employment. Opinions on the War College notwithstanding, Mears’ very careful choice to not mention Lance’s connection to Mears’ own history department was worth a chuckle. To the uninitiated it made Lance seem like some objective outsider who took a very measured look at USMA, lest he be seen as the Dwight Mears of an earlier day—a history prof with an ax to grind and an eye toward being published. Full disclosure was deliberately avoided.

      Reply
      • Geoff Earnhart

        Fumblerooski, I am going to disagree with you on this one, but not on your opinion of Michigan. We are on the same page on that one.

  5. reginald elphinstone

    You successfully argue that just as many smart cadets underperform in the Army as football playing cadets, thus defeating Mears’ arguments on this point. Other than that however, you oversimplify Mears’ arguments while failing to prove your own.

    Mears does not say football derails the Academy’s mission, he says overemphasizing football at the expense of standards derails the Academy’s mission. He does not advocate cadets being measured exclusively through academics, but rather warns of the consequences that can and have happened when academic standards suffer in the name of athletics.

    Your accusation of Mears’ “Victorian” appeal to Herman Koehler is pure ad hominem. Just because an idea is old does not mean it is wrong or obsolete. The point Mears wants to make is that the architects of West Point athletics believed cadets could benefit from sports while avoiding the pursuit of winning above all else.

    It’s hard to buy your argument that without football, the Academy would fail to successfully sell itself to the next generation. There is no reason to believe that West Point will not attract talented future officers unless it adds good football to its image as the nation’s premier warrior leadership institution.

    The biggest obstacle to your argument is why football must have a monopoly on defining West Point as “a place of winners.” The Academy has dozens of competitive teams and clubs, 14 of which were national or conference champs last year. Why do none of their victories count?

    Reply
    • Fumblerooski

      They count in the technical sense. They count for banners in the gym. They count for blurbs on the Army Sports website.

      But no one cares. Sorry, they just don’t. Team Handball? No one cares. Wrestling? I love wrestling to death. Greatest civilized test of man’s mettle. But no one cares. I said it before and I’ll say it again: football matters more because this is America, where football matters more. Why does CNBC report the Dow and S&P every day, without any mention that the uranium market has offered triple digit returns? Because no one cares. Why does the news report endlessly on the disappearance of a pretty blonde girl in Aruba but go a decade without mentioning the kidnapping and destruction of child soldiers in Uganda? Because the sad cruel fact is that no one in this country cares enough to make that juice worth the squeeze. How many murders were there in Chicago last week? Don’t know? Me neither. Because we don’t care. We want to care, but we are creatures of finite attention and devotion. That extends to all things, even our love of sport.

      In a world of limited resources you have to go with bang for the buck. You go where people are looking and make yourself attractive. You don’t go where no one is looking and try to turn their attention away from the biggest draw in college sports in the hopes that the average kid will want to brag about the USMA rifle team. It doesn’t work that way. It never has.

      Also, you don’t know what ad hominem means.

      Reply
  6. Jason

    @Geoff Earnhart
    You still won’t admit how wrong you are? You are saying with 100% certainty that USMA does not fund PhDs? Well we better get that note to sosh and CME right away.
    You are a barracks lawyer, a bullshitter, with bullshit logic trying to be collegial on a public blog.
    What is with you narcissistic, snobby pogues from the History department?
    A 2-year masters in history all of a sudden makes you superior to 99.9% of the population?
    And then you can’t even fact check yourself so you don’t look like a dumbass arguing on a satirical blog!
    How do you even have time to think about this shit in you current position while maintaining a life as well (I’m going out on a limb here with this assumption)?
    Let alone, you craft these bullshit response sonnets full of factually inaccurate statements.
    Come on, man!

    Reply

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