Naval Academy at Odds With Irish Football Group

Fifteen hundred Irish schoolchildren won't get a flag football program once promised to them. Irish universities won't receive American football equipment they thought they would get. And it's all the Naval Academy's fault, according to the Irish American Football Association.

The academy's version: This is a "shakedown" by the Irish group.

With less than a week remaining until the Naval Academy's season-opening football game against Notre Dame, slated for Saturday in Dublin, the academy is already banging heads in Ireland.

The IAFA claims academy officials promised to help fund its grass-roots American football efforts in the country and says the academy hasn't delivered. Now the volunteer-run Irish group says it is "two to three days" from legal action against the academy.

Naval Academy Athletics Director Chet Gladchuk calls the group's claims "nuts."

Gladchuck said the academy never agreed to fork over any money to the IAFA. The academy, which is hosting the game in Ireland, agreed only to give some exposure to the IAFA at the game in the form of signs, he said.

Now the group is trying to shake the academy down, Gladchuk said. So it too has lawyered up.

"We told them we'll honor what we told you we will do," Gladchuk said. "But in terms of a shakedown? In terms of extortion? That wasn't a part of any deal."

Navy fans have no need to worry. IAFA officials admit the group doesn't have the power to stop the game from being played.

As a national governing body for the sport, the association's mission ranges from hosting league play in the Irish American Football League to finding coaches and referees to promoting anti-doping policies. It also runs the Irish Flag Football Association, which organizes tournaments for adults and youths.

In 2010, while the academy was gearing up for the Emerald Isle Classic, its officials and the IAFA were introduced. It's around then that the two parties' stories diverge.

Gladchuk said the academy originally engaged in talks with the IAFA to be courteous. But he said the academy's courtesy didn't extend beyond saying it would provide a table at which the group could distribute information at the game, as well as some on-field recognition and video exposure.

It wasn't until later, Gladchuk said, that he heard the IAFA had brought other demands to the table, including money to fund grass-roots programs.

"There was never one single word said about the poor children in flag football until I read about it in a blog," Gladchuk claimed.

The IAFA tells the story differently. It says those demands came at the same time as its other discussions with the academy.

The group provided a letter to Capital-Gazette, dated Oct. 21, 2010, and addressed to Gladchuk and Mark Murphy, director of Aviva Stadium, where the Navy-Notre Dame game will be played. The letter spells out the group's demands, from grass-roots funding to signs, 60 premium tickets, two VIP passes and other game-related benefits.

In the letter, the IAFA says that it wants office space for one worker who would work 20 hours a week from May 1 to Dec. 31, and funding for two part-time development officers to deliver the IAFA Schools Flag Programme to schools in the greater Dublin area for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Also on the IAFA's list: a contribution of around $19,000 for an equipment fund for Irish universities with existing or proposed football programs. The demands total around $94,000.

But in spite of repeated requests, the IAFA failed to give Capital-Gazette any letter or document with both those demands and the signature of a Naval Academy official. It did provide an application for the game to be sanctioned by the IAFA, signed by the Naval Academy on March 16, 2011.

IAFA Secretary Cillian Smith, who signed the October 2010 letter to Gladchuk, still claims a clear contract exists obligating the Naval Academy to pay up.

The Naval Academy signed the sanctioning application on March 16 knowing the conditions communicated to it five months before, Smith said. That, he said, is enough reason to hold the academy accountable.

"I do not know how (Gladchuk) could claim that the development initiatives came later when he personally was informed of them in October 2010," Smith said in an email. "This is not something that has come about lately."

In later emails, Smith said that the academy's legal arguments to date have been mainly of a "political nature," touting its power and size -- "i.e. '... we're Navy... we're much bigger than you ... we've got political connections ... we can crush you if we want ... you wouldn't dare take us on,'" Smith wrote.

Smith said the academy has refused to have the matter heard by Just Sport Ireland, a sports dispute resolution service funded by the Irish government that handles similar disputes before they go to Ireland's High Court.

Gladchuk said the academy has consulted lawyers in both Ireland and the United States and has determined that it has no legal obligation to the association. All appropriate permits for the event, he said, have been settled with Aviva Stadium.

Though the IAFA has yet to bring the matter to the High Court, Smith said the group is being strongly advised to start legal proceedings two to three days before the game.

Tommy Wiking, the president of the Sweden-based International Federation of American Football, said his group was contacted by the Naval Academy and asked what jurisdiction the IAFA had over the game. Wiking's group oversees football federations across the globe, including USA Football.

Wiking said jurisdiction doesn't necessarily matter. Everything depends, he said, on what power a contract, if any contract was signed, holds.

"If you ask me, I don't think (the IAFA) has power," he said. "But they are referring to a contract. I haven't seen that contract, so I can't say whether that contract has any power."

Meanwhile, the IAFA has found grant money elsewhere to support flag football programs. USA Football spokesman Steve Alic said Wiking's group had approved a IAFA Education Development Grant application for tackle and flag football programs.

But to USA Football's knowledge, the IAFA has yet to proceed with those programs and has not collected the money.

Gladchuk said the academy is ignoring the situation.

"We're bringing $100 million to the economy, this game is huge -- and you've got a bunch of guys over there trying to shake down the game." he said. "It's absolutely pathetic."

The Emerald Isle Classic has sold out Aviva Stadium, which seats more than 50,000. It will be the 86th time Navy and Notre Dame have faced off but the first time in Ireland since 1996, when Notre Dame won 54-27.

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