Army and Navy's prisoner exchange tradition on the field.
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Army-Navy 'Prisoner Exchange' Is College Football's Most Underrated Tradition

The Army-Navy rivalry is one of the best in college football, and it also features a neat tradition before the game starts.

Could you imagine if a Texas Longhorn spent a semester at the University of Oklahoma? What about if an Alabama undergrad spent the football season living in Baton Rouge and attending LSU? Well, when it comes to the Army-Navy rivalry, they actually answer this question, and it's the coolest tradition you might have missed over the years.

What started in 1945 as a weekend exchange evolved into the Service Academy Exchange Program. For one semester, West Point cadets trade places with Naval Academy midshipmen to live and learn among their military community counterparts. The semester climaxes when the future leaders of the American military are traded back to their respective branches during the Army-Navy game, and the ceremony is downright incredible.

One of the best college football rivalries in the sport is between the Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipmen. Since meeting for the first time in 1890, the annual Army-Navy rivalry grew into a must-see football game at the end of each season with Army cadets and Navy midshipmen alike going absolutely bananas watching these two teams play.

In 2018, seven Army cadets and seven Naval midshipmen traded places, while another seven Army cadets were at the Air Force Academy and five more spent the fall semester at the Coast Guard Academy. The tradition was halted in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

When Army and Navy meet on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., the annual "prisoner exchange" will take place prior to kickoff once again, and the military personnel will be returned to their respective branch to watch the incredible clash unfold.

A Look at the Army-Navy "Prisoner Exchange"

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The U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, is home to more than 4,000 undergraduate cadets who will carry on the long tradition of the U.S. Army. Over in Annapolis, Maryland, the U.S. Naval Academy was established in 1845 and is the second-oldest branch of the armed forces. It serves about the same number of enrollees as West Point.

In addition to the "prisoner exchange," the Army-Navy traditions include the singing of both academies' alma maters, and the "March On" tradition, which is a long-standing tradition showcasing military regiments in a ceremony prior to the game.

"March On" at Army-Navy Game

Together with the Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine Academies, these five branches mold the future service men and women that make up our United States armed forces.

The prisoner exchange is a huge part of their camaraderie, but you know that when the prisoners are returned, and that opening kickoff is sent into the December skies, all that goes out the window as the Army-Navy football game rekindles one of the best rivalries in all of sports.

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