Should college athletes be paid? A non-scientific timeline of public support

Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, the leader of a player unionization effort.

Recent polls show support for paying college football and basketball players beyond the scholarships they currently receive is still low, but things could change quickly. And, yes, there's a poll at the bottom of this story.

A new poll from ABC News and Washington Post has found a large majority of the general public opposes paying college athletes, with just 33 percent of respondents in favor of compensation above scholarships (64 percent oppose the idea).

Looking just at the numbers, it would appear that movements like All Players United and others that are hoping for player compensation (and better healthcare for current and former athletes) are facing an uphill battle. But the trends suggest things may change sooner rather than later.

Here are the polls from the last 15 years that we've found on the subject (and do let us know if you're aware of others, as we can add them).

March 30, 2001

A Gallup Poll finds 75 percent of Americans are opposed to additional compensation, while 21 percent are in favor.

February 28, 2003

A USA Today/CNN poll finds 72 percent are opposed,

May 23, 2011

An informal poll by finds 45.2 percent are opposed and 54.8 percent are in favor.

September 23, 2011

A Seton Hall poll finds 65 percent opposed and 27 percent in favor.

October 19, 2011

An informal poll by the Dayton Business Journal finds 56 percent are opposed to players receiving greater compensation, but that about a third of those think players "deserve more rights." In favor are 45 percent, with 32 percent calling for "a weekly wage" and 13 percent for "a cut of this profitable industry."

March 29, 2012

A poll from Marist College finds 68 percent of sports fans are opposed, 27 percent are in favor, and five percent think athletes should not receive scholarships or pay.

August 20, 2012

58 percent of college basketball coaches believe players should be paid. surveys nearly 100 college basketball coaches, finding that 58 percent believe players should be paid.

Some more info, via CBS Sports:

Some of the suggested methods:

-- Build compensation right into the scholarship package with a stipend at the end of each semester: 28 percent
-- Players should be allowed to receive endorsement money (Olympic model): 20 percent
-- Cost-of-living grants is the way to go: 12 percent
-- Make leagues responsible for paying via their own profits: 8 percent
-- Want change but don't have a solution: 8 percent

March 26, 2013

A poll from Marist College finds 72 percent believe athletes should receive only a scholarship and only 21 percent believe college athletes deserve a "salary/stipend above a scholarship."

June 21, 2013

An informal poll from football country (also known as finds just 52 percent of respondents believe college athletes should not be paid, with 46 percent saying they should receive compensation beyond scholarship value.

September 17, 2013

Another informal poll, this time by ESPN. In it, 60 percent of respondents say players should not be paid, while 59 percent say players should receive shares of the profits their teams produce. Also notable -- 58 percent of respondents say they expect college athletes will be paid in their lifetimes.

March 23, 2014

The ABC/Post poll.

What's this mean?

Compiling all of these polls over the last 13 years into a chart, without regard for wildly differing methodologies, would give us this, with yellow representing respondents opposed to greater athlete compensation and red for those in favor:


Made at

It's obviously not a perfect representation of public attitudes over the last decade, but it's probably the best look we can put together, based on what's out there. What do you think?


While the level of support does not look promising for those who support the movement to pay the players, let's compare this glimpse to a couple of recent, fast-changing policy issues.

The following two timelines come to us from Gallup. The first, on legalizing marijuana:


The second, on support for marriage equality:


Will player compensation follow a similar trajectory?

Two more notes from the Post/ABC poll: 37 percent of sports fans support paying athletes, as opposed to 27 percent of non-fans, which could speak to the difference in knowledge of the subject (and more specifically, the staggering amount of revenue the athletes provide for the schools and the strict NCAA rules against players holding jobs). As knowledge and awareness increase -- as they have over the past decade -- it stands to reason that the level of support from the public for paying athletes will as well.

And 73 percent of white respondents were against the notion of "pay-for-play," while 51 percent of non-white respondents were in favor.The two main collegiate revenue sports -- football and men's basketball -- are largely populated by non-white players, while the revenue makers (athletic directors, coaches, and other personnel) are largely white. A 2010 study found a slight majority of FBS football players were black and more than 60 percent of Division I basketball players were black. A 2012 study found that 18.6 percent of all Division I men's basketball coaches were black, while just 13 of 128 FBS head coaches (10.2 percent) are black.

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