Obama calls foul on donor tax break for college sports tickets

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 02, 2015 5:46 PM

By Kevin Drawbaugh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - College sports fans who donate money to their favorite schools and get priority seating at big games in exchange could lose a tax break under a federal budget plan proposed on Monday.

Democratic President Barack Obama's plan would close a loophole that lets donors deduct four-fifths of the value of a gift made to a school, even if priority seating rights they get in exchange are worth more than one-fifth of the gift's value.

Obama's plan is not likely to become law soon. Republicans, who now control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, were sharply critical of the plan within hours of its unveiling. But the budget, and its proposals, draw a lot of attention each year.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the nonprofit group that regulates college sports, declined to comment on the priority seating tax-break proposal.

Tickets to big-time college games are expensive and hard to get. Major schools often set aside the best seats for fans who have donated a lot of money to the school. Often, the bigger the donation, the higher the priority in seating.

Normally, U.S. tax law requires that Americans who donate money and get something of value in exchange must reduce the value of any deduction claimed later by the fair-market value of the item received in exchange.

But college fans can deduct fully 80 percent of their donations, even if the market value of their seating priority exceeds 20 percent of their gift's value.

"The proposal would deny the deduction for contributions that entitle donors to a right to purchase tickets to sporting events," said a summary of the Obama budget's tax measures released by the Treasury Department.

Many universities have priority seating programs for football, basketball and other games. A cursory review of websites showed such programs are in place at, for instance, Florida State University, University of Connecticut, Auburn University, University of Michigan and others.

Officials at these schools and their booster and athletic foundations could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)