Legislators take notice of NCAA's hypocrisy

November 17, 2006|By RICK MAESE

There's a man who runs a nonprofit organization. He has righteous goals and thus receives generous assistance from the government, which helps fund his noble calling. This man earned $870,000 in a single year for his nonprofit work, wears nice suits, travels to nice places.

It's difficult to tell whether this man - NCAA president Myles Brand - is fooling himself or trying to fool everyone else. We could know soon enough, though.

Purporting to educate college students, the big business of college sports has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government, moving huge sums of money - enough to feed entire nations - without the worry of having to pay taxes.

That part is not new. But suddenly, some lawmakers slowly are realizing that maybe the NCAA's pursuit isn't as pure as someone such as Brand wants us to believe. A congressional committee is investigating the NCAA and trying to understand why the organization is exempt from paying taxes, especially when you consider that it has evolved into a business that produces nearly $8 billion of revenue in a single year.

Earlier this week, Brand responded to the committee's concerns with a 25-page defense of the NCAA, much of it admirable in theory but laughable in practice.

"The fundamental purpose of intercollegiate athletics is the education of student-athletes," Brand wrote, presumably with a straight face.

Before this starts to look like a tax audit or Wall Street Journal dissertation, let's at least establish that college sports is big business, and the NCAA competes with professional leagues for television time, sponsorship dollars and the hard-earned money of millions of sports fans across the nation.

You can't escape the dollar signs. A deposed Florida State offensive coordinator will be paid $537,500 not to coach. USA Today reported this week that the average Division I-A head football coach now earns $1 million per year. And CBS is paying the NCAA $545 million every March to televise the men's basketball tournament.

When you're watching Michigan battle Ohio State tomorrow, forget the rankings - think of the dollars. The combined operating budgets of the two football programs total $45 million, according to the most recent figures available. Coaches' salaries alone top $7 million. To broadcast the game, ABC is reportedly spending $50 million. And then there are the 101,000 fans who paid for their tickets, parking and concessions, revenue that will total at least $5 million tomorrow. Plus, each athlete you see wearing a helmet and pads is essentially a $74,000 average annual expense to the school, according to NCAA figures (though, of course, they're paid solely with schoolbooks and classroom time).

If the NCAA wants to operate like a big business, then it should do what big businesses do - give Uncle Sam his slice and stop relying on taxpayers to help foot the bill. Athletic administrators have hidden behind this educational facade for far too long. And Brand's letter this week continued to highlight the intellectual dishonesty of an organization that long ago abandoned intellectual pursuits.

Rep. William Thomas, a Republican from California, posed interesting questions to Brand last month, and the NCAA leader defended his institution by continuing to sell the NCAA as another branch on the ol' educational tree, akin to the school symphony or chess club.

Thomas pointed out that schools that do well in NCAA tournaments are rewarded with more money from NCAA coffers. "Rewarding athletic instead of academic performance seems to be contradictory to the NCAA's tax-exempt mission, and sends a message to member institutions and athletes that athletics is more important than academics," Thomas wrote.

You don't need complex flow charts to understand the hypocrisy that underlies so much of the NCAA's stated mission. Much of the generated revenue has no bearing on academics.

Let's consider the top spenders. The University of Texas spends more on its football program than any other school, more than $50 million each year. It graduates just 40 percent of its players (or just 29 percent, depending on which numbers you go by). The two other football teams in the $50 million club also struggle to graduate half their players.

And the top-spending basketball program is Louisville's, which graduates just one-third of its players (or only 22 percent, according to federal numbers).

Thomas also pointed out that in the past year the football season has been extended to 12 games and an extra week has been added onto basketball season, enabling hoops teams to play more than 40 games in a season. Brand wore his tapping shoes, noting that "these are all fair and important questions to ask, and they are the same questions the NCAA membership must ask itself as it addresses issues around playing and practice seasons." Yup, sounds like academics were at the root of these decisions.

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