Bucknell Poll Finds Mixed Support for College Student-Athlete Compensation

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Survey Polls Nation on Issues Related to Supreme Court Ruling on NCAA Student-Athlete Compensation

LEWISBURG, Pa. — This week, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld a district court judge’s decision ruling that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) had violated antitrust law by placing limits on the education-related benefits that schools can provide to athletes. The decision allows schools to now provide student-athletes modest, education-related payments.

But a new nationally representative survey of 1,000 respondents conducted by YouGov for the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) found that while 60% of the public supported athletes being able to make money by selling or endorsing products with their own image or likeness, only 26% supported paying college athletes directly from university funds, with 45% opposed. Both college sports fans and non-sports fans were in agreement on their support for athletes making money from their own image or likeness — at 62% and 59% respectively — but there were differences by political affiliation, with 69% of Democrats and 61% of independents supporting the idea, compared with 42% of Republicans. Both fans and non-fans were equally opposed to paying college athletes directly from university funds at 43% and 45% respectively, with 61% of Republicans opposing it, compared to 33% of Democrats.

Respondents were more favorable to the idea of giving college athletes a share of the money made for the university by their sport, with 47% in favor and 29% opposed. Half of the college sports fans and 46% of the non-fans supported the idea, but there was a sharp political divide, with 60% of Democrats in support, but just 27% 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.”

Late last month, Senate Democrats introduced a bill to allow college athletes to unionize. That idea received 36% support overall in the BIPP survey, with 20% opposed and the remaining 37% with no opinion. But the support split dramatically along party lines, with 51% of Democrats in support, compared to 33% of independents and 10% of Republicans (70% of Republicans opposed the idea, compared to 19% of Democrats). Yet among college sports fans and non-fans, support was largely even at 33% and 36% 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% 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% opposing the idea overall.

But there was 40% support overall for providing lifetime health benefits to athletes who play sports with a high risk of injury, compared to 32% who oppose. While college sports fans and non-fans both supported that idea at 39% and 41% respectively, the nation was divided on it politically, with 53% of Democrats supporting it, compared to 18% of Republicans. Independents were split down the middle with an equal 36% in support and opposed respectively.

“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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CONTACTS: Chris Ellis, 570-577-1960, chris.ellis@bucknell.edu; Mike Ferlazzo, 570-577-3212, 570-238-6266 (c), mike.ferlazzo@bucknell.edu

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