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Baylor Athletic Director Discusses How Tax Law Affects College Sports


We're still digging into the mammoth new tax law and finding provisions that got little notice during congressional debate, among them a reason for college athletics departments to feel pinched. Two provisions in particular have athletic directors around the country re-examining the way they do things. One eliminates the tax deduction for season tickets, and the other places a tax on nonprofits that pay salaries over a million dollars, which is par for the course among successful college football and basketball programs.

One place working through these changes is Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Mack Rhoades is the director of athletics there, and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.

MACK RHOADES: Well, thank you for having me, Robert.

SIEGEL: And first let's talk about season tickets. Previously, as I understand it, somebody buying a season ticket would pay something for the ticket and then still more as a contribution to the fund that supports Baylor football and gets him the ticket. And of that contribution, used to be 80 percent was tax-deductible. Now none of it is tax-deductible. Do I have that right?

RHOADES: Yes, you do. So that's correct. At least that's the way we interpret it to date.

SIEGEL: Did Baylor make any last-minute push to get ticket holders to re-up their purchases before the end of last year?

RHOADES: Yes, we certainly proactively communicated with our donors as, you know, the tax legislation was moving through Congress. When you looked at cash giving in December, we were up little bit over a million dollars than we were compared to December of 2016.

SIEGEL: You're speaking of people who, as I understand it, may pay a minimum of a thousand dollars per ticket to get seats around the 50-yard line, 30 rows up - really nice seats or at least just to be assured of a place in line to get them. You speak of them as donors, not as ticket holders. You're not describing that as a commercial relationship.

RHOADES: Yeah. You know, for us, they really are donors because, you know, those monies that we collect - one, they're significant for us. You know, that's about 20 percent of our annual revenue, and that really goes to help pay our scholarship costs. And of course at Baylor where, you know, we're a private institution, our annual scholarship, you know, per student athlete is quite high. And so, you know, I hope our donors, you know, still continue to take that under consideration.

SIEGEL: Another change in the new tax law that concerns athletics departments like yours is this 21 percent excise tax on nonprofits generally that employ people who make over a million dollars. How many of your employees would be affected by that, and might it depress salaries?

RHOADES: Well, that is a great question. And so, you know, for us, you know, we have a handful that, you know, are a million plus. And again, you know, I think there still needs to be some clarity, and we're working through that with outside, you know, tax counsel. But certainly it is going to have an impact, you know, on a university budget. It's certainly going to have an impact on our athletics budget. And it's something, you know, that right now we're in the midst of discussion in how do we handle that, at least for the remainder of our fiscal year, which ends on May 31?

SIEGEL: Does the department or does Baylor University have folks in Washington working with Congress or the IRS to try to sort this out?

RHOADES: You know, as as the tax legislation was moving through Congress, we certainly did. And there were conversations. And that wasn't unique just to Baylor. I think that was, you know, pretty standard across the country. I think like many institutions, we have outside tax counsel that we're asking and hoping for guidance.

SIEGEL: You know, Congressman Bill Flores, the Republican whose district includes Waco and Baylor where you are, says that he heard from schools in his district, and he told the Dallas Morning News that the elimination of the season ticket deduction is a, quote, "non-problem," saying that it only affects people - his words - who can afford the seat licenses, and they're still going to buy their tickets. What do you think of that?

RHOADES: Well, I mean, I love the philosophy, and we certainly hope that's true. And you know, for us, we have ranges for the Baylor Bear Foundation anywhere from $200 all the way up to $60,000 per year. And so, you know, how it impacts each and every one of those individuals I think, you know, to some degree will be different. But I think just overall philosophically, you know, I hope he's right. And I would certainly support his comments.

SIEGEL: Mr. Rhoades, thanks for talking with us today.

RHOADES: Robert, congratulations on a great career. And happy New Year. And I wish you and your family all the very best.

SIEGEL: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mack Rhoades, director of athletics at Baylor University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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