Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo blames Commander-in-Chief's Trophy decision on Pentagon, 'guys that have no idea'
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: September 14, 2020
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, reacting to Monday’s news of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series being held in 2020, blamed the decision on the Pentagon and decision-making by “guys that have no idea what is going on with the programs.”
“Whenever you have guys at the Pentagon making football decisions, which to me is crazy,” Niumatalolo said.
Air Force on Monday morning finally announced a kickoff time for its home game against Navy, a contest that had been in question because the Mountain West Conference, of which Air Force is a member, announced in August that it would not conduct fall sports because of coronavirus concerns. The Big Ten and Pac-12 also postponed their fall athletic seasons.
The Midshipmen and Falcons will tee it up at 6 p.m. EST (4 p.m. MST) on Oct. 3, the originally scheduled date for the matchup. At present, the Mountain West is committed to play football during the spring semester.
Meanwhile, Navy is playing an 11-game schedule, while Army has pieced together a 12-game schedule after its original 2020 slate was decimated by cancellations.
Niumatalolo spoke out toward the end of a virtual news conference Monday afternoon, reiterating a stance he initially took in August when he questioned the fairness of the series. Navy holds the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy after defeating Air Force and Army in 2019.
Niumatalolo specifically took issue with the fact Army and Navy are the only two teams Air Force will play this season.
“Where else in the country would you play for something of value and everybody’s schedules are not the same?” Niumatalolo asked rhetorically. “This is the No. 1 thing we fight for every year — the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. We’re playing a full schedule. You got Air Force playing just two games? I don’t think those people care.”
Niumatalolo, who added that he believes the history and tradition could be tarnished by what will happen this season, expressed disappointment he was not consulted on the matter. He has previously expressed his concerns to Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk.
“Chet and I talked, but this is above us. This is guys at the Pentagon making decisions,” he said. “I have no idea where they’re getting their data from. They didn’t get it from me, so they’re not getting any football data. Like I said, nobody asked me.”
It was unclear how the Pentagon was involved with the decision to move forward with the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series even though Air Force is not playing an official season in 2020.
Contacted Tuesday afternoon by telephone, Gladchuk said the superintendents of the three service academies mutually agreed to conduct the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series.
“If the three academies are available to play and scheduled to play, we are all committed to play,” Gladchuk said.
Gladchuk confirmed the Air Force Academy leadership carefully contemplated the decision to play Army and Navy during the fall semester even though the Mountain West season would be held during the spring semester.
“The question mark has always been Air Force and whether or not they would field a team,” Gladchuk said. “There was some question within their leadership as to whether or not it was appropriate to conduct out-of-season practice to that degree to play two games.”
Niumatalolo repeatedly referred to Pentagon officials and questioned why they would get involved with college football.
“I have no idea who made those decisions. Probably guys who should be making decisions on more important matters than football,” he said. “I wish they would worry about stuff other than football and let us make football decisions. To me, that should have been among the [athletic directors] and head coaches.”
Niumatalolo made that comment because he believes athletic officials with in-depth knowledge of football should have been involved with the decision-making process. He is most concerned with the competitive fairness of one service academy playing two games a month apart against rivals playing games almost every weekend.
“To me, those guys making decisions have never played football in their life. They don’t know how physical football is. We’re not playing croquet or anything. Football is a tough, physical game,” he said. “People made decisions on this that have no clue what they’re doing or talking about with sports. They made this a military deal. It’s not a military deal.”
Niumatalolo had to restrain himself from answering a follow-up question, joking that if he continued talking about the subject “my next interview might be coming from Hawaii.”
“I’m done speaking my mind. I’m sure I’ll get reprimanded,” Niumatalolo said. “I’m just the head football coach, but that’s how I honestly feel. It’s not right.”