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Athletics tax deductions not right message


The Daily Iowan

January 29, 2007

[Note: This material is copyright by The Daily Iowan, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Daily Iowan.]

Higher-education costs nationwide have skyrocketed in recent years, and the three Iowa regent universities have not avoided the trend. But athletics departments are not scrapped for cash. Judging by the salaries that the UI pays to its men's basketball and football head coaches, and the recent renovations to Kinnick Stadium, it looks as if things have never been better. The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is examining whether contributions to athletics departments should be tax-deductible. This Editorial Board welcomes the investigation and is extremely skeptical about the current deduction.

The regent universities beg the state Board of Regents year after year to fully fund the Partnership Plan for Transformation and Excellence with mixed success. But athletics contributors receive obscenely high deductions for their money. After subtracting the costs for tickets and amenity fees, a full 80 percent of money spent for luxury seating is deductible. It is somewhat easier to stomach a deduction for money designated for scholarships - but not at its current 100 percent rate. Certainly, contributions for capital projects are not worthy of full deductions, either.

It is difficult to imagine deductions more unworthy. Athletics departments do a solid job of sustaining themselves, and private contributions do certainly help. But we can barely tolerate the predominant role athletics is allowed to hold at universities. We would certainly be in uproar if university funds were funneled to athletics.

Universities are educational institutes, athletics merely a sideshow. It is stupid to attend a school because of fondness of its athletics squads and equally stupid to donate to them because of this attraction. Kinnick Stadium may look nicer these days - but most other buildings would look better as well after $86 million renovations. We imagine the Chemistry Building - or for that matter, almost any other campus building - could use a substantial touchup.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has taken a lead role in this matter. He recently told the Des Moines Register, "I wonder whether university trustees are doing their jobs when there are big salaries for sports coaches and money for stadium skyboxes while tuition skyrockets." Grassley was undoubtedly referring to the $2.7 million salary paid to Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz. While Ferentz has done a superb job of establishing a solid football program, it's likely his salary will top that of any future UI president by at least five times.

There is no doubt whether athletics plays a major role at many American universities. But it is imperative we not let the university's duty to educate the future generations of Americans be distracted by an undue focus on sports. Giving obscene tax deductions for athletics contributions sends the wrong message.