bucknell college athlete poll infographic

Lewisburg, Pa. - The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a district court judge's ruling that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) violated antitrust laws by placing limits on education-related benefits that schools can give to athletes.

Schools may now provide student athletes modest education-related payments. To test the public opinion on the subject, the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) and YouGov surveyed 1,000 Americans.

According to the poll, 60 percent of the public supported athletes being able to make money by selling or endorsing products with their image or likeness, but only 26 percent supported universities paying athletes directly from university funds, with 45 percent explicitly expressing disapproval with universities paying athletes.

Both college sports fans and non-fans agreed in their support for athletes making money from doing promotions, but there were differences by political affiliation: 69 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Independents supported the idea, while only 42 percent of Republican respondents approved.

Both fans and non-fans were equally opposed to paying college athletes directly from university funds at 43 and 45 percent respectively, with 61 percent of Republicans opposing it compared to 33 percent of Democrats.

In general, respondents were more amenable to giving college athletes a share of money made for the university by their sport, with 47 percent in favor and 29 percent opposed.

Half of the college sports fans and 46 percent of the non-fans supported the idea, but there was a sharp political divide with 60 percent of Democrats in support compared to 27 percent of Republicans.

“Overall, it appears as if there is support across the board for college student-athletes to be able make money on their own image or likeness, and at least some support for them being able to share in money generated from their sport, although the latter is a politically partisan issue,” says Chris Ellis ’00, political science, co-director of BIPP and director of the Bucknell Survey Research Laboratory.

“The nation, as a whole, seems to be opposed to paying college athletes directly from university funds, sending the message that while it’s OK for college student-athletes to profit from their own fame or the money generated from their sport, colleges and universities should not be using their own resources to pay student-athletes," Ellis added.

Late last month, Senate Democrats introduced a bill to allow college athletes to unionize.

That idea received 36 percent support overall in the BIPP survey, with 20 percent opposed and the remaining 37 percent with no opinion.

The support split dramatically along party lines, with 51 percent of Democrats in support compared to 33 percent of Independents and 10 percent of Republicans (70 percent of Republicans opposed the idea, compared to 19 percent of Democrats).

Among college sports fans and non-fans, support was largely even at 33 and 36 percent respectively.

The survey results also found universal opposition to allowing colleges to offer cash payments to high school athletes in recruiting them to play at their college, with 58 percent of all respondents opposed to the idea.

There was also opposition among all demographic groups to allowing university donors or others to pay for college athletes if they so choose, with 40 percent opposing the idea overall.

There was 40 percent support overall for providing lifetime health benefits to athletes who play sports with a high risk of injury, compared to 32 percent who oppose.

While college sports fans and non-fans both supported that idea at 39 and 41 percent respectively, the nation was divided on it politically, with 53 percent of Democrats supporting it, compared to 18 percent of Republicans. Independents were split down the middle with an equal 36 percent in support and opposed.

“The partisan differences are really big on many of these questions — especially unionization and lifetime health benefits — but there’s not much difference between college sports fans and non-fans, except for the fact that fans are more likely to want universities to pay athletes directly — although they are a bit more wary of donors doing the same,” Ellis says.

Interviews for the survey were administered by YouGov for BIPP’s Survey Research Laboratory from May 21 to 27.


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