Americans Strongly Favor Moneymaking Deals for College Athletes, Poll Says

Americans are divided over whether colleges should pay their athletes, but feel strongly that players should be paid for the use of their names, images and likenesses.

And while most Americans claim they have not bet on sports, even in an office pool, they are split as to whether betting on college sports encourages athletes to cheat, with people under the age of 45 being more likely to say that it does not.

Those are among the findings of a new survey conducted by the Marist Poll, in tandem with the Center for Sports Communication at Marist College, which was released on Thursday.

The poll comes amid a period of seismic changes and uncertainty in college sports, including debates over athletes’ rights and whether they should be considered employees.

Last June, the N.C.A.A., under pressure from state legislatures, permitted college athletes to earn money from the use of their names, images and likenesses, creating opportunities from endorsements, autograph signings, personal appearances and players’ social media platforms. Some legal experts anticipate even more changes soon, with several lawsuits in motion that contend that college athletes should be treated as employees, and protected by federal laws.

The poll, which was conducted right after the Super Bowl and before the N.C.A.A. Division I basketball tournaments, offers a snapshot of how quickly sports betting has ascended to mainstream awareness.

In May 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning commercial sports betting in states other than Nevada. Since that decision, more than 20 states have gone live, with New York reporting jaw-dropping statistics just one month after legalizing online sports betting. Californians may also be inclined to legalize sports betting this year, according to a recent poll by the University of California at Berkeley.

Jane McManus, the director of Marist’s Center for Sports Communication, said the findings demonstrated a notable shift in the way Americans, especially sports fans, viewed the risks associated with gambling. Many fans, she noted, were too young to remember sports corruption scandals such as the college basketball point-shaving scandal of the 1950s.

“Americans haven’t completely warmed to sports betting, but clearly attitudes are changing,” McManus said. “We are in the middle of a public shift in attitudes about paying college players and sports betting, particularly for younger fans, which is consistent with earlier polling on attitudes about women’s sports and adapting to streaming technologies.”

If anything, she added, the N.F.L.’s suspension of Calvin Ridley, the Atlanta Falcons receiver, for at least the entire 2022 season for gambling on the league’s games while he was away from the Falcons to focus on his mental health underscored how “these two messages — betting is fun and harmless, or it is a scourge and goes against league values — are in conflict.”

On questions related to N.I.L., 74 percent of adult respondents said athletes should be paid, including 87 percent of those under 45. Only 22 percent said they should not.

The Connecticut sophomore guard Paige Bueckers, right, has a name, image and likeness deal with StockX, the online sneaker and apparel marketplace.Credit…Jessica Hill/Associated Press
The Klutch Sports Group will represent South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston, a national player of the year candidate, in N.I.L. deals.Credit…Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Forty-six percent of those surveyed said colleges should pay their athletes, while 49 percent said they should not. Those numbers diverged when accounting for age, race and, to a lesser extent, gender. For instance, 63 percent of those under 45 felt that colleges should pay their athletes, while just 32 percent of respondents over 45 were in favor of the idea.

And while 69 percent of Black and Latino respondents said colleges should pay their athletes, 60 percent of white people said colleges should not, said Zachary Arth, an assistant professor of sports communication at Marist.

If college athletes did receive salaries, though, 66 percent of respondents said the money should go to all athletes, while only 25 percent said it should go just to athletes who generate significant revenue for their schools — meaning, primarily, football and men’s basketball players. That ratio did not vary much across all categories, even region and political party.

As for betting, the Marist poll found that 45 percent of adults, including 39 percent of sports fans, believed that gambling on college sports encouraged athletes to cheat. When the same question was asked in 1985 in a Media General/Associated Press poll, McManus said, 70 percent said gambling encouraged cheating.

Polls conducted by other organizations have reported similar shifts in people’s attitudes. In 2009, an annual Gallup poll on moral issues found that 36 percent of respondents believed gambling was morally wrong, and 58 percent said it was acceptable. By 2021, those numbers were 30 and 68 percent.

The poll of 1,264 adults, with questions available in English and Spanish, was conducted from Feb. 15 to 21 by live interviewers using landline and mobile phones. The margin of error was 3.5 percent. Of the group polled, 707 adults identified as sports fans with a margin of error of 4.6 percent.

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