United States Air Force Academy Athletics Department U.S. Air Force Academy, El Paso County Colorado 80840
All cadets at the Academy take part in the school’s extensive athletic program. The program is designed to enhance the physical conditioning of all cadets, to develop the physical skills necessary for officership, to teach leadership in a competitive environment and to build character. The primary elements of the athletic program are intercollegiate athletics, intramural athletics, physical education, and the physical fitness tests. The Academy’s high altitude makes the physical fitness program particularly demanding and often gives the acclimated cadets a distinct advantage over visiting athletic teams from lower altitudes.
Cadets are required to take physical education courses in each of their four years at the Academy. The classes cover a wide range of activities: Swimming and water survival build confidence while teaching important survival skills. Combative sports such as boxing, wrestling, judo and unarmed combat build confidence, teach controlled aggression and develop physical fitness. Cadets also take classes in team sports such as basketball and soccer, in “lifetime” sports such as tennis and golf and on the physiology of exercise.
Each semester, cadets must pass two athletic fitness tests. The first is the Aerobic Fitness Test, or “AFT,” a timed 1.5 mile (2.4 km) run. The second is the demanding Physical Fitness Test, or “PFT,” which consists of five events—pull-ups, a standing long jump, sit-ups, push-ups and a 600 yard run—all done in a 15-minute time frame. Failure to pass a fitness test usually results in the cadet being assigned to “reconditioning” until he can pass the test. Repeated failures can lead to disenrollment.
All cadets are expected to compete in intramural athletics for their entire time at the Academy, unless they are “on-season” for intercollegiate athletics. Intramural sports pit cadet squadrons against one another in many sports, including basketball, cross-country, flag football, racquetball, flickerball, rugby union, boxing, soccer, mountain biking, softball, team handball, tennis, Ultimate, wallyball and volleyball. Winning the Wing Championship in a given sport is a particular source of pride for a cadet squadron.
The Academy’s intercollegiate program has 17 men’s and 10 women’s NCAA sanctioned teams, nicknamed the “Falcons.” Men’s teams compete in football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, cross-country, fencing, golf, gymnastics, indoor and outdoor track, lacrosse, rifle, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, water polo and wrestling. Women’s teams include basketball, cross-country, fencing, gymnastics, indoor and outdoor track, swimming and diving, soccer, tennis and volleyball. In addition, the Academy also sponsors two non-NCAA programs: cheerleading and boxing. The Academy also has several club sports, such as rugby, that compete intercollegiately.
The men’s and women’s programs compete in NCAA’s Division I, with the football team competing in Division I FBS. Most teams are in the Mountain West Conference; however, the gymnastics teams and men’s soccer teams compete in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation; the men’s hockey team competes in Atlantic Hockey and the water polo team competes in the Western Water Polo Association. The men’s boxing team competes in the National Collegiate Boxing Association. The men’s lacrosse team competes in the Great Western Lacrosse League. For a number of years, only the men’s teams competed in Division I. Women’s teams competed in Division II and were once members of the Continental Divide Conference, then the Colorado Athletic Conference. With new NCAA legislation, beginning in 1996, women’s teams also competed in Division I.
Air Force has traditional service academy rivalries with Navy and Army. The three service academies compete for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy in football each year. Air Force Falcons football has had the best showing of the three, winning the trophy 16 of its 34 years. The Academy also has an in-state rivalry with Colorado State University, which is located in Fort Collins and is a fellow member of the Mountain West Conference.
Air Force teams have had great athletic success. The boxing team, led for 31 years by Coach Ed Weichers, has won 18 national championships and has never finished lower than second in the nation. The Academy’s men’s and women’s rugby teams have each won multiple national championships and the women’s side recently had two players selected for the United States national team. The football team has played in 17 bowl games and the basketball team has had strong showings in the last several years, qualifying for the NCAA tournament and, most recently, making the final four of the 2007 NIT Tournament. The men’s hockey team won the last two Atlantic Hockey conference tournaments, made the first ever appearance by a service academy in the NCAA hockey tournament in 2007, and made a repeat appearance in 2008.