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Did They or Didn’t They: The Sugar Bowl and Charitable Donations

I recently began reading Death to the BCS. It was so well written and compelling, that I initially chose to believe every single word.  Although the book is full of disturbing facts about the BCS, two sentences caught my eye and haunted me.

“The Sugar Bowl gave nothing.  Not a buck to the Hurricane Katrina reconstruction effort.”

After pouring over tax returns from 2005, 2006 and 2007, the authors determined that no donations had been made by the Sugar Bowl to anyone.  As someone who gave to the Hurricane Katrina reconstruction effort, and who represents a nonprofit lender who has provided millions in funds to the development of affordable housing in the area, I was appalled.  I immediately took to Twitter and called the lack of charitable giving by the Sugar Bowl “reprehensible.”

Then after a day or so of stewing over the situation, I decided to do my own research.  I found it unbelievable that the Sugar Bowl wouldn’t donate a penny to the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts.  That’s when I came across this article on the Times-Picayune’s website indicating the Sugar Bowl had committed $800,000 to reconstruction in City Park.

I proceeded to tweet out the article, which illicited responses from @DeathtotheBCS (the official Twitter account for the book) and @PlayoffPAC (a political action committee dedicated to bringing a playoff system to college football).  I asked, “@DeathtotheBCS says Sugar Bowl made no charitable donations. Is it true?”  Their responses:

@DeathtotheBCS: “Yes. Tax records show it, bowl doesn’t deny it.”

@PlayoffPAC: “But according to their tax returns, appears nothing ultimately went out the door.”

Far too curious to be satisfied with those responses, I decided to contact both the Sugar Bowl and City Park.  First, the response I received from John Hopper, Chief Development Officer and Public Affairs Director for City Park Improvement Association:

The claim in the book is a falsehood.  The Sugar Bowl Committee pledged 800k to the park after the storm.  They have given us 600k to date and are scheduled to pay us 100k each of the next two years.  The entirety of their donations have gone to make improvements in Tad Gormley Stadium which seats 26,000.  The stadium is used extensively for high school football games, as well as soccer and track meets.

We are proud and extremely grateful for the support from the Sugar Bowl Committee!

Mr. Hopper was also kind enough to send over some great before and after pictures of Tad Gormley Stadium, which you can see below.

Tad Gromley Stadium – Before and After

When I inquired about the situation to John Sudsbury, the Director of Communications and Media Relations for the Sugar Bowl, he responded as follows:

The information supplied to you by Mr. Hopper is correct – we provided funds to New Orleans City Park following Hurricane Katrina.  I cannot speak for the authors of the book on why they did not find any evidence of any donations.  If they had contacted us, we could have provided them the information.

Mr. Sudsbury went on to tell me that the initial $400,000 donation was made in 2006-2007 for “major capital improvements.”  He says the remaining $400,000 is being made in $100,000 increments for maintenance and upkeep.

As someone who is currently finishing up a book, I understand that it’s hard to look under every stone.  In my experience, I’m never going to feel like my book is done.  There’s always something I could add.

That being said, I’m fairly disappointed in the authors of this book for this particular inaccuracy.  It was a bold statement; a statement that I, as a writer, would have been fearful of making if I wasn’t as close to one hundred percent sure as possible.

So how long did it take me to find the information to write this piece?  Well, I found the Times-Picuyane article in mere seconds.  It was the first entry on Yahoo when I searched “Sugar Bowl Katrina donations.”  That’s all it would have taken the authors to figure out they might be wrong.

The rest of the research, emails and phone calls have taken me about four hours.  Not really any longer than researching for some of my other SportsMoney pieces.

The information provided by the authors, and the opinions they formed, were largely based on tax returns from 2005-2007.  There are indeed no line items on those tax returns that show any charitable donations.  When I inquired of Mr. Sudsbury, he indicated that the donations were included under “Special Appropriations” on the Form 990 completed by outside accounting professionals.

Perhaps the error is in the preparation of the tax returns, but I do not have the expertise to make that judgment.  The Sugar Bowl did include a schedule to their 2008 return that showed a specific line item for a $100,000 donation to Friends of City Park, which is the fundraising arm for City Park.  That, combined with the statements of Mr. Hopper and Mr. Sudsbury, satisfy me that the donation was indeed made.

As such, I retract any and all statement I’ve made on Twitter regarding the Sugar Bowl’s lack of charitable donations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  I was thrilled to find out I was wrong.

While I do recommend anyone interested in college football read Death to the BCS, I also encourage you to do your own research.  It’s a very compelling read, and I’m intrigued by the playoff format they suggest, but I find myself questioning their facts now.  That’s the unfortunate result of their making a bold statement that was fairly easily proved to be false.

This article offers the personal observations of Kristi Dosh, and does not represent the views of her law firm or its clients. Any information contained herein does not constitute legal advice. Consult your own attorney for legal advice on these matters.

About Kristi Dosh

Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more
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