Bucknell University poll on Fair Pay for Play

Bucknell University poll

A significant majority of Americans support paying collegiate athletes, but significant gaps break by political party, age and gender lines according to a new Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) national survey.

The national survey shows that 47 percent of Americans are in favor of the recently passed Fair Pay for Play Act in California, while only 20 percent oppose the measure. However, 62 percent of Democrats support the bill compared to 34 percent of Republicans, 56 percent of respondents under 30 years old support the bill, compared to 39 percent of those over 50 years, and 53 percent of men support the measure, compared to 42 percent of women.

This data comes as the NCAA recently voted to start modifying its rule to allow college athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses. Formal policy changes are still to come. Following the NCAA vote, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R) proposed taxing some scholarships like income.

Last month, two Pennsylvania state representatives from Allegheny County proposed a bill that would allow college athletes in Pennsylvania to sign endorsement deals, similar to legislation signed into law in California. State Reps. Dan Miller and Ed Gainey, said their proposed “Fair Pay to Play Act,” would largely mirror California’s bill likely taking effect Jan. 1, 2023, and not apply to community colleges.

“Our data show significant support for California’s ‘pay for play’ law and the NCAA’s new role, as well as for having schools pay their athletes,” said Chris Ellis, a political science professor and director of Bucknell’s Survey Research Laboratory. “But like everything else, the results are heavily polarized along party lines: Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor of pay for play, while Republicans are much cooler about it. There is also a big generational divide: younger people are more likely to want to see athletes paid than older ones.”

The California law, as well as the proposed changes coming from the NCAA, do not address the question of collegiate institutions outright paying college athletes directly. However, 40 percent of respondents also agreed that college athletes who earn revenue for their schools should be paid above and beyond any scholarship they receive, compared to 32 percent of those who disagree. Similar variances were again seen among the demographic breakdown above.

“As college football and basketball become increasingly more lucrative businesses, calls for athletes to receive a share of the pie will continue to grow,” Ellis said. “But if changes are going to come from state governments, as opposed to the NCAA, then we need to remember that legislators are responsible to their voters. And there will be some states — particularly ‘red’ ones — where these changes will be harder to achieve for that reason.”

The survey was administered by YouGov for BIPP’s Survey Research Laboratory from Oct. 20 through Oct. 26, 

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