On the eve of the start of what might be its most difficult football schedule in a generation, West Point athletic director Mike Buddie says that he hopes to return Army’s future schedule to a more tried-and-true format that will satisfy its fans, create more opportunities for winning seasons and generate as much profit as possible.
In an exclusive wide-ranging interview with Black Knight Nation, Buddie discussed the state of Army football and all West Point sports, the Michie Stadium renovation, the possibility of joining a conference and college sports in general.
As the Black Knights travel to what promises to be a very warm Malone Stadium, where the game-time temperature might be near 100 degrees, to face Louisiana-Monroe in the season opener, Buddie says that a combination of factors helped create challenging schedules for Army this year and in 2024.
He noted that the previous sports administration at West Point scheduled games with such schools as Troy, Coastal Carolina and even UTSA while these schools were just coming up from the lower FCS division.
“My predecessors scheduled these teams when they were either not very good or FCS programs looking to make a jump to the FBS and they looked like low-hanging fruit,” Buddie says. “But now many of these programs are quite good. Look at Troy. They won the Sun Belt Conference last year and are among the favorites to win it this year. Coastal Carolina is also a really good program. Those teams have been intelligent and selective and have evolved into excellent programs.”
This season may be a great example of what Buddie is talking about. The Black Knights travel to a potential top-5 team in LSU in October and journey to Power Five Atlantic Coast Conference member Syracuse in mid-September. Boston College, another ACC school, visits Michie Stadium in October and Troy and Coastal Carolina are also on Army’s home slate.
Next year, Army hosts Syracuse and Wake Forest and travel to an improving UConn program.
Ideally, Buddie would like to face one top Power Five school, even on the level of LSU, Michigan and Oklahoma a year, one FCS school and fill out the balance of the schedule with a combination of programs from the Group of Five conferences like the Sun Belt, Mid-American Conference, Conference USA and the remaining independents as well, of course, as Navy and Air Force.
“Some of those schools (in the Sun Belt and Conference USA) down south are in areas of the country that are extremely patriotic and they love having Army come down there,” he said, adding that it is quite difficult to get big time programs to go on the road to Michie Stadium. “In the perfect world, we want one FCS team, one Big Power Five school and to fill out our schedule with Group of Five schools that are competitive. We think that would give our season-ticket holders and all fans a schedule they would want to see.”
As for the rumor that Army will play Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium next November, Buddie said: “We are excited about our schedule next year. Hopefully, we will have some good announcements coming soon.”
Renovating Michie Stadium’s east stands to put in 18 already sold-out private suites, 70 loge boxes and club seats is also top of mind for Buddie, who became the Army athletic director in 2019 after four years in the same role at Furman University. The reconstruction of the east stands at Michie was put on hold earlier this summer but Buddie is hopeful it will begin in 2024.
“We had phenomenal success early with the fund raising for this project,” he says. “Unfortunately, this project coincided with the unprecedented increase in labor and material costs and we decided that instead of rushing ahead without a clear and safe risk-free plan, we would postpone it to 2024, either early in the year or most likely starting it during the summer.
“We need to raise a few more dollars. Candidly, I am blown away with how well we have done on the fund raising for this project. We have about $130 million committed, the most by any donor project on this campus. But we need to get a few more dollars, an additional $40 million, and I am confident we will. We are trying to be innovative and creative. We are not getting one penny from the government and relying on other revenue streams. There are a lot of good great ideas coming in from many people and our graduates and the leadership at the AOG (West Point Association of Graduates) have been fantastic in helping us explore other opportunities.”
Once the project begins, Buddie anticipates about 22 months of construction across two football seasons, with the hope that enough is done before the second football season that the Corp of Cadets can go back to the east stands and increase capacity to about 34,000 or 35,000 at Michie for that year. The new stadium will have a capacity of about 38,000, down from about 40,000 this season.
Conference realignment is another issue that Buddie is closely watching. The flurry of activity this spring and summer – including the announcement on Friday that Stanford, California and Southern Methodist will join the ACC next summer – has Buddie monitoring the situation to see where West Point fits in.
“I saw a tweet from someone recently that said that Notre Dame has this figured out,” he says. “They have a great conference in the ACC to partner with for all of Olympic sports, but the football team is independent and can associate with whoever they want. I think we have the same situation.
“We are proud members of Patriot League which provides us a good home with geographical and academic partners that make sense. Then we play FBS football and can pick our opponents.”
But, he adds that any athletic director who is not paying attention to what is happening to college sports is doing theiruniversity a disservice. “We love our independence, but all this activity has made us consider the repercussions of our decisions. As the college football playoffs expand to 12 teams next year, we are closely watching how we get access to participate and how best we can maximize revenues to provide extraordinaryexperiences for all athletes.
“As the landscape collapse, shifts or changes, we are always considering everything anything for our young men and women that could improve their experience as they compete for Army athletes. I am 100 percent confident that we want to be an independent football team, but we will watch and listen to make sure we end up in the right place. I will tell you this, we will not consider anything that makes our volleyball team travel seven hours on a Tuesday night for a game. Classes are too important to our students.”
So where will Army be in five years? “Five years from now, Army will either be in a league for football or we will be the only independent team competing in FBS college football,” Buddie says. “And both are attractive spots for West Point.”
Overall, Buddie says he is happy with the state of West Point athletics. Last spring saw the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams overachieve and both make the postseason NCAA tournaments, with the men getting extremely close to reaching the national semifinals. Also, the baseball team won its fifth straight Patriot League title.
And, already this fall the women’s soccer team fought Wake Forest to a draw and the men’s team defeated Air Force. “It is great to have the Cadets back on post and watching the coaches do what they love to do,” he says.
As for the football team? “This is always my favorite time of year and hope springs eternal,” he says. “I know the guys are extremely excited to compete against someone not wearing the same colors on the practice field. I love watching the first few games and seeing new guys deliver. We have a new offense this year and we could struggle a bit, but I have incredible confidence in these young men and in Jeff Monken and his staff, who selected this offense and are implementing it. I really like our chances.”