The Naval Academy celebrates homecoming Saturday and in the spotlight will be the Class of 1956, which marks its 25th reunion. Coach George Welsh, one of the '56ers, has no plans, however, to exhort his charges to dismantle William and Mary for the sake of him and fellow old salts.

"What does homecoming mean to the players, anyway?" Welsh asked. "Shall I tell them it's my 25th reunion and I want them to play well? Do you think that will make them play any better? I don't. They'll just laugh and say, 'You really are old.' "

What Welsh will do is remind his team that it cannot take anyone lightly, not even the struggling Indians; that a victory will mean a 5-2 record, one away from a winning season, and that there is a need to maintain the momentum that has carried the Midshipmen past Air Force and Boston College.

"I hope we're not so stupid that we'll look past them (to Notre Dame)," Welsh said. "These days, if you don't play well and make mistakes, you'll lose. The days of Oklahoma fumbling so much and still winning are over. That applies to us against William and Mary. That's the way college football is now. Teams are a lot closer to each other."

The Indians were not very close to Temple (0-42) or Virginia Tech (3-47), but Coach Jimmye Laycock said today he considers Navy the toughest team William and Mary has faced this year.

"They all say that," Welsh countered. "Does anybody really think we're better than Temple or VPI?"

Asked whether he considered William and Mary (2-4) the easiest team Navy has faced, Welsh stared a moment, noted the laughter and said, "No comment. You guys are funny today."

Later, Welsh said, "They're not the worst team we've played. They're more physical than Air Force, and bigger. Their offense has come along. They're better now than earlier in the season."

A crowd of more than 25,000, compared with the 18,215 that witnessed Navy's 45-6 romp here a year ago, is expected Saturday. Not all the old grads will be beaming with joy.

The athletic office reported some unfavorable reaction to the decision to shift the Army-Navy game from Nov. 28 to Dec. 5 for national television and at least one local columnist criticized the move.

"There has been some reaction, largely from fans with logistics problems, and I can understand it," Athletic Director Bo Coppedge said. "But there are a few things to keep in mind. First, there's a question of loyalty. ABC has been loyal to us. Army-Navy is the one game that's always been on. Notre Dame and USC aren't on, and I imagine a few people are turning over in their graves on that one.

"This is one game ABC can be assured will get high ratings, no matter what happens between now and Dec. 5, and there will be 5 million more TV sets on that day. We considered three areas when we agreed to make the move -- the fans, the players and coaches, and the till. It will inconvenience some fans and it is not good for the players to have the season extended, but you have to pay for the program."

If tradition has been dealt a blow, ABC's $500,000 will serve handsomely as compensation.