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United Services Automobile Association, an insurance company that caters to members of the military and their families, is paying for the Air Force football team’s entire trip to Navy this weekend — a tab of $230,000, Air Force Academy Athletic Corporation CEO Derm Coll said Friday.
"They did a great job for us," Coll said by phone. "They're picking up the bills for everything we need."
With the game in jeopardy of being postponed due to the federal government shutdown, the Air Force was essentially tasked with raising the money for the trip through private funding. Although the athletic department's non-profit arm, which Coll runs, had enough funding to pay for the trip from merchandise sales and other things, there was a gray area about whether team travel could be paid for legally under those circumstances.
Changing the language in the nonprofit’s charter would have required Congress to write new legislation, but that was impossible given the budget impasse.
So Coll began to reach out to various supporters of Air Force athletics, including USAA, a major corporate sponsor. At lunchtime Wednesday, Coll said he had no money raised. A few hours after conversations started with USAA officials, they had pledged to pay for the whole trip.
“I was expecting we'd get $50,000 or $100,000,” Coll said. "They came back and said they're picking up the whole thing; let's get this game going, it's important for us to support the military."
From there, Air Force had to let school attorneys review the proposal and send it to the Defense Department for approval. Though word began to leak out late Wednesday night that the game was going to happen, Coll said the attorneys didn't formally sign off on the USAA's gift until Thursday just before 4 p.m., minutes before the team's charter plane was ready to take off.
Though USAA made it possible for Air Force to play this weekend, future games are still up in the air as long as Congress remains in gridlock.
"I think we're day by day trying to figure out what the future of the federal government looks like," Coll said.