That University of Texas football coach Mack Brown generates — along with his unpaid roster — a tremendous amount of loot for the UT athletic department cannot be disputed, regardless of how distasteful you find reports of Brown’s recent salary increase. However, the Austin American-Statesman’s Eric Dexheimer considers another debate, one that has Brown heading an “educational charity” with non-profit status, paraphrased by Dexheimer as “the latest symptom of a haphazard public policy that lumps UT’s football program into the same category as its law school and Blanton Museum of Art.”
To tax analysts, the issue is not how much money the Longhorns football team makes ” $87.6 million last year ” or whether the coach deserves his salary. Rather, said John Colombo, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, the question is: “Is Texas paying Mack Brown $5 million for his contribution to the educational environment at the university, or because it wants to win football games?”
The large sums generated through advertising and media rights by schools with highly competitive sports programs raise the question of whether those sports programs have become side businesses for schools,” a May 2009 study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office noted.
The foundation for the tax breaks for university sports programs were set decades ago in laws and tax codes that acknowledge the educational value of athletics, as well as the social value of amateur sports. Yet today’s commercially sophisticated college-sports spectacles bear little resemblance to what the programs looked like when the laws passed.
“What Congress contemplated as the Harvard-Yale game in 1950 is not the same thing as Texas-Alabama in 2009,” said Colombo.
UT President Bill Powers Jr. said the athletic department, whose annual budget is about $138 million, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Education figures, has given $6.6 million toward academics in recent years. It also subsidizes the cost of teams in unprofitable sports, such as women’s rowing and volleyball.
Yet the CBO study found that much of the money earned by athletic departments pays for expenses ” stadium construction and coaching salaries ” whose sole purpose is simply to enhance large, revenue-producing sports programs. “I know that there is $32 million at the University of Kentucky that isn’t going toward women’s tennis,” Colombo said. “Because it’s going into John Calipari’s pocket.”
I’m usually quick to recite the typical sports radio defense for Brown’s obscene paycheck — ie. when the science department can draw 90,000 + on a Saturday afternoon, then they’ll have something talk about — but that $6.6 million contribution seems a little on the modest side against the backdrop of UT’s budget cuts. Even just to maintain goodwill, it seems the announcement of Brown’s pay raise should’ve been accompanied by a gesture towards towards someone outside of the athletic department.