Naval Academy group trims teams, not perks

June 13, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Writer

Five months before it recommended eliminating four varsity sports for costs and other reasons, the Naval Academy Athletic Association bought a $317,000 condominium for the school's athletic director and sent nearly 100 academy officials and guests on an all-expense paid trip to the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.

The NAAA, a tax-exempt, private organization that finances academy sports, paid cash in December 1992 for the sprawling condominium at The Villages at Summer Place, a private community south of Annapolis within steps of Gingerville Creek, according to state and Anne Arundel County records.

The association is listed as the owner of the condominium, and the resident is Jack Lengyel, the Naval Academy's athletic director and NAAA's president.

One week before buying the condominium, the association picked up the tab for 96 academy officials and their guests at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel in Philadelphia, where room rates range from $155 a night for a single to $1,000 a night for the vice presidential suite. Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, academy superintendent, stayed in that suite, according to the guest list obtained by The Sun.

Hotel officials noted, however, that they negotiate group rates.

Mr. Lengyel said he could not offer any information on the cost of the trip, an annual event.

The annual budgets for the four teams that were eliminated totaled $250,000.

The century-old NAAA, separate but closely linked to the Naval Academy, does not receive any government money. Instead, its estimated $7 million annual budget comes from TV rights for Navy football, ticket sales, investments, public donations and dues from its 11,000 members.

Admiral Lynch approves the association's budget and approved the condo purchase, Mr. Lengyel said.

The spending on real estate investment and on the Philadelphia trip, while sports programs are being cut, raises questions about whether NAAA lives up to its stated purposes.

NAAA is designed to "promote, influence and assist in financing the athletic contests" at the Naval Academy, according to its 1892 charter and its application for tax-exempt status filed with the charitable division of the Maryland Secretary of State's office.

"All revenue received by the NAAA is committed to the support of the academy's intercollegiate athletic program," the group wrote in the academy's 1993 Navy Football Guide.

Mr. Lengyel vigorously defended the NAAA's condominium purchase and the Philadelphia trip.

The 59-year-old athletic director said his contract calls for him to live at the academy. But when his academy housing was being renovated a year and a half ago, it was decided that the NAAA would purchase a house as an investment rather than rent. "We really performed a fiduciary responsibility," he said.

Mr. Lengyel said many of the academy officials were "working" at the Army-Navy game, while the private citizens were receiving a "reward" for their support of Navy sports. Among the guests were prominent Annapolis businessmen, such as Jerry Hardesty, owner of the Middleton Tavern.

"There were no freeloaders there. . . . You have to spend money to make money," Mr. Lengyel said.

It was Mr. Lengyel who announced at a May 1993 news conference that the academy would cut men's and women's fencing, women's gymnastics and men's volleyball, effecting about 80 midshipmen. The school also reduced the men's pistol team to club status, meaning the NAAA would no longer support it financially.

"We just didn't cut programs, we reviewed all the programs," Mr. Lengyel said at the time, noting that brigade and fan interest, availability of competition and revenue potential weighed in the decision. "We've trimmed costs off of all of our sports."

The guest list for the Philadelphia trip shows that 21 top academy officials had their meals and incidentals paid for by the NAAA. Most guests stayed two nights.

In addition to Mr. Lengyel and Admiral Lynch, the officials included Capt. John B. Padgett, the commandant of midshipmen who also oversees NAAA spending and decisions affecting the sports teams. Those three stayed in separate suites.

Neither the admiral nor the commandant were available for comment, said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Weishaupt, an academy spokesman.

In addition to the condominium, the NAAA owns a house on Lookout Lane near the North Severn Naval Station. Until recently it was the home of Michael A. Bobinski, the association's treasurer and the academy's associate director of athletics.

In April, Mr. Bobinski became the athletic director at the University of Akron in Ohio. Reached in Ohio, Mr. Bobinski said the three-bedroom house was purchased for the football coach, who declined to live there. He said he paid $600 per month in rent.

Purchased by NAAA in 1982 for $154,000, the Lookout Lane house is now assessed at $298,000, according to state and county records.

Mr. Lengyel said a football coach would live there and pay about $800 per month in rent.

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