NCAA President Myles Brand has (finally) responded to the ongoing inquiry into the tax-exempt status of the organization in a 25-page letter posted on the organization’s web site. The response initially had an October deadline – I guess somebody forgot to tell the folks in Committee that it’s college football season. You can’t expect a serious debate about academics in the middle of
football season, and just as basketball is gearing up the school semester.
It’s worth noting that the first three pages of the letter don’t address the tax-exempt status question at all. Much of the rest attempts to link “life lessons learned” in sports to the educational purpose of NCAA athletics. This should give everyone in Committee a chuckle.
You see, other than the occasional athletic superstar, the economics (and make no mistake about it, economics is really what we’re talking about here) of college athletics and treatment afforded those who participate (coaches included) do not mirror real life. In real life, no one pays you millions and billions of dollars to watch you do your job. You don’t get lavish perks for showing up to work. And perhaps, most telling in the tax world, you don’t get a pass on your taxes because the institution you work for happens to do some good along the way…
Brand argues, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court has already sanctioned the college sports tradition in NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, 468 U.S. 85 (1984), when the Court opined:
The NCAA plays a critical role in the maintenance of a revered tradition of amateurism in college sports. There can be no question but that it needs ample latitude to play that role, or that the preservation of the student-athlete in higher education adds richness and diversity to intercollegiate athletics and is entirely consistent with the goals of the Sherman Act.
And in theory, that makes a lot of sense. And maybe in 1984, it made a lot more sense. That was before the NCAA started collecting billions on lucrative television packages. Before coaches were paid millions of dollars and treated like royalty. Before alums were squeezed for extra dollars to score highly desirable game tickets. Before companies like Nike started paying to have their logo plastered all over the uniforms of college athletes. Before college sports began to be merely a stop along the way to professional sports. In that regard, “the revered tradition of amateurism in sports” really doesn’t exist at all.
And what about those outrageously high college coach salaries? Brand claims they’re not high at all. In fact, he writes that “coaches’ compensation packages, especially those with seven-figure packages, include institutional salaries commensurate with other highly paid and highly recruited faculty and staff.” Someone should tell that to the president of Duke University; as previously posted, Coach Krzyzewski is the highest-paid employee at Duke University, with a salary nearly three times as much as Duke’s president. The idea that these salaries are commensurate with other “highly paid and highly recruited faculty and staff” is highly amusing – unless, of course, Brand was referring to other coaches.
He spends much of the remainder of the letter touting how the $7.8 billion budget for NCAA (yes, with a b) really, really helps the students who are not participating in sports achieve. I’ll bet that makes those students thankful for the $74,000 of expenses attributable to football players per year and the staggering $158,000 of expenses attributable to men’s basketball players per year. It’s especially appalling when you consider that the average cost of expenses for a student-athlete is $39,000 per year. I guess that means the lacrosse and wrestling teams cost, what, $5 a person? You can practically feel the desperation.
Brand wraps up, more or less, with this unbelievable statement: The ability of the NCAA to influence spending is limited. So their argument is what, exactly? That they have created a monster that they can’t control? That college sports has become Frankenstein? And for that, they should be rewarded?
Don’t get me wrong. I love college sports. I love Duke basketball, back from the days when Jay Bilas, Mark Alarie, and Johnny Dawkins played. I watch college football on television; I was one of those millions of folks who tuned in to watch Ohio State play Michigan. But you know what? I watch it for entertainment. And those millions of other folks who watch? For entertainment. At the end of the day, we’re watching a game – a game that makes a whole lot of money for a whole lot of people. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I just happen to believe it’s not a tax-exempt purpose.
A spokesman for the Committee said lawmakers did not plan to comment yet on the response.