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Time to curb NU sports freebies

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State Auditor Mike Foley justifiably gets a lot of praise for ferreting out scandal and abuse.

In the case of what Foley calls "Cornhusker Kickback II," the Nebraska Corn Board should be given a share of the credit.

The Corn Board must have felt uneasy about accepting free tickets to football games in return for advertising on the Husker Sports Network.

Foley said the board contacted his office in December about the propriety of accepting 28 tickets to the NU-OU football game. Ten of the tickets were for skybox seats. The package included a pregame party. The board also was offered a package of ticket, air fare and lodging for the NU-Washington game in return for an early sign-up.

After looking into the matter, Foley concluded that there are legitimate reasons for agencies to advertise on the network. But the practice of handing out tickets for personal use should stop, Foley said.

"My view on this is really quite simple: State employees and their family and friends should not be attending Husker sporting events on the public's dime," he said in a news release this week.

We're confident that the vast majority of Nebraskans would concur heartily with that sentiment.

Foley said an investigation by his office revealed that agencies are spending $1 million a year advertising on the Husker Sports Network. The company last year bought about $100,000 worth of tickets and gave them away as gifts and incentives.

Over the past three years, the company has given away 2,564 tickets, passes to tailgate parties, travel packages and tickets to away games, autographed footballs, and dinners with coaches, Foley said.

It should be pointed out that many of those tickets were used in legitimate ways. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, for example, used them as contest prizes. More than 1,000 tickets went to the State Lottery for use as prizes in state lottery games.

But apparently many of the tickets and incentives were being used for personal benefit.

After the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission issued a staff advisory opinion last week, the Corn Board voted to turn down in the future any free tickets or incentives, although it did approve a new contract to advertise on the Husker Sports Network.

Other state agencies should follow suit. Decisions on whether to advertise on the Husker Sports Network should be made strictly on the basis of whether the expenditure would be effective in achieving public goals -- not because employees can score a few football tickets.


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