POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – A national poll of sports fans reveals that a distinct minority supports paying college athletes but nearly half think top college coaches should be paid as much or more than their professional counterparts.
Additional results from the poll conducted by the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and the Marist Poll found that 95 percent of fans want college athletes to attend class and 67 percent — up 12 points from last year — largely believe that college athletics departments regularly break NCAA rules.
"People think even more so than ever that colleges cheat all the time," said Keith Strudler, director of Marist's program. "That was driven by a couple of high-profile scandals this year — the Harvard and Miami cases. The Harvard one kind of struck at the core."
Harvard issued academic sanctions against approximately 60 students in February who were forced to withdraw from school for a period of time in a cheating scandal that involved the final exam in a class on Congress. Some athletes became ensnared, including two basketball team co-captains.
The Marist survey asked six questions: if college athletes should be paid; if college coaches break the rules during recruiting; if the NCAA should expand the men's basketball tournament; if college coaches should be paid as much as pro coaches; if top college athletes should have to attend class like other students or be allowed to focus only on sports; and who should be held responsible when athletes get in trouble — athletes, coaches, or college presidents?
Respondents to the poll released Tuesday appeared satisfied — 77 percent — with the current size of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, while 70 percent would hold athletes responsible for their transgressions, not coaches or college presidents.
Despite the professional aura that surrounds the NCAA basketball tournament, sports fans prefer to maintain some semblance of amateurism, particularly when it comes to compensating the athletes that play big-time college sports.
Of 754 sports fans in the survey released Tuesday, only 21 percent said they'd like to see top college athletes paid a stipend or salary beyond their scholarship, while 72 percent believed a scholarship alone was enough compensation.
So, despite the discussion about paying college athletes, public opinion doesn't seem to support the idea, and the trend seems to be going even further from it.
"I have expected that, over the years, people would start to recognize the athletes work very hard and it's kind of an unstable, unpaid labor force, and you would start to see those numbers creep up a little bit more," Strudler said. "And we saw kind of the opposite happen this year. Overwhelmingly, people thought that a scholarship was all that people really deserved.
"Increasingly, people seem to want to kind of buy back into this myth of amateurism."
Strudler also said he thought people would want student-athletes to go to class but didn't expect that total would be 95 percent.
"It's almost as if they want to ignore some of the glaring realities of major college sports," he said.
The poll found that 45 percent of sports fans think college coaches should be paid as much as the pros. That's up from 39 percent last year, though 51 percent still feel they should receive less. That's significant considering the nearly $2 million difference in average salary between NBA coaches and top college men's basketball coaches.
Strudler said he was surprised by the amount of dissonance people seem to have.
"On the one hand, they don't want to pay athletes and they think that everyone's cheating," Strudler said. "But on the other hand, they want to pay their college coaches as much as the pros. They want to professionalize it on one hand and reward the coaches, but on the other hand they seem really, really willing to penalize the athletes and not compensate the athletes."
The overall survey, the second year for this study on ethical issues in intercollegiate athletics, included 1,233 adults and was conducted March 4-7. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the continental United States were interviewed by telephone.