It’s a question that comes into my mailbox frequently, usually from graduates of the Naval Academy themselves. So just this morning, after answering the question for about the 10th time, I decided that it was time to put the explanation online here at HepsTrack.com.
The question is usually prefaced with either “I heard Navy was kicked out of Heps” or “Is it true that Navy left Heps?” Both are correct. Things happened very quickly in the spring of 2003, but the seeds of Heptagonals becoming an eight-team league began that previous winter.
If you look at the Heps standings from that year, you will see that the Navy women competed at Indoor Heps in Hanover, N.H., but not at Outdoor Heps in New Haven, Conn.
Here’s what I recall. The women’s coaches from the Academy announced at the coaches meeting the day before the Indoor championships that their program would be leaving Heps to compete solely as a member of the Patriot League, but I don’t believe that a timetable was ever discussed. I assumed, as did at least several others, that the departure would take place at the end of the academic year.
The Navy men’s coaching staff was concerned enough by this action that they felt it necessary to explain that the Midshipmen had a long and storied association with Heps and wanted to keep it that way. In fact, the Ivy coaches decided to take a vote to affirm their desire to continue the men’s competition as a nine-team conference and the resolution passed unanimously.
But… no one from the Naval Academy formally informed the League or the Ivy schools of the plans. And it was compounded when the Navy women elected, without notification, to forego Outdoor Heps in early May. The first indication came three days before the championship when that program failed to submit entries. When I called, I learned that they were not intending to compete.
The timing was particularly bad. The annual Ivy League Athletic Directors meeting was less than two weeks away. Had the Navy women come to Outdoor Heps, I suspect that things would have gone unnoticed for that year, but instead the agenda was amended at the last hour to include discussion of the action and fate of the Naval Academy track and field teams.
There was little time for reaction or reflection and the day before the ECAC/IC4A Championships were to be contested at Princeton, the decision was made by the league’s athletic directors. The Naval Academy was no longer a member of Heps, where it had competed since World War II.
Word got back to Princeton rather quickly as administrators at the meeting felt compelled to notify coaches before folks at the Academy could formally learn of the ruling. So when I walked into Weaver Stadium I was immediately confronted by the Navy coaches. They might have been a little angry, they might have been a little confused. But they were mostly hurt, profoundly hurt. They didn’t see this coming down. Nor had I.
“What about the coaches’ vote?” “Why didn’t we get to state our case?”
Great questions. No good answers. It was among the least favorite days of my tenure. Two wrongs don’t make a right and I speak for many when I say, “Middies, we miss you.”