Poll: Americans are concerned about college sports

Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

Public Opinion Poll

Executive Summary

January 2006

Americans are passionate about college sports. They believe athletes ought to be “normal” college students, facing the same standards in admissions and challenges in the classroom, according to a poll conducted last month for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Enthusiasm about college sports does not mean that Americans are naïve about the enterprise. They believe that college sports resemble professional sports much more than amateur sports. Coaches, they believe, are paid too much, advertisers exploit athletes, and commercial interests often take precedence over academic values.

The Census-balanced and representative telephone poll of 502 adults among adults 18 years of age and older was conducted in December 2005 for the commission by Widmeyer Research and Polling of Washington, D.C. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 4.4%.[1]

Poll findings suggest the following:

Americans believe college sports are like professional sports.

· By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans believe that college sports are more like professional sports (60%) than amateur sports (31%).

Commercial interests often prevail over academic values and traditions.

· 3 in 5 Americans (61%) say that college sports have become too commercialized.

· 3 in 4 Americans (74%) agree with the statement: Commercial interests often prevail over academic values and traditions.

· 3 in 4 Americans (74%) believe there is a conflict between the commercialization of college athletics and academic values. A similar percentage (73%) agrees with the statement: College sports as big business conflicts with the values of higher education.

· Two-thirds of all college graduates (66%) and over half of all respondents who classify themselves as “sports fans” agree with this statement.

· 3 in 5 Americans and college sports fans (59%) agree with the statement: College athletes are exploited by corporate advertisers.

Coaches are overpaid.

  • Americans believe that college coaches’ high salaries are both a reflection and a result of the professionalization of college sports. Americans believe that salaries are much too high and are concerned that coaches are paid more than professors.
  • 3 in 4 Americans (73%) and a similar percentage of sports fans (70%) disagree with the statement: Successful college football and basketball coaches deserve to earn millions of dollars.
  • 4 in 5 Americans (83%) say they are concerned that football coaches are often the highest paid person at a school participating in big-time college sports.
  • 4 in 5 Americans (82%) say they are concerned that assistant football coaches are paid much more than senior professors.

Companies and TV networks have too much control over college sports.

Americans want college administrators to control the times and dates of college football and basketball games to ensure that academics are prioritized over athletics and commercial values.

  • 3 in 4 Americans (77%) say they are concerned that because TV networks schedule the times and dates for college basketball and football games, athletes are forced to miss classes and travel at inconvenient times.
  • 2 in 3 Americans (65%) say that college administrators should control the times and dates of college football and basketball games.

Concerns over the professionalization of college sports explain why a majority of Americans support the following initiatives:

· 4 in 5 Americans (85%), including 74% of sports fans, believe that the money earned by the athletics department should benefit the whole school, not just the athletics department.

· 3 in 4 Americans (76%) believe that coaches’ salaries should be similar to other college and university senior officials.

· 3 in 4 Americans (75%), including 79% of sports fans, believe that colleges should spend more of their athletics budgets to support men’s and women’s sports outside of football and basketball. Support for this initiative matches up with the opinion expressed by 3 in 4 Americans (71%), who are concerned that colleges are reacting to competitive and financial pressures by dropping sports other than football and basketball.

· The majority of Americans (68%), including a majority of sports fans (63%), believe that colleges should reduce expenditures on big-time sports such as football and basketball.

· 4 in 5 Americans (82%) support requiring colleges to show that sports-related commercial contracts do not conflict with academic values. 61% of Americans strongly support this.

· 3 in 4 Americans (76%) support requiring shoe and clothing contracts be made directly with the school, not the coach. 60% of Americans strongly support this.

Americans are concerned about athletes’ welfare.

· Nearly all Americans (93%) say they are concerned about the use of steroids and other performance enhancing substances by collegiate athletes. 73% of Americans are very concerned about this.

· More than 4 in 5 Americans (83%) are concerned that pressure to compete causes collegiate athletes to play when they are hurt. Nearly half of Americans (49%) are very concerned about this.

Americans have a positive opinion about college sports, but are concerned about its negative aspects.

More than 4 in 5 (83%) Americans say their overall opinion of college sports is positive. However, there is a deep divide among those surveyed about whether college sports are “out of control”: 44 percent believe they are, while 47 percent believe they are not. [Note: These numbers are improving. A Louis Harris poll conducted for the Knight Commission in 1990 found that 75 percent of people tended to agree that intercollegiate athletics were out of control; a 1993 poll for the Commission found that 52 percent of the public agreed with the statement.]

Americans believe the myths about college sports.

Finally, the poll results show that the majority of Americans believe many of the myths about college sports and the financial benefits they produce for colleges and universities.

· More than 3 in 4 Americans (78%) believe that athletics departments at colleges supporting big-time sports generate profits.[2]

· A strong majority (84%) believe that generally, successful teams generate more alumni donations to a university.[3]

· More than half (55%) believe that a successful athletics program generally improves the quality of applicants to a university.[4]

· Nearly half (42%), including a majority of sports fans (57%), believe that generally, spending more on salaries and operating expenses allows a team to win more.[5]

All of the above results are from the same poll as the poll findings released on January 6, 2006 regarding Americans’ views on academic reforms in college sports. Those poll results indicate that Americans are aware of—and strongly support—NCAA reforms to improve the academic performance of college athletes, and believe more needs to be done to ensure that colleges and universities emphasize academics over athletics. More information on these findings can be found at www.knightcommission.org.

For additional information, please contact Welch Suggs at (404) 771-7753 or welchsuggs@knightcommission.org or Marty McGough, Widmeyer Research and Polling at (202) 667-0901.

[1] Please contact the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for additional background information about the poll, which was conducted among 502 American residents 18 years of age and older. Widmeyer used an RDD (random digit dialing) method to ensure that all results are representative of the U.S. population by demographic variables such as gender, age, income, geography, ethnicity and household composition. All results can be projected to the adult U.S. population. The margin of error for the poll is +/-4.4%.

[2] NCAA financial reports indicate that only 40% of Division I-A programs generate a surplus when institutional support is removed. NCAA President Myles Brand has indicated that the actual number is around a dozen when all costs, not currently included in the reports, are considered.

[3] A report by Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank for the Knight Commission found little evidence exists to support this spillover effect. Research conducted by Jonathan and Peter Orszag for the NCAA confirms this finding. Frank’s report is available at https://www.knightcommission.org.

[4] Frank’s report and the Orszags’ research conducted for the NCAA also indicate there is no evidence to support a relationship between success in athletics and an improvement in the quality of applicants to a university.

[5] NCAA research conducted by the Orszags indicates that increased spending on athletics does not affect teams’ win/loss percentages.