11/22/2011 05:22 pm ET Updated Jan 22, 2012

Public Attitudes on the Unfolding Crisis at Penn State

A number of media outlets have recently compared the Penn State scandal with the horrific acts that rocked the Catholic church. The comparisons are eye-opening and lead many of us to wonder what is happening with institutions we once thought were above reproach.

Widmeyer Communications' Polling and Research division recently fielded a survey about how Americans view issues surrounding the Penn State controversy and the results provide a fascinating insight into collegiate athletics. In fact, a key finding of the survey asked about the Catholic Church comparison -- the survey found that two-thirds of the American public thought the manner in which Penn State handled the recent child sexual abuse controversy was similar to how the Catholic Church handled its child sexual abuse controversies.

The survey also found:

  • A great majority (83%) say the culture of big money that has developed around Division 1 college sports in the past 20 was a factor in the alleged long-time inaction by Penn State officials to resolve the controversy. Six in 10 say it was a large factor.
  • When it comes to the sway Division 1 athletic programs have over college life, seven in 10 (72%) say they have too much influence and practically no one (3%) believing sports has too little influence. The remaining say the amount of influence is about right (16%) or they are unsure (9%).
  • Americans are split down the middle on whether they would discourage a child from attending a Division 1 school that places a strong emphasis on sports with four in 10 (40%) likely to discourage and an equal percentage (41%) unlikely to discourage. Nineteen percent are unsure.

There also were interesting comparisons on how younger and older Americans viewed the scandal. Throughout the survey, college-age Americans were less concerned about the controversy than those 50 and older. While the culture of big money was seen as a factor by 60 percent overall, only 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds thought it was a factor compared to 68 percent of people 50 and older. The same was true with only 58 percent of the youngest group believing Division 1 college athletic programs have too much influence over college life while 80 percent of the oldest group saying too much influence.

The Penn State and Catholic church issues will continue to unfold. But, results such as what we uncovered in this new survey are a message to these once untouchable institutions that business as usual cannot continue. And, while media will continue to examine the what, where and whys of this scandal, it is clear the American public has serious opinions about it.