Sports Association or Slush Fund?

June 22, 1994

The Naval Academy Athletic Association ought to be ashamed to look Brodie Prieto in the face.

Last year, Midshipman Prieto won a gold medal at the Eastern Intercollegiate Fencing Championships. He couldn't defend his title because the NAAA, the tax-exempt private organization that is supposed to promote and help pay for academy sports programs, got rid of the fencing team. Expense was one of the reasons.

Yet the NAAA didn't have any trouble forking over thousands of dollars so 96 academy bigwigs and their guests could enjoy an all-expense paid trip to Philadelphia for the Army-Navy game. Nor did it have a problem finding $317,000 in cash to buy a condominium for its athletic director. (The total cost of the fencing program and three other sports the NCAA killed was only $250,000).

A Sun investigation raises questions about the NAAA's judgment and policies that the academy Board of Visitors must investigate. Is this an athletic association or a slush fund? The NAAA's charter says its assets must be used for supporting academy athletics, except for compensating officers and employees. Still, cut four popular varsity sports programs while ensconcing Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, the academy superintendent (who, by the way, has final say over the NAAA's budget) for two nights in a $1,000 per night hotel room. Talk about misplaced priorities.

NAAA handles millions of dollars, much of it coming from alumni who believe their money is going to a good cause. It should be accountable for spending decisions that stray from its stated purpose. Yet the officers and civilian officials who oversee NAAA funds seem to have settled into a cozy arrangement where they use the money for whatever they want, with carte blanche from Superintendent Lynch and Commandant of Midshipmen Capt. John B. Padgett -- who, of all people, should be conscious of the need for groups linked to the academy to be managed with utmost integrity.

Besides making poor judgment calls, the NAAA may have broken the law. The condominium purchase, other residential properties, the fact that NAAA officials receive housing as compensation -- none of this has been reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

Whether the NAAA is hiding something or is merely negligent, its tax filings reflect an irresponsibility the Board of Visitors cannot ignore. The NAAA may be a separate entity from the academy, but its failings reflect badly on the institution.

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