For the Love of the Game: The Justification for Tax Exemption in Intercollegiate Athletics

29 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2011

Date Written: April 20, 2011


Intercollegiate athletics are a fundamental part of the American college experience. Nothing else unites and impassions entire campuses while providing educational opportunities to thousands of students who might not otherwise be able to attend college. Congress and the IRS have long recognized the immense educational value of intercollegiate athletics and have properly exempted intercollegiate athletics from federal income taxation. However, a few vocal critics have overreacted to escalating broadcasting agreements and coaching salaries, often without stepping back to examine these transactions in a broader tax policy context. This Article does just that, and demonstrates that longstanding tax exemption is undeniably justified in intercollegiate athletics.

This Article begins in Part I with an overview of tax exemption fundamentals, including a discussion of the tax policy justifications for tax exemption. Part II provides a brief history of tax exemption for intercollegiate athletics, as well as an overview of the current legislative posture. Part III provides an analysis of tax exemption in intercollegiate athletics. This part illustrates that intercollegiate athletics satisfy all the requirements for tax exemption, and that even activities such as big-time D-I football and basketball very likely avoid the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT). Additionally, this part demonstrates that tax exemption is justified for intercollegiate athletics under several tax policy justifications, and that intercollegiate athletics also fall outside the UBIT justifications. This part concludes with a proposal to clarify that intercollegiate athletics should remain fully exempt from federal income taxation.

Keywords: tax, college, sports, exempt, policy, NCAA, intercollegiate, university, athlete, football, basketball, UBIT

JEL Classification: K34

Suggested Citation

Appleby, Andrew D., For the Love of the Game: The Justification for Tax Exemption in Intercollegiate Athletics (April 20, 2011). John Marshall Law Review, Vol. 44, p. 179, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Andrew D. Appleby (Contact Author)

Stetson University College of Law ( email )

1401 61st Street South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States
727.562.7327 (Phone)

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