Last year, many people were wondering what kind of games the Naval Academy Athletic Association was playing.
A Sun investigation revealed that the private, non-profit agency, which finances athletics at the U.S. Naval Academy, spent $317,000 on a condominium for the academy's athletic director and shelled out thousands more to send local businessmen and academy officials to the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. 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 for lack of money. Those revelations attracted the ire of Congress, including Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who proposed that the government assume control of the academy's athletic programs.
But a federal government takeover would cost millions. Congress would have to buy the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis 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 government control to 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. The 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 assurance that their money is being spent wisely. The Navy's recommendations would help. But needed more than oversight is assurance from the NAAA that its priorities are in order: The association must live up to its mission of aiding academy student-athletes, not academy bigwigs.