A March court date looms over two Christian organizations—Bryan College and the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA)—in a conflict laced with Hollywood scenarios like sex crimes and contentious boardroom deals.
The dispute stems from NACA founder Mike Crain’s 2009 indictment on charges of sexually battering a 14-year-old girl and her mother, both of whom worked at the organization’s Dayton, Tenn., Fort Bluff Camp. Crain ultimately was convicted on both assaults—the minor girl’s by his own no contest plea and the mother’s through a trial by jury.
The NACA board negotiated a separation agreement with both Crain and his wife, Naomi, who also worked for the organization. According to court documents, Stephen Livesay, president of Bryan College, which is also located in Dayton, stepped into the situation in December 2009, becoming chairman of the NACA Board of Trustees and adding eight Bryan-affiliated members to the 10-person board. John Ballinger, the current CEO of Fort Bluff Camp, described the separation contract in a letter to Bryan College in December 2018, saying it included a monthly consulting fee for Naomi Crain, a generous severance package for Mike Crain, and a buyout for the couple’s home on the Fort Bluff Camp property. For the next six years, the camp made regular payments to the Crains.
“The new board basically made them go away to the tune of $1.4 million,” Ballinger told me.
Meanwhile, Bryan College faced inner turmoil over Livesay’s leadership and the college’s approach to teaching on evolution as articulated in its statement of belief.
In June 2016, Livesay and the Bryan-stacked NACA board transferred ownership of the $6.9 million Fort Bluff Camp property to the college in exchange for a payment of $1. Bryan assumed $900,000 in NACA debt, and the NACA board also brokered a lease agreement between the two parties, committing the Fort Bluff Camp to a $10,000 monthly rent payment once the property exchanged hands. The deal helped Bryan overcome a million-dollar deficit, ending the year substantially in the black.
Livesay then resigned his role on the NACA board, stating it would be a conflict of interest to continue, and recommended that NACA find four new trustees not affiliated with Bryan.
NACA made the monthly rent payments for 1½ years and continued to use Fort Bluff Camp, but a February 2018 independent audit of both NACA and Bryan College finances raised troubling questions about the nature of the agreement.
Ballinger, now president of the camp, was employed as a consultant to perform the audit. He became president and CEO several months later. He claimed in a December 2018 letter to the Bryan College Board of Trustees that the property’s ownership transfer was not only inappropriate but also fraudulent and did not conform to state law. He also said the disbursements to the Crains were unlawful inurement, whereby a nonprofit group makes excessive compensation to individuals within the organization. Ballinger told me he consulted two separate legal advisers who counseled NACA to cut off the payment streams immediately.
Bryan College and the Crains have sued the NACA to restart the payments, both claiming that the contracts are fair and legal. Further complicating an already perplexing situation, the attorneys general in Tennessee and Delaware have refused to intervene. The Tennessee attorney general claims jurisdiction belongs to Delaware, the state in which the NACA is incorporated. But the Delaware attorney general points back to Tennessee since that is the physical location of both parties and the property.
Ballinger said he approached officials at Bryan at least three times to request mediation. “I truly wanted to keep this out of the courts because 1 Corinthians 6 calls us to do that, and they responded with ‘Call our attorney,’” he said.
The parties are due in court for a hearing Monday that could consolidate the Crains’ and Bryan’s cases against NACA. A representative of Bryan College declined to comment for this article since the dispute is currently an active lawsuit.