Will New Tax Bill Curtail College Athletics Giving?

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Americans of all economic stripes were left wondering where they stood financially after the House of Representatives passed its tax bill Thursday by a 227-205 vote. Division I college athletics administrators represent one group with serious concerns about the bill’s potential impact.

According to ESPN, Section 1306 of the bill eliminates deductions associated with charitable giving tied to season-ticket purchases — gifts that athletic departments rely on heavily to fortify their operating budgets. Duke University athletic director Kevin White told ESPN that elimination of such deductions will cause “a dramatic sea change in the college sports landscape.”

“We need to put speed bumps up now to slow this thing down,” White said, “because I don't think the politicians have any idea how much this will pull apart our system."

For decades, schools have been requiring fans — or at least those located in certain seating areas — to make a donation for the right to purchase season tickets. The tax write-off — up to 80 percent of the donation — and the selling point it represented will disappear under the new plan, and athletics administrators fear actual donations will follow suit.

“We take in $50 million to $65 million a year in donations related to tickets,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva told ESPN. “If even 10 percent of people say, ‘We’re not going to do that anymore,’ that’s at least $5 million to us. We have no other place to make that money up.”

"While we certainly do not know the exact repercussions, we expect that it would have a damaging effect," added Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne. "The philanthropic support of donors is instrumental, and although the amount of contributions from institution to institution varies, it is of equal importance across the board when you look at financial structures. Very few college athletics programs actually make a profit. Take that funding away, and it will be difficult to operate without making dramatic changes.”

Non-revenue sports opportunities, in particular, could be adversely impacted, said White.

Meanwhile, proponents of the bill argue that donations tied to tickets aren’t truly charitable, since the donor receives something valuable in return — the right to buy season tickets. The bill’s author, Representative Kevin Brady (R-Texas), reasons that the average fan is actually disadvantaged when wealthy fans are allowed to deduct their donations for the right to sit in the best seats. He adds that states could still allow such deductions, if they choose.

The Senate still has to pass its own bill, which at this point does not include a provision like the House’s Section 1306.

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