In my Byte last week, I discussed my Thanksgiving trip to seven LEAD1 institutions.
My biggest impression on the trip was all the great facilities at our schools — facilities for many different sports. These facilities have greatly enhanced the student-athlete experience, and many facilities have naming rights and have been financed by charitable donations.
What will happen to these substantial gifts by benefactors to build sports facilities if the NCAA amateurism model is thrown out in court and college basketball and football players are paid like professionals? Philanthropic motivation is one of the primary motives for athletic giving according to research. Many donors want to make a positive difference through their gift. Will donors be willing to give to such a purely professional enterprise? After all, the NFL and NBA do not generate charitable gifts.
Since the desire to help student-athletes, and the organization, is frequently identified as motivation for donor giving, it is reasonable to surmise that paying athletes could change the game with athletic charitable giving.
The changes to donor giving could be significant. Colleges raised $1.2 billion in sports donations in 2015, much of it used to build and upgrade sports facilities.
Some criticize this spending on sports facilities as excessive. The late, iconic North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith addressed that criticism when asked about spending millions of dollars to build a new basketball arena. Smith replied without hesitation, “I wished we had raised it for a new pediatrics wing for our hospital or for cancer research, but the fact is, if we tried to raise that kind of money for those things, we wouldn’t get it.”
College sports programs are blessed with the tremendous passion and generosity of their supporters, but that generosity may be at risk. The recent elimination by Congress of some of the tax breaks for charitable giving and the potential for the courts to professionalize college sports may have a significant and detrimental impact in the years to come on the philanthropic support for college sports.