Quarterback Smith denied bid to gain extra year of eligibility
Superintendent determines senior, who’s rehabbing torn ACL, must graduate on time
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
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.