NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 27, 2006

Big-time college sports programs, and the billions of tax-exempt dollars they generate, are coming under attack by those who want to know what high-stakes athletics has to do with higher education, says columnist George Will. 

Part of the proclaimed purpose of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is to maintain the athlete as an integral part of the student body, says Will, but in reality, athletes are far from the average student:

  • Only 55 percent of football players and 38 percent of basketball players at Division I-A schools graduate.
  • At Auburn, for example, many athletes have received high grades from the same professor for sociology and criminology courses that required no attendance and little work.
  • Eighteen members of Auburn's undefeated 2004 team took a combined 97 hours of those courses.

These and other findings are why Rep. Bill Thomas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, wrote to the NCAA asking how members generate a net profit on the operations of their athletic departments.  And of the institutions that generate a net profit, how many use the profit for purposes unrelated to the athletic department.

According to Will, there is little wonder what tax exemption status is actually helping pay for -- more athletics:

  • Tax exemption is financing an escalation of coaches' salaries; more than 35 college football coaches are paid more than $1 million annually.
  • Tax exemption also is a federal subsidy for ever more lavish facilities.
  • The University of Michigan alone is spending $226 million to add seats to what is already the largest football stadium in the nation. 

With little to no educational benefit, sooner or later the purposes for which college institutions are granted tax-exempt status will need to be addressed, says Will. 

Source: George Will, "Tax Breaks for Football," Washington Post, October 25, 2006.

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