Sports

Clear Majority of Americans Still Support Paying College Athletes Despite NIL Issues

3 in 5 U.S. adults say they support college athletes’ licensing their names or likenesses for use in video games, other products

NIL NCAA
Alabama football head coach Nick Saban, photographed here on Nov. 27, 2021, made headlines recently after he accused Texas A&M of buying "every player" in its latest recruiting class via name, image and likeness deals. A new Morning Consult survey reveals most U.S. adults still support college athletes making money via NIL deals. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Student-athletes’ ability to profit off their names, images and likenesses remains the most contentious issue in college athletics. Last week, Texas A&M head football coach Jimbo Fisher responded to allegations made by Alabama coach Nick Saban that Fisher’s team “bought every player” in its 2022 recruiting class. Fisher fired back at Saban, denying any wrongdoing while calling the accusation “despicable.”

Still, long-term NIL solutions may be far away as administrators, athletic department personnel and student-athletes struggle to understand what’s an acceptable deal under the current guidelines. Two Power 5 commissioners — Pac-12’s George Kliavkoff and SEC’s Greg Sankey — met with senators this month to encourage a congressional NIL statute. 

A new Morning Consult survey shows that, despite the continued controversies, a majority of Americans still support NIL nearly a year after its formal adoption.

Most U.S. Adults Still Support Paying College Athletes Despite Name, Image and Likeness Controversies

Share of respondents who believe student-athletes should be paid for each of the following services:

Surveys conducted between Feb. 26, 2019-May 5, 2022, among a representative sample of roughly 2,200 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.
What the numbers say
  • Three in 5 U.S. adults said they support college athletes’ licensing their names or likenesses for use in video games or other products, a downtick of 2 percentage points from a June 2021 survey but still an overall increase of 5 points from March of that year. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they’re in favor of brand partnerships or endorsement deals for student-athletes, down 3 points from the June survey but up 11 points from a 2019 survey.
  • About 1 in 4 U.S. adults (26%) said the NCAA college sports system is “broken,” the same percentage from the June 2021 survey, while about 1 in 5 respondents (22%) said the governing body is “heading in the right direction.”
  • In April, the NCAA announced that President Mark Emmert will step down in June 2023, or sooner if a replacement is selected. About 1 in 5 (21%) self-identified college sports fans said they have seen, read or heard either “a lot” or “some” about Emmert’s decision. Emmert had a net favorability rating (the share with a favorable opinion minus the share with an unfavorable view) of 9 among college sports fans, while the NCAA received a net rating of 34.
College Sports Fans in Favor of Postgraduate Health Care for Athletes, Limiting Spending on Coach Salaries

Respondents were asked whether they support or oppose the following proposed changes to the NCAA:

Survey conducted May 3-5, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,292 self-identified college sports fans, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
More on the numbers
  • Among a list of possible changes to NCAA guidance, college sports fans said they support providing student-athletes with health care after they graduate (64%) and formally limiting the amount of money spent on coaches’ salaries (61%). Most fans did not support the idea of the Power Five conferences (the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC and Pac-12) breaking away from the NCAA to form their own super conference.
The impact

The NCAA continues to refine its NIL rules, providing new guidance this month around collectives, in which schools’ donors pool their money to support NIL deals but in some cases have appeared to offer recruiting inducements to players. Each week marks new territory as administrators, brands and athletes evaluate possible deals on a case-by-case basis. University of Tennessee-Martin quarterback Dresser Winn, for instance, secured a deal with Tennessee political candidate Colin Johnson, believed to be a first-of-its-kind NIL tie-up. 

For now, Americans support college athletes in their quest to be compensated, according to the survey, but it’s clear the NCAA has a lot more work to do to regulate how that gets accomplished.

The survey was conducted May 3-5, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, including 1,292 self-identified college sports fans, with unweighted margins of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points and 3 percentage points, respectively.

Morning Consult