As MLB publicly struggles to get a handle on its early-season coronavirus outbreaks, new polling shows that football fans don’t have high hopes for their upcoming college and pro seasons.
In a Morning Consult survey conducted over the weekend, 32 percent of NFL fans said the league should begin its 2020 season as scheduled on Sept. 10 amid the pandemic. Roughly half (51 percent) said the league should either postpone or cancel the upcoming season. Among all U.S. adults polled July 31 to Monday, support for starting the NFL season on time was less than 25 percent.
College football fans are almost twice as likely to say conferences should either postpone or cancel their seasons than to support playing as scheduled. Thirty percent of college football fans are giving administrators the green light. Among the broader population, 19 percent of adults support holding fall sports.
Significant numbers of players at both the professional and college levels have either decided to sit out the season, or at least threatened to.
According to media reports compiled by The Sporting News, 44 players signed to NFL rosters had opted out of the 2020 season as of Aug. 2. ESPN reported on Aug. 1 that the league is expected to move up its opt-out deadline to either Tuesday or Wednesday. Players who opt out will receive between $150,000 and $350,000 in compensation depending on whether or not they are considered particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 based on pre-existing conditions.
In college football, where players do not earn salaries, player pushback against the upcoming season has ramped up in recent days. On Aug. 2, a group of Pac-12 football players collectively threatened to opt out of the upcoming season if their demands regarding health and safety protocols and compensation are not met. The Washington Post also reported that SEC players said on a call with conference officials last week that the league is not doing enough to protect them from the coronavirus.
Unlike the NFL, college sports are governed by individual conferences, each of which can make their own decisions on whether to move forward with fall sports, including football, as planned. While Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) conferences such as the Ivy League, Patriot League and Colonial Athletic Association have decided against holding athletic competitions beginning later this month, Football Bowl Subdivision conferences — including the big-money Power 5: ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC — currently plan to play with some tweaks to their normal scheduling conventions.
As for baseball, roughly two-thirds of MLB fans believed the league should continue the season under the circumstances that existed at the time of polling, either waiting to see if things got worse before canceling (47 percent) or pushing forward regardless (19 percent). But things have worsened since the survey’s fielding period: The number of positive tests has since jumped above 30 based on a statement from MLB on Monday afternoon about more positive tests within the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Roughly a quarter (24 percent) of fans said the league should shut down the season immediately.
Among fans of each of the three sports included in the survey, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to move forward with competition amid the coronavirus. Among NFL fans, 46 percent of Republicans said the league should play its upcoming season as scheduled compared to 25 percent of Democrats. Republican college football fans were more than twice as likely as Democratic fans to say conferences should play fall sports as scheduled. And Republican baseball fans were nearly three times as likely as their Democratic counterparts to support playing the current season to completion.
The poll was conducted among 2,200 U.S. adults, with a margin of error of 2 percentage points. Responses for subsets of self-identified fans of MLB, NFL and college football each had a 3-point margin of error.