Brand to Congress: NCAA deserves tax-exempt status

INDIANAPOLIS -- NCAA president Myles Brand aggressively defended the organization's tax-exempt status in a 25-page letter to Congress, arguing the primary goal of the NCAA is education.

Brand pointed to recent academic reforms that increased eligibility standards and studies showing the average SAT scores of athletes are higher than those of the general student body as examples that the NCAA is committed first to educating athletes.

The response was sent Monday to Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., the outgoing chairman of the House Ways and Means and Committee. It was released publicly Wednesday on the NCAA's Web site.

"The lessons learned on the football field or men's basketball court are no less in value or importance to those student-athletes than the ones learned on the hockey rink or softball diamond -- nor, for that matter, than those learned in theater, dance, music,
journalism or other non-classroom environments," Brand wrote.

A spokesman for the committee said lawmakers did not plan to comment Wednesday on the NCAA's response.

Last month, Thomas questioned whether the NCAA should retain its tax-exempt status given the amount of money it receives from TV contracts and championship events. He also questioned whether the federal government should subsidize college athletics when money helps pay for escalating coaching salaries, some of which reach seven figures.

Thomas told the NCAA to respond by late October but then extended the deadline to Monday.

Brand argued that coaches' pay is commensurate with other highly recruited faculty members and said the NCAA should not be penalized simply because television networks are willing to pay millions or billions of dollars to air games since it does not change the NCAA's primary purpose.

"If the educational purpose of college basketball could be preserved only by denying the right to telecast the events, students, university faculty and staff, alumni, the institutions of higher education themselves and even the American taxpayer would
ultimately lose," Brand wrote. "The scale of popularity and the media attention given to football and men's basketball do not forfeit for those two sports the educational purpose for which they exist."

Brand, the first ex-president of a university to lead the NCAA, has made academic reform his top priority since taking over in 2003.

Under his leadership, the NCAA has increased freshman eligibility standards, created stronger requirements to retain eligibility and enacted its own formula for determining graduation rates.

More recently, Brand has attempted to take on the growing expenses in college sports.

He has criticized high-priced coaches' salaries, and he has expressed growing concern over what he describes as the college "arms race" -- money being spent to upgrade or build new facilities so a school can remain competitive.

In the letter, Brand cited building expenses as an imperative reason for the NCAA to retain its tax exemption even as he said the organization is limited in how it can limit the costs.

"Athletics facilities, state-of-the-art or otherwise, are necessary for the support of the activity for which there is a tax exemption," Brand wrote. "These facilities, often paid for through bonds or charitable contributions, also generate revenue that offsets the operational cost of athletics that might not otherwise be provided through institutional funds."

It's unclear how the committee's investigation may proceed since last week's midterm elections means committee chairmanships will change hands, with Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., in line to run Ways and Means.