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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Aggie-Eagle is over, but debts linger

A nonprofit foundation led by Assistant City Manager Lawrence Wray owes more than $57,000 to North Carolina A&T State University, proceeds from the now-defunct Aggie-Eagle Classic football game.
Wray will travel to Greensboro, where N.C. A&T is located, today in hopes that the university will forgive the debt, which he said happened when the annual game failed to raise expected money.

At the same time, the Capital Area Sports Foundation is obligated to pay more than $46,000 to N.C. Central University in Durham -- a football-related payment Wray hopes to iron out soon.

The outstanding money stems from a historic rivalry between the schools played out on the gridiron in Raleigh each year until 2005.

The foundation, which has Wray as president, hosted the Aggie-Eagle classic in Raleigh at Carter-Finley Stadium from 2002 to 2005 -- the year that N.C. A&T bowed out.

Through a promotion agreement, the foundation was to pay each school an honorarium each year: $150,000 in 2005.

So far, the Greensboro school has been paid $92,524 of that amount, according to documents that Wray provided. The Durham school got $103,308.

Wray said Tuesday all parties knew the 2005 game would fall short when it was shifted from Sunday to Monday -- the Labor Day holiday.

"We didn't make as much money as we thought we were going to make," he said.

Wray described the foundation as "just gone now."

"We're not doing anything," he said, adding that the foundation also owes N.C. State University an unknown sum.

The foundation keeps separate finances from the city of Raleigh, but the city acts as its bookkeeper. Taxpayer money has gone toward Aggie-Eagle games in the past.

'All in this together'

Raleigh and Wake County put $30,000 toward the classic in 2005, according to a letter from James D. Williams Jr., Durham attorney for the foundation.

In 2002, taxpayers got the bill for about $50,000 when the game came up $140,000 short on a rainy play date. The city and county's agreement to subsidize the event helped keep it from moving to Charlotte that year.

But Williams wrote in a memo to Wray this week that the city had no additional financial obligations to either university.

On its 2005 tax return, the foundation reported $881,988 in total revenue and $898,942 in expenses. Wray acknowledged the group is in the red.

Wray wrote then-N.C. A&T Chancellor James C. Renick and N.C. Central's Chancellor James Ammons earlier this year, asking that the outstanding money be forgotten now that the foundation is in the red.

"We were all in this together," Wray said.

Administrators at N.C. A&T are reviewing the situation and would not comment Tuesday, said Mable Scott, vice chancellor for university relations.

Ammons was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached. Wray said he planned to visit the Durham campus soon.

Grand tradition fizzles

The Aggie-Eagle Classic lasted more than 80 years, moving to Raleigh in 1994.

N.C. A&T pulled out of the game in hopes of playing an all Division I-AA schedule. N.C. Central is a Division II team, and in 2005, N.C. A&T officials thought playing the classic hurt the team's chances for at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.

On game day in 2005, attendance was reported at 35,000, up more than 7,000 from the previous year.

But fans doubted the crowd count, noting that two-thirds of the 53,570-seat stadium appeared empty and tailgaters failed to pack the parking lot.

Still, Wray sounded upbeat a few days before the game, even after N.C. State University's home opener pushed them off the Sunday schedule.

"I thought [playing Monday] would affect [attendance] in terms of participation of individuals," he told a News & Observer reporter at the time. "We were able to overcome that by getting word out relatively early and then being able to fill Sunday with something great."

Tax return questions

Officials at N.C. A&T had questioned the foundation's 2005 tax return, which lists a $160,415 contribution to each school.

David Erwin, the city's accounting manager, explained in a memo in October to Wray that the returns are prepared to reflect the calendar rather than fiscal year. So the figure includes some money from the 2004 Aggie-Eagle classic.

But the memo also noted errors with the tax return -- there was not an even $160,415 paid to each school -- that will require an amendment to be filed.


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