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For NCAA fans, paying players would spoil the game

On the eve of the NCAA mens' basketball title game a new CNBC polls find that about a third of college hoop fans would think twice about tuning in if players were paid.

The CNBC All-America Economic Survey, a national poll of 800 Americans nationwide with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent, found that 35 percent of respondents report watching at least some of the March Madness tournament. Of this group, 32 percent say they would be "less likely" to watch if the players were paid.

Among those most likely to turn off the games are the wealthiest and most educated Americans and men over 50, the same demographics who are most likely to be watching.

As the issue has come to the fore, several recent polls have found that more than 60 percent of the public oppose paying college players, including a recent Washington Post/ABC Poll. But the CNBC poll found that a substantial 61 percent majority of those who watch would still tune in if players were paid. Yet in the big-money business of college hoops, the poll points to high stakes for the NCAA in possibly alienating up to a third of its most loyal viewership.

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Non-whites and the poorest Americans along with women are most likely to say paying players would make no difference in their interest in the tournament. These are also the demographics least likely to be watching.

While Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to be watching the games, 27 percent of Republicans say they would be less likely to watch if players were paid, compared to 17 percent of Democrats.