Friday, October 27, 2006

NCAA's Tax-free Lifestyle Operating Football and Basketball Factories at Colleges

From George Will's new column in today's Washington Post:

What is the place of high-stakes football in higher education? Only 55 percent of football players and 38 percent of basketball players at Division I-A schools graduate.

Republican Rep. Bill Thomas wrote, as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, an eight-page letter to the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, asking awkward questions. Thomas wonders how, or whether, big-time college sports programs, which generate billions of tax-exempt dollars -- CBS pays the NCAA an annual average of $545 million, mainly for the rights to televise the March Madness basketball tournament -- further the purposes for which educational institutions are granted tax-exempt status.

Some say the tax-exempt status of college sports is justified by the fact -- and it is a fact -- that successful sports teams often trigger increased applications for admission, and largess from alumni and legislatures. But, Thomas notes, "federal taxpayers have no interest in increasing applicant pools at one school opposed to another." Furthermore, athletic success that causes a surge of giving to universities might decrease giving to worthy charities.

Also, tax exemption is financing an escalation of coaches' salaries. More than 35 college football coaches are paid more than $1 million annually.

The University of Michigan, which has had 198 consecutive sellouts at its stadium -- it now seats 107,501 -- is spending $226 million to add 3,200 luxury seats and 83 suites. The University of Texas at Austin is spending $150 million to add 10,000 seats to its current 85,123 capacity. These may be sound commercial decisions, but why should this commerce be tax-exempt?


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