Federal control of athletic group's finances sought

July 06, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Writer

Worried that spending by the Naval Academy Athletic Association raises questions of conflicts of interest, the Senate has approved a measure that would shift control over spending on Navy sports from the private athletic group to the federal government.

The amendment to a defense authorization bill sponsored by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., also would make the academy's athletic director either a civil servant or military officer, rather than an employee of an outside organization.

Jack Lengyel, the Naval Academy's athletic director, is paid by the NAAA and serves as its president.

The amendment, approved late Friday, comes after reports in The Sun that the NAAA spent $317,000 on a condominium for Mr. Lengyel and sent 96 academy officials, local businessmen and spouses on an all-expense-paid trip to the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.

That spending in December 1992 came five months before the NAAA approved cutting four varsity sports and reducing another sport to club status, citing costs and other factors.

Mr. Lengyel has staunchly defended the NAAA spending, noting that housing is part of his contract and that the condo, purchased while his quarters on the Naval Academy were being renovated, was considered an investment.

Because of an oversight by the association's accounting firm, he said, tax forms said the association was not involved in the purchase of property. He pointed out, however, that his condo is listed on the form for the year that ended May 31, 1993, under "investment property."

Mr. Lengyel also said many academy officials who received free accommodations for the Army-Navy game were working at the game and that the private citizens were being rewarded for supporting Navy sports.

The suites where he, Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, the academy's superintendent, and Capt. John B. Padgett, the commandant of midshipmen, stayed at the Wyndham-Franklin Plaza hotel were free, Mr. Lengyel said.

Mr. Byrd warned on the Senate floor about the appearance of impropriety.

"This situation illustrates some of the pitfalls and potential problems that can arise when conflicts of interest and lack of objective oversight of athletic budgets dominate an athletic program," he said. "Given the unique institutional arrangement between the Naval Academy and the NAAA . . . the appearance of impropriety is difficult to avoid."

The Senate amendment would bring the Naval Academy's athletic programs more closely in line with those at the Army and Air Force academies, where the athletic directors are civil servants or active-duty military officers. The other academies finance their sports programs with a combination of taxpayer money and "nonappropriated funds."

Nonappropriated funds are generated from sales at base commissaries and other shops on military posts. They are not included in the congressional budget but do come under strict federal regulations.

The NAAA collects about $7 million each year from TV rights for Navy football, ticket sales, investments, public donations and dues from its 11,000 members. It is registered as a charitable, tax-exempt organization and is governed by its century-old constitution. About half of the $7 million is spent on sports programs, the rest on administration.

Spending decisions are made by the NAAA's board of control, which includes Mr. Lengyel and other military and civilian academy officials. Final decisions rest with the academy superintendent.

The Senate amendment would require all money generated by the academy's athletic program to go into a nonappropriated fund account under the control of the Navy and the Defense Department.

Because the amendment is not included in the House version of the defense appropriations bill, it would have to be approved by a conference committee, probably in the fall.

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