College athletics administrators are panicking about a provision of the recently passed House tax bill that would make donations made to universities related to season ticket purchases non-deductible, potentially costing athletic programs enormous chunks of funding, according to a report from Darren Rovell of ESPN:
In the proposed measure, Section 1306 would cut deductions associated with charitable contributions for tickets. Not allowing fans to deduct for donations that give them the right to buy tickets would immediately cost college programs hundreds of millions of dollars, according to athletic directors who spoke with ESPN.
Here’s how this works: at certain colleges, and for certain prime season tickets, a prerequisite for purchase is a donation to the school. Rovell provides a couple examples of this arrangement in action: LSU, for example, only makes 50-yard-line season tickets available to people who’ve donated a certain amount to something called the Tradition Fund—this year, the amount was reportedly $1,025 per ticket; at Duke, the minimum donation for season tickets at Cameron Indoor Stadium is $4,000 per seat, for seats that already run a few thousand bucks. This is big business for college athletics!
“We take in $50 million to $65 million a year in donations related to tickets,” said LSU athletic director Joe Alleva. “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.”
Alleva said LSU president F. King Alexander has communicated with state legislators to express their displeasure with the proposed change.
Colleges could, in theory, just add the required donation amount to the price of a season ticket, but the benefit of doing it the current way is that the portion considered a donation is, of course, tax deductible. So you pay $7,000 for the Duke season tickets, but you write off a huge chunk of the donated portion, cutting the effective cost by roughly half:
For years, college athletic programs have relied on donations associated with season tickets to fuel their budgets. While the price of the season tickets themselves are not tax deductible, fans have been able to write off up to 80 percent of the donation that was required to buy those tickets, a fact that has been heavily marketed by the programs themselves. If the provision winds up in a final tax bill that passes, the ability to write off anything related to the donation would disappear.
I am having a hard time getting worked up about a tax deduction being taken away from someone who pays $4,000 to pay $3,000 for Duke season tickets. And I am having an even harder time getting worked up about a bomb being lobbed into the finances of major college sports. But there’s a dire warning in this report about the way this would impact scholarships for athletes, and this feature is part of a tax bill that is broadly and wildly unfriendly to colleges and those who’d like to attend them, in addition to all us regular non-millionaires out here. At any rate, I recommend reading Rovell’s entire report.