In a timely save, USAA picked up the Air Force college football team’s travel tab to Annapolis for its sold-out contest with Navy last weekend.
On Wednesday, USAA, an insurance provider for military members and their families, pledged $230,000 to get the team to Annapolis. The game was under threat due to the government shutdown.
“We were very excited to support this weekend’s game between Air Force and Navy,” says USAA spokesman Matthew Walters. “Games between the academies have a long tradition, and we wanted to ensure that tradition carried on. Sponsorship of academy athletic events provides USAA with the opportunity to engage with our members and support their shared passion.”
The Air Force Falcons’ arrival at the field reads like the plot of a sports film: with federal employees furloughed due to the government shutdown, the Air Force Academy Athletic Corp. first considered using its non-profit arm to pay for the trip using capital from activities such as merchandise sales.
However, as Academy CEO Derm Coll learned, legally putting that money towards the game would require a Congressional rewrite of the language in the nonprofit’s charter—in the middle of a government crisis and just days before the nationally-televised game was scheduled to play out before a crowd of 400,000. That is, if the government approved the game at all.
Coll tells news sources he reached out to many of the team’s sponsors to ensure that the Falcons could travel if the game was on.
"I was expecting we'd get $50,000 or $100,000," Coll told news sources.
Two days before Saturday, the Department of Defense still needed to approve both USAA’s donation and give approval for the sporting event itself.
Around noon on October 3, the Department sounded the whistle that the game could go on, since the Naval Academy Athletic Association operates on private, not federal, funds. Just hours later, as the Air Force athletes were boarding their charter plane, the USAA grant received attorney approval.
Navy won 28-10 against the Air Force.
Though this story ended happily, the remaining 24 military athletic events scheduled this season have been cancelled.