RESISTING DOCUMENT RELEASE: Bret Bielema has asked the attorney general to review a decision by UA to release a document outlining terms of his contract buyout.


University of Arkansas o
fficials provided response last night to questions about how the new tax law might affect athletic finances.

I reported here yesterday a USA Today article predicting negative consequences on athletics in the tax law from 1) a new excise tax to be paid by universities on coaches and others making more than $1 million a year, including in contract buyouts 2) and the end of a tax deduction for contributions to nonprofits such as the Razorback Foundation in exchange for preferred seating at athletic events.

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The changes were not a surprise. The Razorback Foundation has been polling those who make payments for preferred seating on how the loss of the tax deduction might influence decisions to make contributions in the future. It has not responded to my request for information about impact of the law change.

Kevin Trainor, a senior official in the athletic department, provided this prepared statement:

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From an athletics side, we are reviewing with campus to see what impact the tax legislation may have. You are certainly welcome to use the following statement from Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek on the issue if you so choose.

“We continue to analyze the recent tax legislation and its potential impact on the University of Arkansas Department of Intercollegiate Athletics,” Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek said. “Unlike the vast majority of intercollegiate athletics programs in the nation, we are a financially self-sustaining program reliant solely on athletics revenue and the generous support of our Razorback Foundation members and our season ticket holders. As such, we will continue to evaluate the new legislation and work with the Razorback Foundation to determine how we can best assist those who provide vital support for our program.”

Mark Rushing, chief spokesman for the UA, added this statement, which included some positive thoughts on other elements of the tax legislation:

The University is still reviewing the language in the tax bill. Until then, it would be premature to attempt to determine exactly how the bill might impact the University. However, there was some good news including the fact that the employee tuition reimbursement remains as well as the removal of the earlier proposal to treat graduate student waivers as taxable income. The increase in the standard deduction and the doubling of the estate exemption amount may have some impact on the tax advantages of giving but the vast majority of our donors give to support the mission of the University with tax benefits being a secondary consideration.

Rushing also told me last night that Bret Bielema, the fired football coach, had asked for an attorney general’s opinion on whether the UA was correct in deciding that it must release a copy of a document that apparently outlines the specifics of the portion of his contract buyout that will be provided by the Razorback Foundation, which contends its nonprofit status allows it to keep its record of dealing with coaches secret. Without approval of the release from the attorney general, the UA is continuing to withhold the document. It is expected to provide some final word on the shape of Bielema’s contract buyout, reported to be as much as $11.8 million. That  figure would be in line with the amount promised in a letter summarizing his last contract amendment from Chancellor David Gearhart in 2015.

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Hard to see how a legal exemption can be found for this document. Bielema might argue that revealing the payout would be an invasion of privacy. That claim should fall to public interest — it records the satisfaction of a public official’s promise to a public employee financed in part by proceeds from sale of tickets to public events of a public university.