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Tax trouble ahead for youth sports leagues?

Congratulations to the young boys of summer from Warner Robins, Ga., who won this year's Little League World Series championship. Those kids sure knew how to make it exciting, with a walk-off home run.

Little_league_pitch_2 And yes, my congratulatory post would have been on the blog immediately after Sunday's game instead of four days later if the Little Leaguers from Lubbock had been the champs. But they still deserve applause for taking third in the tournament.

I love football -- Texas, you know. Babies wrapped in Dallas Cowboys blankets as soon as they are born and all that. -- but I really, really like baseball. And the Little League series, along with Cal Ripken's camps and competitions, are a good way for kids to participate in the "nicer," per comedian George Carlin's commentary, sport.

Who's on first? The IRS: Too often, though, adults mess things up. We all know about the poor sportsmanship of some parents. Now we have tax and administrative issues being mishandled by the organizing grownups.

Financial publisher Kiplinger reports that the IRS believes many youth sports leagues may be violating employment tax rules. The problem: They're treating paid coaches and referees as independent contractors when they are really employees. IRS agents reportedly are looking at how much control the associations have over their work schedules, equipment used, and such.

The tax collector's interest comes on the heels of an agreement earlier this month with the Fairfield (Conn.) United Soccer Association that clarifies the employment status of the group's coaches.

According to the New York Times, starting with the 2008 season, the Fairfield league will treat about half of its coaches -- those not employed by professional coaching associations -- as employees rather than as independent contractors, and will withhold taxes from their pay.

But Kiplinger says that leagues can beat the IRS by invoking a 1978 law that limits the agency's ability to reclassify workers. To qualify for relief, a league must have consistently given the workers 1099s instead of W-2s and show a reasonable basis for treating them as independent contractors. This can be proved by surveying other sports leagues to demonstrate that a significant number of them normally treated officials this way.

You can read all about the Fairfield agreement here (registration required) and get background on the soccer tax controversy in this document.

Contractor vs. employee: So what the difference? According to the IRS, as a general rule when the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work done by another person, that worker is an independent contractor.

If the payer also controls the means and methods of accomplishing the result, that strays into employee territory.

The IRS has tons of info for employers on this special Web page. And if you're the one getting the pay, the IRS has tips to help you distinguish between being an independent contractor or self-employed.

Not tax, but terrible: The El Cajon, Calif., police department is investigating embezzlement allegations involving that community's Youth Football & Cheer organization.

According to news reports, last month parents got a letter from the organization's board of directors stating that it was investigating a "significant amount" of financial mismanagement by former board members, but did not give details.

Apparently folks got suspicious when registration fees, ranging from $130 to $250 for football players and $175 to $275 for cheerleaders, were coming in, along with additional money from fundraisers, but the group was still reusing old equipment.

Photo of Little Leaguer at bat
courtesy Matthew Hull and


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