Air Force will vie for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy by playing just two football games this fall — against Navy and Army — and Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo said it’s unfair, blaming officials at the Pentagon for making “this a military deal,” before later apologizing.
Niumatalolo’s complaint is that Navy (11 games) and Army (12) are playing full schedules this fall, yet Air Force could walk away with the prize if it wins the two games. The Falcons play in the Mountain West Conference, which postponed its football season.
“Where else in the country would you play for something of value and everybody’s schedules are not the same?” Niumatalolo told reporters Monday. “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.
“… This is above us. This is guys at the Pentagon making decisions. 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.”
Niumatalolo, saying he “was just frustrated and let my emotions get the best of me,” later apologized for his remarks.
“I should not have said some of the stuff I said and I’m sorry I did,” Niumatalolo told the Capital Gazette on Monday night. “The Pentagon has nothing to do with this and it was wrong of me to suggest that was the case. … I sometimes get myself in trouble by speaking my mind. This was an instance when I should have kept my thoughts to myself.”
Air Force is set to host Navy on Oct. 3, and the Falcons will play Army on Nov. 7. Army will face Navy on Dec. 12.
Navy won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy in 2019 after Army claimed it in back-to-back years, ending a 21-year drought. Air Force won its most recent Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy in 2016.
Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told the Baltimore Sun that superintendents from all three service academies agreed to go forth with the plan, but that didn’t stop Niumatalolo from criticizing the decision.
“I have no idea who made those decisions. Probably guys [in the Pentagon] who should be making decisions on more important matters than football,” Niumatalolo said prior to his apology. “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.
“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. 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.
“I’m done speaking my mind. I’m sure I’ll get reprimanded. I’m just the head football coach, but that’s how I honestly feel. It’s not right.”