Poll: Less Than 20% of Respondents Support College Basketball but Want to See Athletes Benefit



Media Contacts: Emily Gowdey-Backus, director of media relations and Nancy Cicco, assistant director of media relations

Support for the annual NCAA college basketball tournament, known colloquially as March Madness, is low this year according to the latest UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion poll released Wednesday. The polling data show just 16% of respondents consider themselves college basketball fans.

“You wouldn’t know it from the energy around March Madness, but comparatively few Americans are fans of college basketball,” said UMass Lowell political science Associate Professor John Cluverius. “While ratings for tournament games are high, people just don’t identify as fans of the sport.”

While a corresponding 84% of respondents reported not supporting college basketball, those who do support college basketball are divided by race. Black respondents (30%) were almost twice as likely to say they were fans of college basketball as white respondents (16%) and five times as likely to identify as such over Hispanic respondents (6%). 

Majority Support Collegiate Athlete Compensation Measures

More than six in 10 Americans said it is certainly (20%) or probably (43%) true that college athletes should be paid for the games they play, according to the March 15 poll.

“Americans see college athletes as workers who deserve payment for their performance,” said Cluverius, director of survey research at the Center for Public Opinion.

Yet, the data show support for such compensation is significantly higher among Democrats than Republicans:

  • 77% of self-identified Democrats are in favor
  • 46% of self-identified Republicans are in favor

Most, 64%, of the respondents who identify as independent support paying college athletes.

Despite political disparity, support is consistent across income and education categories, though sharp divides along racial lines are also present. Black respondents are the most supportive as 77% said it is certainly (42%) or probably (35%) true college athletes should be paid. This is in contrast to Hispanic respondents, whose combined support for paying college athletes is a close second at 71%. In third, are white respondents, more than half (58%) of whom support the idea. 

In another boon for these young men and women, at 68%, a majority of Americans broadly support college athletes profiting from their name, image and likeness (NIL) in opportunities such as merchandise or video games. In contrast, 16% of respondents said college athletes should not be compensated for the use of their NIL and 15% had no opinion. 

People who hold a four-year college degree are more supportive of payment for NIL rights than those without: 73% for vs. 18% against. Two-thirds of respondents (66%) without a four-year college degree said college athletes should be paid for NIL use while 16% said that they should not. 

Designed and analyzed by Cluverius, the nonpartisan survey was funded by the university’s Center for Public Opinion. Polling was conducted online by YouGov between Jan. 25 to Jan. 30, 2023, with 1,000 respondents. The poll’s margin of error is +/- 3.6 percentage points. The Center for Public Opinion presents events and polling on political and social issues to provide opportunities for civic engagement, experiential learning and real-world research. The center is a member of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) Transparency Initiative. Detailed poll results, including topline and full methodology, are available at www.uml.edu/polls

UMass Lowell is a national research university offering its students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. www.uml.edu