Sports promotion is on state's cutting block

February 27, 1991|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

The Maryland Office of Sports Promotion, which according to state estimates has brought more than $16 million into the economy during its three-year history, may be out of existence by the end of next month.

Legislative budget analyst Richard Madaleno suggested the basic termination of the office in his report to Senate and House subcommittees reviewing the programs administered by the Department of Economic and Employment Development.

"He recommended leaving $100,000 in the budget for the program, but he didn't leave any people to run a program," said Sen. William Amoss, who heads the Senate subcommittee. The recommended cut would save $664,000, and do away with OSP director Mike Marqua, sports marketing specialist Josh Waldorf and a secretary.

Hearings were held last week by both subcommittees, which are in the process of reviewing the budget programs. The House subcommittee is to vote tomorrow on the recommendations. The Senate committee votes March 7.

Throughout the process, said DEED spokeswoman Carol Fox King, representatives can expect phone calls and letters from individuals and organizations who have benefited from the OSP. Already, letters have been sent to both houses by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

OSP director Marqua said he had "no comment" on the situation, but DEED secretary Randy Evans said the idea of discontinuing the office is "absolutely wrong-headed."

Evans said it is his belief that the scandal involving the Maryland State Games last December has had a negative effect on the perception of the sports promotion office.

"In their haste to get rid of the Maryland State Games, they want to throw out my department, too," Evans said. "Neither makes sense. We've been instrumental in getting a large number of events with solid economic impact and national and international coverage. All of which has been very good for the state. My testimony was that we've brought in events that have had a $16 million impact, that we can count."

Among the events OSP has had a hand in bringing to the state: World White Water Canoe and Kayak championships; the Cadillac Columbus Cup (sailing); the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase; East Coast Invitational Track Meet; the BASS Masters Classic this Aug. 22-24. In addition, the promotion office helped in expanding the Orioles' minor-league teams within the state, and setting up three Olympic trials for 1992 -- fencing, white water and gymnastics.

Meanwhile, the Maryland State Games foundation organized groups to promote 32 amateur sports in the state.

Controversy over the Maryland State Games began last fall, when auditors challenged more than $455,000 in expenditures by the foundation -- roughly half the $891,000 it took in from December 1988 to September 1990.

In the fallout from the scandal, State Games director James E. Narron was fired. The Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, Adele A. Wilzack, under whose auspices the program was operated, resigned.

"I think there is some confusion," Evans said. "Last December, after the problems were discovered, the budget subcommittee recommended the games be transferred to us. That's how they became associated with us."

But Madaleno sees an earlier association.

"DEED through the Office of Sports Promotion supported the Maryland State Games with a $70,000 grant each year," said Madaleno. "They have some responsibility to follow up, that the money was properly spent . . . If they had, possibly some of the things that were discovered would have been discovered sooner."

However, Madaleno said he had other reasons for his recommendation to cut the OSP. He said other departments and organizations within the state performed the same work.

The Maryland State Games, though now under DEED supervision, caused part of that problem too, when its foundation decided to expand to other pursuits. The State Games Foundation became the driving force behind Maryland's initial Olympic Festival bids and also began organizing other events, like surfing championships in Ocean City.

The OSP originally requested a budget of $519,645, which is $100,000 less than last year's budget request. When the State Games were added, the figure rose by about $250,000.

Since then, Evans has told the subcommittees the OSP could put on the State Games for a little less than half that amount, and that by 1993 those games would be returned to the private sector.

"The State Games are part of sports promotion," said Amoss. "There is $250,000 in the budget for it and that's a problem. It's gotten bad publicity. And a very real question is how much good does it do? I don't think it has been that successful.

"But I think we'd be looking hard at sports promotion anyway," Amoss said.

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