Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo apologizes for blaming Pentagon for Commander-in-Chief's Trophy decision
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: September 15, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo apologized for blaming Pentagon officials for the fact there will be a Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series in 2020.
Niumatalolo maintained his stance that moving forward with the round-robin service academy series under the current circumstances makes no sense and sullies the meaning of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy but admitted his frustrations were misplaced.
“I should not have said some of the stuff I said, and I’m sorry I did,” Niumatalolo told The Capital Monday night. “The Pentagon has nothing to do with this, and it was wrong of me to suggest that was the case. I was just frustrated and let my emotions get the best of me."
“The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is our program’s No. 1 goal every year, and we put our heart and soul into getting it back last year,” Niumatalolo added.
Niumatalolo contacted The Capital unsolicited after having time to contemplate his comments that were made off-the-cuff during an online news conference Monday afternoon. Asked about the announcement made earlier in the day that Air Force was moving forward with playing Army and Navy, the 13th-year head coach reacted angrily.
Niumatalolo repeatedly said the decision was made by “guys at the Pentagon” and questioned their qualifications for doing so.
In hindsight, Niumatalolo regretted commenting on the issue at all.
“I sometimes get myself in trouble by speaking my mind. This was an instance when I should have kept my thoughts to myself,” he said.
At issue is the fact Air Force is not playing an official football season in 2020. The Mountain West Conference, of which Air Force is a member, announced in August it was postponing fall semester sports.
Plans are for the Mountain West Conference football season to be held during the spring semester. By all accounts, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun is pointing his program toward the spring.
Citing multiple sources, The Colorado Springs Gazette reported this past weekend that as many as 40 Air Force football players have applied for administrative “turn-backs.” That is a term for a policy created to give Air Force cadets facing personal hardship an opportunity to separate from the academy for a semester.
In the case of Air Force football players, it would mean leaving the academy this semester and returning for the spring semester, thereby gaining an extra season of eligibility. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, most of the players applying for the “turn-back” are seniors, juniors and sophomores that did not play as freshmen. They would therefore be eligible for a fifth season.
Niumatalolo, in his 22nd year with the Navy football program, expressed great respect for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series and believes the history and tradition could be tarnished by what will happen this season.
Navy will play at Air Force Oct. 3 (4 p.m. Mountain time) in the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series in a game being televised by CBS Sports Network. Air Force travels to Army West Point on Nov. 7 (11:30 kickoff) for a contest being broadcast nationally by CBS.
The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series will conclude with the 121st Army-Navy game, being held Dec. 12 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and before a national television audience on CBS.
Air Force will have a full month to prepare for both Army and Navy. However, it might not matter if so many of its best players are not on the roster when those games are held. There are many service academy football fans already declaring on social media the 2020 Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series will forever be attached with an asterisk.
Niumatalolo believes the circumstances of 2020, brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, threatens the sanctity of a series that was started in 1972.
Navy currently has possession of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy after defeating Air Force, 34-25, and beating Army, 31-7, last season. The Midshipmen have captured the CIC Trophy outright six times during the tenure of Niumatalolo, who owns a 7-5 record versus Air Force and a 9-3 mark against Army.