Americans divided over whether college football should be returning

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Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 7:37 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NBC) - Americans are divided over whether college football players should be allowed to play football this fall during the coronavirus pandemic, even as a clear majority believe the athletes are putting themselves at a greater risk for contracting the virus by playing.

Forty-nine percent of adults said college football players should be allowed to play this fall, compared to 48 percent who said they should not, according to new results from the NBC|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking Poll.

There are significant differences based on political leaning — almost three-quarters of Republicans and Republican leaners support players returning to play, while seven-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners do not. Independents are virtually split on the issue — 47 percent support allowing college football players to return to play while 51 percent do not.

There’s more agreement that playing does put players at an additional risk to contract coronavirus — 61 percent of adults say so, compared to 36 percent who do not believe playing is an additional risk. That viewpoint is again heavily swayed by differences among Republicans and Democrats.

Sixty-three percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners say playing in the fall isn’t an additional risk, a sentiment shared by just 14 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners. While 36 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaners say playing college football adds additional coronavirus risk for players, 85 percent of Democrats felt it would be an additional risk.

Overall, 70 percent of adults say they would not attend a game this fall if given the opportunity — a perspective shared by a slim majority of Republicans and Republican learners, as well as a significant majority of independents, and Democrats and Democratic learners.

The new results come as the National Football League rounds the corner into its third week and as the Big Ten plans to return to play in October.

Three prominent college football conferences — the Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference — have either started playing this month or plan to before the end of September. The Big Ten and the PAC-12 conferences postponed their seasons because of the virus.

But last week, the Big Ten reversed course, releasing new testing and safety protocols that college presidents say will help keep student-athletes safe. The Big Ten will start playing the weekend of Oct. 23.

That decision makes the Pac-12 the only one of college football’s top five conferences with no current plans to return this fall.

President Trump has been a vocal proponent of football’s return — ahead of the Big Ten’s decision to return to play, Trump repeatedly tweeted calling on the conference to restart games.

And last month, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign made a video showing empty Big Ten stadiums while blaming Trump for putting “America on the sidelines.”

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for those teams that have returned to the field — some games have been postponed and others have gone on despite dozens of athletes either sick or quarantining after a possible exposure.

Louisiana State University football coach Ed Ogeron, whose team won last year’s national championship, said last week that “most of our players have caught” Covid-19.

Methodology— Data come from a set of SurveyMonkey online polls conducted September 14-20, 2020 among a national sample of 36,454 adults in the U.S. Respondents were selected from the more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 1.0 percentage points. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.

Copyright 2020 WITN. All rights reserved.

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