A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that a large majority of the general public opposes paying salaries to college athletes beyond the scholarships currently offered.
Only 33 percent support paying college athletes. At 64 percent, opposition is nearly twice as high as support, with 47 percent strongly against the idea. Nearly every demographic and political group opposes it except non-whites, for whom 51 percent support. The breakdown among whites (73 percent oppose, 24 percent support) tilted strongly in the opposite direction, echoing the perspective of NCAA President Mark Emmert.
Beyond the overall lack of support, there are a few particulars from the survey data:
- College sports fans are more likely to support paying college athletes than non-sports fans. That suggests that college sports fans may not be some special segment of the market that must be catered through amateurism, a key claim of the NCAA’s antitrust defense. Survey respondents were also not asked whether they were more or less likely to watch college sports if athletes were paid.
- Support for a union of college athletes was evenly split. That means both legal and eventually political opposition to a union or student-athlete bargaining rights may be more perilous than opposing professionalism. But it also means that the trade the NCAA might have to make (greater protections, rights, and voting privileges for student-athletes in exchanges for protecting amateurism) might be the correct one in the eyes of the public.
- This is irrelevant as long as amateurism remains a legal issue. The NCAA needs to make amateurism a political issue (e.g. Congress granting the NCAA an antitrust exemption) before public support becomes relevant.
But the most important point of this poll is missing: how has this changed over the years? Plenty of issues have seen major shifts in public opinion over the last generation or so. 33% support for paying athletes might seem low, but it would basically be a death knell for the NCAA if 20 years ago, support was less than 10%.