Third straight Navy football game postponed due to coronavirus cases at South Florida
By TIM SCHWARTZ AND BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: November 18, 2020
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — The American Athletic Conference announced Wednesday morning that Navy's football game at South Florida on Saturday has been postponed because of positive COVID-19 cases and the ensuing contact tracing of student-athletes at USF.
It's the third straight Navy game that has been postponed because of coronavirus. Issues among the Midshipmen forced postponement of their Nov. 7 game against Tulsa and Nov. 14 contest versus Memphis.
Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk spoke to South Florida counterpart Michael Kelly early Wednesday morning and was informed that results from the latest round of testing were discouraging.
"Apparently, there is still an emerging problem at USF," Gladchuk told The Capital on Wednesday morning. "The football team has been depleted to such a degree it was not practical to move forward with this game."
Kelly issued a statement Wednesday morning saying the South Florida athletic department and football program was "disappointed" about being unable to host Navy Saturday night.
"Our student-athletes are continuing to work hard with energy and enthusiasm, and look forward to the opportunity to compete and get better each week," Kelly said. "However, all our decisions start with the health and safety of our student-athletes as our first priority and we reached a point this week where the decision was clear that it was in their best interest to postpone this week's game."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo took the latest news in stride, saying everyone has learned to adjust in the age of coronavirus. The 13th-year mentor said the Midshipmen, who resumed football activities last Friday, will continue to practice for the rest of this week to shake off the rust.
"It's 2020, man. You deal with the circumstances as they come and keep pressing forward," Niumatalolo said. "Obviously, we would loved to have played USF this Saturday, but now we'll regroup and get ready for our next opponent."
Niumatalolo likened the start-stop nature of the last three weeks, in which Navy has begun preparing for an opponent only to have the game postponed, to what officers in the Navy or Marine Corps encounter.
"Our players are going to be leaders in the military and will find there will be changes in plans, alterations of missions," he said. "Just like the military mantra, we have to adapt and overcome."
The Capital reported Tuesday the the AAC is hoping to reschedule Navy's previously postponed games and has crafted a plan in which Navy would host Memphis Nov. 28 and Tulsa the following Saturday on Dec. 5.
Gladchuk confirmed that was the case but does not envision Navy-South Florida being played.
"I don't see any opportunity for rescheduling USF, so it will go down as a non-contest," he said.
Gladchuk noted there is one benefit from Navy not playing South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Keeping the football team on campus for the next three weeks decreases the chance of another COVID-19 outbreak before the Dec. 12 Army-Navy game at Michie Stadium in West Point.
"If there is a silver lining to this it's the fact we won't be traveling from now until the Army game," he said. "These next two games are at home, which is very helpful because that means no airplanes, no hotels. Hopefully, staying home will help us contain the virus."
Naval Academy leadership has halted weekend liberty for the Brigade of Midshipmen in hopes of controlling a spike in COVID-19 positive testing on the yard. Gladchuk praised Capt. Thomas R. Buchanan, Commandant of Midshipmen, for acting swiftly to reverse the trend.
"The commandant is working hard to get the brigade back on track, to get the COVID situation under control," Gladchuk said. "If the Brigade is healthy, which I expect to be the case, we're hopeful they will be able to attend the next home game."
Gladchuk also noted that Navy football will now be able to celebrate a Senior Day, although it has not been determined whether that ceremony will be held Nov. 28 or Dec. 5.
On the down side, Navy will now be going four weeks without playing a football game, having last taken the field Oct. 31 during a 51-37 loss to SMU.
"It's tough to have such an extended layoff between games. Good news is that I think the morale among the players and coaches is such that they will find a way to be ready," Gladchuk said. "Right now, it's about trying to manage our way through this maize of obstacles and challenges."
If Navy ends up playing a game Dec. 5 as expected, it will not affect the 121st Army-Navy game. Gladchuk said there is no contingency plan to push back the Army-Navy game and it will be held as scheduled barring extraordinary circumstances.
"We're playing Army on December 12. It's a done deal. All the logistics are already in the works," said Gladchuk, adding it would be "devastating to both institutions" if coronavirus issues prevented Army-Navy from being played the second Saturday in December.
The AAC also announced the Houston at SMU game has been postponed because of positive cases and contact tracing at Houston. The conference wrote in a news release that it will consider a number of options with regard to the playing of the contests.