Monmouth Poll: college sports lack academic balance

A national Monmouth University Poll released in the lead-up to the inaugural Division I college football championship game finds that most Americans feel that colleges and universities with high-profile sports programs put too much emphasis on athletics.  Most believe the attention received by schools with professional-style sports programs puts pressure on other colleges and universities to step up their own athletics programs, while losing money in the process.  The public also feels that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policies tend to benefit big-time programs over other schools.

Just 24% of Americans believe that colleges and universities with big-time sports programs maintain the right balance between academics and athletics. Fully 67% say these schools place too much emphasis on their sports programs.  This opinion is somewhat reversed when the public looks at other higher education institutions without high-profile sports programs.  Half (50%) say these schools maintain the right balance while 38% say these schools place too much emphasis on sports.  College graduates are among those most likely to feel that big-time sports schools over-emphasize athletics (71%) while other colleges and universities are able to maintain the right balance between sports and academics (58%).

“Americans are in love with big-time college sports, but as the Monmouth poll makes clear, they also recognize that many institutes of higher education are not properly balancing the important mix of athletics and academics,” said Dr. Paul R. Brown, president of Monmouth University, a Division I institution in West Long Branch, New Jersey. “Whether we reside at a football or basketball powerhouse or at a mid-size or small college or university where athletics round out the student experience, we as educators have a responsibility to prepare each student for the future. For all but a tiny few, that means ensuring that we put the emphasis on the ‘student’ part of the student-athlete.”

The public is divided on the role of the NCAA in creating this disparity – 42% say it does a bad job encouraging its member schools to maintain a proper balance between athletics and academics, while 39% say it does a good job at this.  College graduates are significantly more likely to say the NCAA does a bad job (53%) rather than good job (29%) at promoting academic quality.  A two-thirds (66%) majority of the public, regardless of educational attainment, feels that NCAA policies are designed to benefit big-time sports schools over other programs.  Only 18% say that NCAA polices are designed to provide equal benefit to big-time programs as well as those schools without high-profile sports.

Some observers have called for a dual system of overseeing Division I college athletics.  The NCAA would continue to organize the 70 to 80 schools that play in conferences with professional-style programs, while another association would be formed for the other 270 schools that compete in Division I.  Public opinion is somewhat divided on this plan, with more saying it is a good idea (44%) rather than a bad idea (36%), and another 21% registering no opinion or saying it depends.

“I think this poll underscores the fact that the system in its current form is broken, and that we need to look more realistically, more practically at our oversight of college athletics,” Brown said. “What is becoming increasingly clear to me, as the president of a mid-size, private school that values college athletics, is that one system and one set of rules does not and cannot work for everyone.”

Fully 3-in-4 Americans believe that the attention received by high-profile college sports programs creates pressure for other schools to put more emphasis than they should on their own sports programs – including a clear majority (53%) who say this creates a lot of pressure and another 22% who say it creates at least a little pressure.  Only 18% say that the attention generated by big-time college sports puts no pressure on other schools to pour more resources into their own programs.

The vast majority (77%) of Americans believe that big-time sports programs generate a lot of money for their respective schools – and another 9% say they earn a little money.  Public perception is not the same for other schools.  Most Americans (53%) believe that schools without high-profile teams actually lose money on their sports programs.  Only 30% feel these schools make at least a little money from their athletic activities.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from December 10 to 14, 2014 with 1,008 adults in the United States.   This sample has a margin of error of + 3.1 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch. Monmouth Poll: college sports lack academic balance