Quar­ter­back Smith de­nied bid to gain ex­tra year of el­i­gi­bil­ity

Su­per­in­ten­dent de­ter­mines se­nior, who’s re­hab­bing torn ACL, must grad­u­ate on time

Baltimore Sun - - NAVY FOOTBALL - By Bill Wag­ner

Navy quar­ter­back Tago Smith will not be al­lowed to pur­sue a fifth year of el­i­gi­bil­ity, the Bal­ti­more Sun Me­dia Group has learned.

Vice Adm. Wal­ter “Ted” Carter, the Naval Acad­emy su­per­in­ten­dent, made the de­ci­sion, which ef­fec­tively ends Smith’s col­lege foot­ball ca­reer.

Smith suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury in the opener against Ford­ham. The se­nior un­der­went surgery to re­pair a torn ACL in early Septem­ber and has been re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing ever since.

The Bal­ti­more Sun Me­dia Group had pre­vi­ously con­firmed that Smith had hoped to re­turn to play dur­ing the 2017 sea­son as a fifth-year se­nior. The Naval Acad­emy Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion was pre­pared to ap­ply to the NCAA for a med­i­cal red­shirt on be­half of Smith had the su­per­in­ten­dent signed off.

Cmdr. David McKin­ney, the Naval Acad­emy public af­fairs of­fi­cer, ini­tially con­firmed the news when con­tacted by the Bal­ti­more Sun Me­dia Group on Mon­day af­ter­noon. McKin­ney said the su­per­in­ten­dent’s de­ci­sion was based on his as­sess­ment that Smith re­mained on pace to grad­u­ate in May 2017 based on his aca­demic and mil­i­tary progress.

“The mis­sion of the Naval Acad­emy is to grad­u­ate of­fi­cers for the Navy and the Ma­rine Corps,” McKin­ney said. “This is a four-year aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion and mid­ship­men are ex­pected to grad­u­ate in that pe­riod of time un­less the su­per­in­ten­dent de­ter­mines there is a sig­nif­i­cant rea­son why they can­not do so.

“Vice Ad­mi­ral Carter looked at this par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion and de­cided that is not the case with Mid­ship­man Smith,” McKin­ney said. “While we are sym­pa­thetic to Tago’s ath­letic ca­reer, we aren’t an in­sti­tu­tion that ex­ists to de­velop pro­fes­sional ath­letes; we ex­ist to de­velop lead­ers.”

Navy coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo was dis­ap­pointed on be­half of Smith, who served as backup be­hind record-set­ting quar­ter­back Keenan Reynolds for three years. Smith fi­nally got his chance to start as a se­nior and lasted less than a half be­fore go­ing down with the in­jury.

“I would have loved for Tago to have the op­por­tu­nity to come back, but I have to sup­port the su­per­in­ten­dent’s de­ci­sion,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said. “I just feel re­ally bad for the kid. Tago has worked so hard and it’s heart­break­ing to see his ca­reer end this way.”

Naval Acad­emy ath­letic di­rec­tor Chet Glad­chuk said he un­der­stood the rea­son­ing be­hind Carter’s de­ci­sion.

“The Naval Acad­emy does not have a pro­vi­sion to ex­tend mid­ship­men specif­i­cally for ath­letic rea­sons. Our mis­sion is to ed­u­cate stu­dents and com­mis­sion of­fi­cers,” Glad­chuk said. “That is al­ways the case un­less there are ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stances that pre­vent a mid­ship­man from per­form- ing their aca­demic and mil­i­tary re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and mak­ing nor­mal progress to­ward grad­u­a­tion.”

How­ever, the Naval Acad­emy has al­lowed in­jured foot­ball play­ers to pur­sue an ex­tra year of el­i­gi­bil­ity in the past. Run­ning back Napoleon McCal­lum, who suf­fered a bro­ken an­kle two games into his se­nior year, is the most no­table ex­am­ple.

McCal­lum, who had been touted as a Heis­man Tro­phy can­di­date go­ing into the 1984 sea­son, was al­lowed an ex­tra se­mes­ter by Rear Adm. Charles Lar­son, the Naval Acad­emy su­per­in­ten­dent at the time. McCal­lum came back as a fifth-year se­nior in 1985 and was named a first-team Al­lAmer­i­can for the sec­ond time in his ca­reer.

There have been sev­eral more re­cent cases of foot­ball play­ers be­ing granted per­mis­sion to re­quest a med­i­cal red­shirt from the NCAA. Safety Jeff Deliz, de­fen­sive end Michael Walsh and line­backer Clint Sovie re­ceived an ex­tra year of el­i­gi­bil­ity.

Deliz and Sovie suf­fered sea­son-end­ing in­juries two games into the 2007 sea­son. Sovie, who en­dured a bro­ken an­kle, was a ju­nior at the time. Deliz, who went down with a bro­ken foot, was a se­nior. Walsh suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing toe in­jury as a se­nior in 2008.

Carter is­sued a state­ment through the Public Af­fairs Of­fice when asked why the pol­icy re­gard­ing in­jured foot­ball play­ers has dif­fered over the years.

“We look at each case in­di­vid­u­ally and take into ac­count the unique cir­cum­stances of each case. As a four-year aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion, we look at whether or not a mid­ship­man is able to ful­fill the grad­u­a­tion re­quire­ments in the al­lot­ted time,” Carter said. “In Tago Smith’s case, hav­ing a torn ACL and the as­so­ci­ated re­cov­ery re­lated to that in­jury has not kept him from keep­ing up with his aca­demic re­quire­ments.”

Carter said the Naval Acad­emy fol­lows pol­icy set forth by its aca­demic board, which main­tains all grad­u­ate re­quire­ments to in­clude the mo­ral, men­tal and phys­i­cal as­pects of the mis­sion. The su­per­in­ten­dent ex­plained that there are cir­cum­stances when mid­ship­men are ex­tended past their sched­uled grad­u­a­tion rate.

“In each cir­cum­stance, we look at whether a mid­ship­man is able to ful­fill the re­quire­ments to grad­u­ate in the al­lot­ted four-year time frame based on an in­jury, class fail­ure, [Phys­i­cal Readi­ness Test] fail­ure, or what­ever the case may be, and de­cide whether it is nec­es­sary to pro­vide more time to ful­fill the re­quire­ments to grad­u­ate,” Carter said.

Air Force and Army West Point have foot­ball play­ers on the ros­ter who were granted an ex­tra year of el­i­gi­bil­ity.

Air Force start­ing quar­ter­back Nate Romine with­drew from school af­ter suf­fer­ing a sea­son-end­ing in­jury in 2015 and will re­turn as a fifth-year se­nior in 2017. Army of­fen­sive line­man Justin Gil­bert is play­ing as a fifth-year se­nior af­ter miss­ing most of the 2014 sea­son af­ter suf­fer­ing a torn ACL.

NCAA pol­icy with re­gards to is­su­ing a med­i­cal red­shirt is that any player whose in­jury causes him to play in 30 per­cent or less of his team’s sched­ule is el­i­gi­ble. Fri­day, 7 p.m. TV: ESPN2 Ra­dio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: South Florida by 8

PAUL W. GILLE­SPIE/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

Navy quar­ter­back Tago Smith will not be al­lowed to pur­sue a fifth year of el­i­gi­bil­ity. He suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury in the Mid­ship­men’s open­ing game.

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