Senator Burr versus the NCAA

The NCAA announced Tuesday that it might allow student athletes to market and profit from their name, image and likeness.

Almost as soon as the announcement was made, Richard Burr (R-NC)[i] proposed taxing the scholarship of any student athlete who avails themselves of the NCAA's new policy.[ii]

“If college athletes are going to make money off their likenesses while in school, their scholarships should be treated like income, I’ll be introducing legislation that subjects scholarships given to athletes who choose to ‘cash in’ to income taxes.”

Backlash and Support for Burr’s proposal came from across the political spectrum almost immediately.

The most severe backlash came from educational policy advocates – and centered on fairness and equality issues: Typical of that genre was Mark Mazur (Tax Policy Center)

“Senator Burr is essentially saying let’s break scholarship recipients into different classes — a deserving class, and a less deserving class.”

Left leaning policy analysts couldn’t resist their own digs: Eric Kleinberg (Institute for Public Knowledge, New York University)

“Exciting to see GOP senator demand new taxes on high-earning Americans. Okay, weird (racist?) that @SenatorBurr singles out @NCAA football and basketball players,”

Then, there was the “Baby with the Bathwater Brigade:” Why not repeal IRC §117 – making all scholarships taxable? Like Burr, this position’s advocates were not specific about why this would be a good idea, nor how much tax revenue this proposal would generate. Our own estimate: Repeal would generate between $855 MM and $1.2 Billion additional revenue. We’ll leave the “is that a good idea” determination to you.

Policy and psychoanalysis wonks might have some fun with these observations (we did):[iii]

  • Burr was, himself, a two year varsity letter at Wake Forest (1974, 1975 Football). We could not determine whether he had athletic scholarship support – but it is clear he had none for his junior and senior years.

  • Burr consistently opposes federal education subsidies and projects (e.g. Pell Grants and student loan refinance-forgiveness).

  • Burr strongly supports charter school initiatives. Burr voted to confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education (a nomination that passed only when V.P. Pence cast the deciding vote in an otherwise 50/50 Senate). De Voss has consistently supported Burr – donating $43,000+ to Burr’s 2016 campaign.

  • Burr’s position seems (to us at least) inconsistent with Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” which commits lawmakers to oppose tax increases – and to which Burr is a signatory.

  • Burr has announced that he will not stand for re-election in 2022.

[i] Senior Senator from North Carolina, in office since 2005. Burr sits on the Senate Finance Committee and is Chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. Burr introduced his proposal in a twitter text: he identified no specific changes to current law other than his intention to change it.

[ii] Many Scholarships are excluded from income under IRC §117, subject to proof the scholarship was used for “qualified tuition and related expenses” at an educational institution described in IRC 170(b)(1)(A)(ii). As several commentators noted, the exclusion does not extend to scholarship funds used to subsidize room or board – which is just over ½ of most students’ annual college expense.

[iii] “Burr on Education” Additional biographical details from Burr’s Senate website.


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