Saturday, February 03, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 378 - Feb. 3 - Athletics

Feb. 3, 7:00 a.m., 7:30 a.m. (Sperber, Miller and Parrott), 9:30 a.m. (Grassley, DeFord, Register, Athletics and Academics, The Hindu)

Press-Citizen Devotes Page to Athletics as Academics

Because the Press-Citizen's entire op ed page this morning is devoted to college football (and Senator Grassley's look at whether "contributions" for skyboxes should qualify as "charitable contributions" to "education") it's enough for one day's blog entry and will be today's focus here as well.

(The UI Presidential Search Committee stories this morning (coming out of yesterday's Committee meeting) will be linked and discussed tomorrow. Issues: Regents continue to respond to tuition-paying undergrads' request to be included with a "poke in the eye with a sharp stick," Committee chair tries to put best light on number of interested applicants following Regents' disaster during first Search, though search firm shares my view that it's a problem. (I've discussed the issue, and described Regent President Gartner as "the elephant in our board room." See "The Elephant" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search Held Hostage Day 70 - Jan. 25," January 25, 2007.))

If you'll forgive the immodesty, I'm going to lead this morning with the full text of my own 500-word contribution to the page, which the Press-Citizen headline writers dubbed . . .

"It's Sure Cheapter Than a Rain Forest"
Nicholas Johnson

In addition to the fact that Iowa's Sen. Chuck Grassley is no longer chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I don't think his suggestion that there shouldn't be tax deductions for "contributions" to intercollegiate football programs stands a snowball's chance in an Iowa rain forest.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't think about it.

Legal discussions pose two issues: What is the law? What should it be? Grassley acknowledges perhaps the law should be changed. But, as written, he questions whether it provides deductions for contributions to college football.

Tax deductions are for charitable contributions to eligible organizations. The IRS says "charitable" means things like "relief of the poor; advancement of religion, education or science; defending human and civil rights."

Eligible organizations under Section 501(c)(3) are those, for example, "operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes."

Doesn't sound much like football.

College football has become a business. Big business. With corporate CEO-level salaries for coaches. NFL scouts watching these "farm clubs" and hiring the best players. Student seating giving way to $100,000 skyboxes in $100 million-plus stadiums. TV revenues over $1 billion. Coaches' product endorsements. Advertising on scoreboards. And tie-in agreements with gambling casinos and lotteries.

It doesn't look exactly like a program designed for "relief of the poor." Nor, suggests our senator, does it have much to do with scholarships for those among them seeking a college education, or building classrooms, or any other "educational purposes."

Competitive sports have been around for thousands of years. They're not going away soon. Nor should they. The question is whether housing them in our high schools and colleges is best for either academics or athletics.

The rest of the world also loves sports. They go crazy over soccer -- the only sport for which there is truly a "world championship." But they're cheering for community teams.

Sure, their schools have physical education classes and intramural sports -- and given our kids' obesity, we could do with more of both in our schools. But the primary focus of their secondary schools and universities is on academics, not athletics.

Sports Illustrated's Frank DeFord thinks we should admit football isn't academic and put it in a university's "Department of Entertainment." I have an even better idea, a kind of win-win.

Keep "the Iowa Hawkeyes." Keep Kinnick Stadium. Keep the tailgating and drunken crowds. But make the football program its own, separate for-profit corporation. It keeps the football revenue, but pays to lease Kinnick. The corporation could pay the coach whatever it wanted. It might even pay the players a little fairer share of those revenues, too.

Meanwhile, the university could become an academic institution.

How could for-profit Hawkeye football give contributors tax deductions? That's what special interest lobbyists are for: making the tax code resemble Swiss cheese. The Olympics are a 501(c)(3). Why not the Hawkeyes?

Propose the idea to Sen. Chuck "Earmarks" Grassley. He's not opposed to football; he just doesn't think it's "education."
Nicholas Johnson teaches at the UI College of Law and maintains and

First, the Press-Citizen online makes three other columns from its page available. Here are the links to . . .

Murray Sperber, "Whether they love, hate or are indifferent to the Hawkeyes, taxpayers will pay the difference," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 3, 2007

Charles Miller, "Thanks for the Reminder of the Difference Between Civic-Minded Giving and Tax-Deductible Giving," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 3, 2007

Steve Parrott, "University of Iowa Responds," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 3, 2007

The hard-copy, newspaper page also contains some summary comments about the original column from Senator Chuck Grassley that prompted this discussion (and more!), an excerpt from the Frank DeFord column to which I make reference (in my column today, set forth above), and an editorial from the Des Moines Register. Here are links to the text of that commentary:

Charles Grassley, "Looking Out for Taxpayers by Looking at Donations," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 27, 2007

Frank DeFord, "Money in College Sports? Let's be Honest," Morning Edition, National Public Radio, January 24, 2007

Editorial, "Tax-loophole users should feel like targets; Grassley hunts down too-sweet deals," Des Moines Register, January 22, 2007

Also relevant in this context, perhaps, is my earlier Nicholas Johnson, "Athletics and Academics," September 30, 2006, which makes reference to another Frank DeFord column.

And while of course there was no way of anticipating the event and story, it's noteworthy that The Hindu reports in its edition this morning that fans of the soccer teams "Catania and Palermo rioted outside Catania's Angelo Massimino stadium during the second half," in a way that was sufficiently serious that a policeman was killed from an explosive device and "Federation (FIGC) commissioner Luca Pancalli called an emergency meeting in Rome late Friday, and announced he was canceling all games." The story goes on to note that "the violence follows last month's death of a fourth-division team manager from injuries he received when he tried to stop a
brawl during a game."

(a) In my column, above, I note that "The rest of the world also loves sports. They go crazy over soccer -- the only sport for which there is truly a 'world championship.' But they're cheering for community teams." The riots in Catania are evidence of the more extreme form of how fans "go crazy over soccer." (b) I also find the story -- in India, of this soccer riot in Italy -- some evidence of the world-wide enthusiasm for soccer. (c) Post-game riots are not unknown in this country, but they seldom involve explosive devices and death. (d) The point is simply that, as I say in the column, "Competitive sports have been around for thousands of years. They're not going away soon. Nor should they." Thus, when we talk of tax deductions, or whether "community teams" might not be a better alternative to university-affiliated football, it's not "anti-athletics," it's just an effort to rationalize and possibly improve the sport.

The Hindu story can be found at Police officer killed in riots at soccer match in Italy," The Hindu ("India's National Newspaper"), February 3, 2007.

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story, these blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006. Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.) For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006. My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006. And the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References". A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 (updated January 17, 2007) is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Bog since June 2006.]

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, it should stay tax deductible. My annual I-Club contribution goes towards student scholarships. It includes scholarships for everyone from football to women's rowing. The football program, no matter if people like it or not, provides a glue that keep the diaspora alumni together and services as a vehicle for general fundraising.

As an alum, I would much rather give funds to the sports programs that give me enjoyment and pride rather than the academic programs, many of which treated the majority of students like chunks of meat processing through a system. Let's see; Should I give to the sports which I still enjoy or the political science department which I got my BA from? The same program who had professors who did not want to be bothered by undergraduates.