Let’s get real with college athletes about their chances of going pro

When the NFL draft takes place, it will represent a professional dream come true for the 224 college football players who get picked.

For most players, however, going pro will never be more than a fantasy. Fewer than 2% of college student-athletes ever play professional sports at any level for any amount of time.

But that statistic often fails to register with many of the thousands of young people across the nation who enter a university, singularly focused on the rare chance that they will join the ranks of professional athletes. I know this because I worked as a volunteer with Division I football players for the summers of 2015 to 2017 to help develop their leadership skills and build unity among team members. In that capacity, I learned directly from the football players that most of them were focused on going pro and that going to college was just a means to that end.

My impressions are consistent with a 2015 NCAA survey – the latest available – that shows 64% of Division I football players believe it is “somewhat likely” that they will become a professional.

Given that only 1 in 4,233 high school players go from high school to college to the pros, there is a giant gap between college players’ dreams and reality. In baseball, for instance, only 2.1% of all college players transition from college to the pros. Most other sports have lower rates of going pro than that.

For student-athletes who do not earn college degree, whether it’s because they’re no longer eligible to play, ran out of money for college or declared themselves as eligible for the NFL draft but didn’t get drafted, the end game is the same. They find themselves at the proverbial finish line without a degree or a professional contract. Clearly, this is not the goal.

Why a degree matters

While only one college football player wins the coveted Heisman Trophy each year, a college degree, on the other hand, is attainable by every player on every team. More importantly, a college degree enhances a person’s ability to get a job and earn a living. New research, however, shows that many college football players are not earning their degrees.