College athletes overestimate their chances of going pro

February 3, 2015 /
It’s common knowledge that college athletes greatly overestimate their chances of going pro, but to see the statistics illustrating that fact is something entirely different.

Duke's Jabari Parker is among the 1.2% of Division I men's basketball players that go pro.
Duke’s Jabari Parker is among the 1.2% of Division I men’s basketball players that go pro.

Inside Higher Ed recently posted this piece, breaking down some of the NCAA’s findings in a recent survey. It’s staggering to see that more than half of all Division I student-athletes in football, baseball, men’s basketball and hockey believe they have pretty good odds of playing professionally.

From Inside Higher Ed:

This is particularly true for college athletes coming from low-income communities and locations where athletics is seen by some talented players as one of the few viable routes to a better life, said Mark Nagel, a professor of sports and entertainment management at the University of South Carolina. 

“Good athletes get so consumed with playing their sports, it’s very difficult to take a step back and realize what else is going on,” Nagel said. “It’s commendable in some ways, because it’s really what they want to do. It’s an all-consuming passion.” 

Explaining to athletes that their passion — and years of hard work — is not likely to lead to a career is an uncomfortable but necessary conversation to have, NCAA President Mark Emmert said during his address at the NCAA’s annual meeting earlier this month. “How can we help them understand the realities of what that looks like?” he asked. “What can we change to give them a more realistic sense of it? How do we get a handle on that? How can we provide them with a greater sense of the realities and what that looks like?”

That’s a fair question, and the article makes a valid point that Division I athletic programs are partly to blame. Too many entice recruits by presenting them lists of athletes that went on to play professionally after leaving their programs. Making young athletes believe in that dream will continue to be part of the recruiting process.

Here’s a look at the disparity in those who go pro versus those who believe they’ll go pro (via Inside Higher Ed):

Men’s hockey: 63% believe they will play professionally — reality is 0.8%

Men’s basketball: 76% believe they will play professionally — reality is 1.2%

Women’s basketball: 44% believe they will play professionally — reality is 1.9%

Baseball: 60% believe they will play professionally — reality is 9.4%

Football: 52% believe they will play professionally — reality is 1.6%

It’s OK to dream, but a lot of times that fantasy leads student-athletes to neglect their studies and what should be their real priority: earning a degree.

Emmert is right. These realities should be made clear to student-athletes, but statistics indicate that’s not being done. So what should we do about it?

If you’re interested in the findings of the NCAA GOALS Study, click here.

Photo By Adam Glantzman [CC BY 2.0(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


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Aaron Wright

I believe that athletes are overly optimistic about their chances of playing pro. After all, studies have shown that about 80% of people rate themselves as above average. However, the numbers as presented here are misleading. Far more than 1.2% of DI men’s basketball players will play professionally, just not in the NBA. Any these results only show those who say it is at least “somewhat likely”, not very likely, or definite. A proper survey, and accurate statistics on those who play professionally, would give a much better picture of the gap between perception and reality here.