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Army declares independence

[ Originally posted 07.10.03 ]

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WEST POINT, NY (AP) — Army's football team will leave Conference USA after the 2004 season to play as an independent again.

The U.S. Military Academy is making the move, in part, to have more flexibility in scheduling, superintendent Lt. Gen. William Lennox Jr. said Thursday.

``We are committed to building a competitive football program at the highest level,'' Lennox said.

Army joined the conference as a football-only member in 1998, after having been an independent since 1890.

The departure will leave Conference USA with 10 football schools.

``We are not surprised. We have had ongoing discussions with the United States Military Academy regarding the future of its football program and Conference USA,'' commissioner Britton Banowsky said. ``We have the greatest respect for the Academy, its leadership and we know this decision was not an easy one for them.''

Conference officials voted Wednesday to enforce a bylaw preventing member schools from leaving before June 30, 2005. They said the move would not keep a school from leaving but shows the league is prepared to fight to maintain its membership.

Lennox said the decision was based on information provided by a panel commissioned to evaluate the football program and propose ways to improve it. The panel included Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who was an assistant coach at Army in the late 1960s, and former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne.

Army football has been mired in mediocrity since the Black Knights began playing in Conference USA.

Army, whose other athletic teams compete in the Patriot League, is 7-27 in five seasons in Conference USA, winning no more than two league games in a season. The Black Knights finished 1-11 in 2002 — losing 58-12 to Navy in the season finale — and are 5-29 in three years under head coach Todd Berry.

By joining Conference USA, Army's scheduling options became limited. With eight conference games and the interservice games against archrivals Navy and Air Force, the Black Knights only have one or two chances to schedule a regional or national opponent.

Because of conference obligations, this year Army has only one home game at Michie Stadium in October, traditionally the peak month for attendance. The Academy will host C-USA rival East Carolina on October 18.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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