‘Which scam?’ you ask, not unreasonably. So many to choose from, the layman loses track. In this case, I’m not talking about inflated grades, special jock-friendly majors, recruiting malfeasance, standardized-test failure, law-enforcement run-ins, special tutoring assistance, ludicrous expenditure on football locker-rooms, one-and-done basketballers, or any of the myriad picayune abuses of common sense and decency that make big-time college sports so delightfully reminiscent of a Byzantine court.
I mean the Enchilada of them all: the fact, as The Atlantic’s Conor Clarke reminds us, that some of America’s largest and most lucrative sports businesses pay no taxes. A tax exemption makes sense for the majority of collegiate sports, which don’t, and should not be expected to, make money. A college’s fencing or rowing team shouldn’t find itself subject to the profit imperative any more than the English Department should. I don’t mind subsidizing, in effect, the Texas Longhorns women’s volleyball program.
When you consider, however, that NCAA Division I football is something like a $2-billion annual enterprise; that colleges consistently respond to budget constraints by eliminating so-called “minor” sports so they can keep spending more money on football and men’s basketball; that a college football coach is the highest-paid public official in almost every state; and that boosters can write off the quid pro quo “donations” that buy them season tickets and special access—well, as a taxpayer, you start to feel like you’ve been cheated. While long and tortured discussion could ensue regarding sports’ proper place on campus and possible reforms to make the current whorehouse a bit more chaste, this change seems like it could be done in about 20 minutes.