Refereeing Navy Athletics

April 17, 1995

Last year, we were wondering what kind of game the Naval Academy Athletic Association was playing.

An investigation by The Sun revealed that the private, non-profit agency, which finances athletics at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, spent $317,000 on a condominium for the academy's athletic director and shelled out thousands of dollars more to send local businessmen and academy officials to the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.

Then a few months later the association, which gleans millions of dollars from donations, dues, ticket sales and television rights, turned around and canceled four varsity sports programs for lack of money.

Those revelations attracted the ire of the Congress, including Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who proposed that the government take control of the academy's athletic programs.

But a federal government takeover would cost millions of taxpayer dollars. Congress would have to buy the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium from the association and hire additional people to oversee the sports program. Even then, there would be no guarantee that the federal government, with its own history of woeful misspending, would manage the money more wisely.

The Department of the Navy instead is recommending a number of measures short of federal government control that would increase oversight of the athletic association. These recommendations include creating a new subcommittee of the academy's Board of Visitors to advise the superintendent on the NAAA; adding another active duty officer to the NAAA's Board of Control to increase military oversight of the association; and requiring the association to use a major accounting firm for its annual budget audits.

These recommendations must be approved by Congress, but Academy Superintendent Charles R. Larson and athletic director Jack Lengyel seem willing to support them.

The association does not receive government funding, but the midshipmen and alumni who contribute to the NAAA deserve some assurance that their money is being spent wisely.

The Navy's recommendations would help. But needed even more than oversight is for the NAAA to change its priorities. The association must start living up to its mission of aiding academy athletes, not academy bigwigs.

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