For years, the NCAA had collected athletic financial information from its member schools but made the information public only in aggregate. Sports enterprise reporter Mark Alesia, along with project editor Ted Green, used public records requests to obtain more detailed financial reporting from the NCAA. They were sure this rich pool of previously unreported information would lead to a story. In the process they would deliver a detailed, large-scale, publicly available database of college sports financial information, something that had never been done.
Alesia began with two simple questions: Who is paying for college sports? And at what cost?
What he uncovered is this: Taxpayers indirectly subsidize athletic departments because college sports are exempt from federal taxes, based on their tie to education. The exemption particularly benefits big schools, which receive up to 40 percent of their athletic revenue from donations, most of which are tax deductible. Critics believe college sports have largely become a business of mass entertainment and should no longer receive an education-based tax exemption, especially in an era of rising tuition and stagnant state support for higher education.
Judges praised Alesia for challenging “how college teams are funded. In so doing, it effectively attacks institutional support and student fees subsidizing college sports. Database work incomparable … brave work with compelling results.”
James Duderstadt, former president of the University of Michigan and now a member of the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, said this coverage is “the most thorough analysis of the financing of intercollegiate athletics I’ve seen since we asked the Big Ten chief financial officers to do an independent audit of our athletics departments during the 1990s. … You folks have done a great service to higher education!”