GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida football coach Dan Mullen went straight from the practice field to the University Auditorium on Tuesday night to speak to a group of students and take questions on a wide range of topics.
Including whether he thinks college athletes should be paid — a polarizing topic that has gotten more and more attention in recent years.
Mullen didn’t dodge the question, instead offering his viewpoint on why he thinks it shouldn’t happen or why it would be harder to pull off than proponents think.
“They get an awful lot of benefits already. They get a full scholarship to come to the University of Florida if they’re on the team. They get cost of attendance. They get room, board, tuition, books, fees and cost of attendance to come here. If they [became] employees of the university, to go pay the players, those all become taxable benefits according to the IRS. So you get into massive tax code questions,” Mullen said. “Everybody wants to [say], ‘Pay the players.’ Get into the legal side of that before you jump up and say, ‘Let’s go pay the players.’ … Because none of these guys could afford to pay the taxes on taxable benefits.
“They get tutoring. Does that now became a taxable benefit because they’re a paid employee of the university? I’m a paid employee of the university. I get parking. That’s a taxable benefit. I have to pay taxes on my parking sticker. Anything I do, if I get a ticket to a game, that’s a taxable benefit. I have to pay taxes on the value of that ticket. Their scholarship would become that way. So the amount of money you’d have to pay them, if you paid them a certain amount, they’d have to get that much money, you’d have to pay them even more just to pay for the value of their scholarship.”
A tax lawyer could provide more insight on that topic, and one self-described tax lawyer did weigh in on Twitter after Mullen’s comments surfaced.
Dan Mullen is not a tax lawyer. One's status as an employee is irrelevant to whether scholarships (and the associated benefits) are taxable.
College athletes don't pay tax on their scholarships because scholarships are not includible in gross income under § 117. https://t.co/JElerB4hIq
— Jon Endean (@JonEndean) March 21, 2018
As of a few years ago, every NCAA Division I school is allowed but not required to provide cost of attendance stipends to its athletes for expenses aside from what their scholarship covers. They amount to several thousand dollars a year while varying from school-to-school based on the estimated expenses a student would incur.
Within the framework of the same question, Mullen was also asked his opinion on allowing college athletes to profit off their image or likeness.
“The image issue, I’m OK with that one. It’s going to get into a tricky deal, which gets into how you want to monitor or legally pay players,” he said.
He suggested a scenario in which a college coach could go to the program’s boosters and suggest they open an advertising company and pay the players even if there isn’t a true marketable demand of their image.
“I think it could cause a lot of dissension among teams because I do think players would realize their values might not be quite as much as they think they are, as far the marketing themselves value,” Mullen said.