Should college athletes be paid?

Perhaps it isn’t altogether surprising that a vast majority of sports fans don’t support paying college athletes, even as this study was done smack dab in the middle of the NCAA basketball tournament, perhaps the most professionalized of all collegiate sporting activities. In fact, that may have even reinforced this opinion, especially as the NCAA barrages the public with commercials about going pro in something other than sports.

 In the end, the 68% who said a scholarship was enough enjoy the mythology that these “kids” playing for a national championship are in fact truly amateurs, doing it simply for the love of the game. If that goes away with the creation of a salary or a stipend, then sports fans may start to wonder if they’re simply watching a semi-pro league, something more akin to the D-league than college. It’s a fine line – running a billion dollar event while still clinging to the wholesomeness of little league. But in the end, perhaps that’s exactly why it works.

 Let’s also not underestimate the importance of the rising costs of a college education and the still slumping economy in these results. To most Americans, a college scholarship is a very significant compensation. So fans are likely to view this in the context of their own lives, not the context of a college athlete’s daily grind.

 It is interesting to note the difference in white and non-white sports fans. Non-whites were far more likely to say that athletes deserved a salary. Especially during March Madness, it’s hard to ignore the fact that many unpaid African-American athletes pay for largely white and very well compensated coaches. This visual certainly has something to do with these results and reminds us all that while sport may be a melting pot or sorts, racial politics is very much at play. And if you are looking for a reason to institute a Rooney Rule like policy in the NCAA’s to encourage more minority hiring, these results might help that argument along.

 In the end, however, if the NCAA and college presidents were looking for a reason not to look at stipends for college athletes, this data is certain exhibit A. If nothing else, their public just doesn’t seem to want it.  Click here for poll results and here for video commentary.