Shift in academy sports funding OK'd

August 12, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Writer

House and Senate lawmakers, concerned about spending decisions and potential conflicts of interest, have agreed to shift the financing of Navy sports from the century-old Naval Academy Athletic Association to the federal government by 1996.

Conferees accepted yesterday an amendment proposed by Sen. Robert C. Byrd to force the change as they wrapped up their work on the defense authorization bill for next year.

The amendment by the West Virginia Democrat also calls for the academy's athletic director to be either an active-duty military officer or a civil servant rather than an employee of an outside group, bringing the Naval Academy into line with the Army and Air Force academies.

Jack Lengyel, the academy's current athletic director is employed by the NAAA, a nonprofit charitable group founded in 1892 to finance and support Navy sports.

The amendment originally called for the shift to take place next March, but now requires the Navy to submit a report to Congress in March detailing how it will make the changes and include the costs.

Naval Academy officials contend that private funding gives them "more flexibility," particularly with regard to contracts. In addition, they say they would have to hire more employees in order to

abide by federal guidelines. They and their allies on Capitol Hill are hopeful that the report will demonstrate those added costs to the extent that the funding shift might be forestalled.

Whether the funding of Navy athletics comes under federal control "will depend upon [the] report next spring," Adm. Charles R. Larson, the academy's new superintendent, said yesterday.

But a congressional staffer said the Byrd amendment was approved unanimously by the Senate Armed Services Committee and he expects it to go into effect. "From our point of view, the amendment stands," he said.

Senator Byrd drafted the amendment in response to reports in The Sun that the NAAA spent $317,000 on a condominium for Mr. Lengyel and sent 96 academy officials, local businessmen and their spouses on an all-expense-paid trip to the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia in December 1992.

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

"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," Senator Byrd said last month when he offered the amendment.

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

Admiral Larson reiterated yesterday that academy officials attending the game were "official workers," while the private citizens were receiving a "reasonable reward" for their support of Navy athletics.

But he said he is mounting an internal review of the NAAA to determine if there is enough oversight of its operations.

The NAAA collects about $7 million each year from TV rights for Navy football, ticket sales, investments, public donations, dues from its 11,000 members and assessments to the 4,100 midshipmen. 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.

In a wide-ranging interview yesterday, Admiral Larson also said he:

* Expects to decide within 10 days whether the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., will move to Annapolis. NAPS offers a 10-month college preparatory course for active duty and reserve enlisted personnel who are trying to gain an appointment to the academy.

* Has yet to reach a decision on the fate of the Naval Academy Dairy Farm in Gambrills, the 862-acre farm that has been in operation since 1911.

Admiral Larson was philosophical about his predecessor, Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, who was embroiled in the biggest cheating scandal in academy history.

He began talking about a commander's responsibility when a ship runs aground, then his voice trailed off. "How much of this would have just happened no matter who was there?" he wondered. "It's very likely that something may happen in the next four years."

Did Admiral Lynch run his ship aground?

"No I wouldn't say that," he replied. "I would say Tom had some problems on his watch."

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