“How passionately they explain the numbers and how much they emphasize the deck is stacked against athletes varies between institutions. It is a message that a lot of coaches don’t want to send. And it’s a message, frankly, that a lot of athletes don’t want to hear at this stage in their lives.”
Lloyd Christmas: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me … ending up together?
Mary Swanson: Well, Lloyd, that’s difficult to say. I mean, we don’t really…
Lloyd Christmas: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary.
The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Mary Swanson: Not good.
Lloyd Christmas: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary Swanson: I’d say more like one out of a million.
Lloyd Christmas: So you’re telling me there’s a chance … YEAH!
Dumb and Dumber
We are in the middle of a pandemic, we do not know the long term effects of actually having the Covid virus, and, yet, college football season has now begin. I think its time we all had a candid conversation about college athletics because these young men are not getting paid now, most of them will not get paid for doing what they are doing now and the universities are getting paid a lot of money. Maybe we should get a grip on the truth – these are not ‘student-athletes’, these are ‘athletes universities make a lot of money on.’ Yes. Its about the money, not the education. With that said, let’s talk about the future of these college athletes who are making money for someone else now.
First. Let me be clear in using a dumb & dumber quote upfront I am not going to be suggesting college athletes are dumb. If anything, I believe people would be surprised at how worldly and smart and hard working 90+% of college athletes are.
Second. I am actually going to use college basketball to talk about the link, or the lack thereof, between playing college sports and playing professionally.
During the NBA bubble, as we watched some foreign players be quite successful, I was asked how many college players move on to the NBA. I guessed maybe 5%.
I was wrong.
Just using Division 1 it is 1.2%
There are about 350 Division I college basketball teams. Each team offers 13 scholarships. That’s about 4,510 Division I college basketball players in a year. In addition. 265 teams in Division II, 325 teams in Division III and 259 teams in NAIA. That’s about another 11,000 players. Using Division 1 alone … only 1.2% of college basketball players will be drafted by a National Basketball Association team. Less will end up actually playing.
This means less than ½ of 1% of total college basketball players will play in the NBA.
Ok. Sure. “Professional” doesn’t have to mean the NBA because there are a lot of other options around the world, especially in Europe, Israel, Turkey, etc. And, to be clear, there are not a lot of Division III student-athletes who think, or know, they are going to play in the NBA. Overseas professional leagues are pretty numerous <even if they don’t pay as well as the NBA> and the idea of spending at least a year playing in and getting to see another part of the world while getting paid is pretty attractive especially to students focus more on their studies than many Division I athletes – especially those who want to play in the NBA.
So while we typically watch elite teams play incredibly high level of basketball on TV every week, 98% of them will not play professionally.
Ok. That was a semi stunning thing to write.
You watch these incredibly talented young athletes and assume it will be a given they play professionally.
Yikes. Not so much. Sure. So maybe the elite of the elite may send a small number from one team in one given year and then maybe half of those end up being professional career worthy, but that is the best of the best and over a 5 year span the % drops significantly.
Playing professionally, in any sport not just basketball, is … well … a pretty long shot. Several years ago a guy named Jake New tackled this topic.
College athletes vastly overestimate their chances of playing professional sports. The problem is so pervasive that Mark Emmert, the NCAA’s president, devoted significant space to the issue during his most recent state of the association address, saying that “athletes often have incredibly unrealistic perceptions of their professional prospects.”
According to NCAA surveys, more than 60% of Division I college men’s ice hockey players think it’s likely they’ll play professionally, but less than 1 percent ever go on to the National Hockey League.
About 45% of Division I women’s basketball players think they have a chance to play professional basketball, but only 0.9% of players are drafted by a Women’s National Basketball Association team.
<The NCAA said that it is currently procuring data on a player’s chances of joining other professional leagues, such as those in Europe, but the information is not yet available>
Men’s hoops players are the most unrealistic. More than three-quarters of men’s basketball players in Division I say they believe it is at least “somewhat likely” they will play professionally. More than half of Division II players say the same, as do 21 percent of Division III players. Only 1.2 percent of college basketball players will be drafted by an National Basketball Association team.
Now. We <colleges and adult influencers in general> don’t help. While the NCAA actually does a pretty good job marketing the fact that athletes should have realistic expectations and that ‘the majority of college athletes go on to do something better’.
Colleges kind of derail the message by promoting their successes <by the way, not in percentages but rather by individuals>.
For example some colleges list the individuals who have attended the university and gone on to fame and professional playing <not noting that these are actually exceptions and not the rule>.
For example on its recruiting website, UCLA is described as “#1 in Olympic Gold Medals from 1984 to 2008″ and “#1 in professional athletes.” And UCLA is very open in saying that for athletes who do dream of going professional the information can be helpful when choosing a program <note … I used UCLA and some dated information, but I could have used any big time college sports program and maybe not used #1 but some marketing of program success as an example>.
In addition parents and adults and gobs of books promote “if you work hard enough you can attain it” or even “believing you can do it is the path to actually doing it.”
This means that colleges simply feed into what has already been planted in an athlete’s head. Some guy named Gershon Tenenbaum, a sports psychology professor at Florida State University, calls it the “self-bias phenomenon.” And adults clearly exacerbate the situation with some relatively absurd levels of adulation with successful athletes.
I actually believe most young athletes are aware the %’s associated with professional sports is very low <even though they may not be aware of the NCAA research or specific numbers>, but young people are hard to convince — not only do they want to be seen as some statistic but we actually encourage them to be the exception.
Personally I know I have a love/hate relationship with regard to how my own parents managed my love of sports and whatever ability I may have had. They constantly stressed the low likelihood of being good enough to play professionally and were relentless with regard to me not ‘wasting my time’ on sports and focusing on other things therefore I always had a pretty good perspective on my abilities and ‘chances’, all the while I had coaches tugging at me to play and practice and ‘maximize’ the ability I did have.
I am not sure the tug-of-war was the best thing for my esteem, but it certainly gave me a realistic point of view when the time came to hang up my cleats & glove.
But it is not easy.
By the time you reach college level of sports you know you are ‘good’ and have attained at least a higher level on the athletic pyramid. For years an athlete moves on to higher and higher levels of competition and by getting to a college level an athlete actually gets to a level that is maybe 95%+ higher level than your peers.
In football maybe 6% of high school football players make it to the college level.
Success breeds some confidence, but the research also suggests it also breeds some delusional thinking with regard to what is possible.
What the hell.
(in your mind): You made it this far, so, why not all the way?
And in today’s world <which is NOTHING like when I grew up> we have elevated youth sports to such a level we almost create a celebrity status to not only successful teams <which inflates the egos of the individuals even if they are not stars> as well as the actual stars themselves.
We, adults, do this because we tend to believe confidence can elevate talent or that a higher level of confidence can help overcome any real odds of ‘yikes, we should lose this one.’
Breeding confidence in a young person is a delicate balance and we adults are anything but delicate with regard to the young & sports. This actually creates the “athlete student” problem <note: I did not say student athlete>. We have created a breed of young athlete that considers academics beneath them because they are “going to play professional sports.”
Yes. This is a delusion for most.
But those who could actually judge talent the best, coaches, have no real incentive to create a work ethic in academics <or social skills, emotional maturity and improving their reading, writing, and analytical skills beyond elementary school in order to “win” at something bigger> unless it is associated with ‘eligibility.’
Sure. We can find some coach exceptions (note: and i actually believe big time coaches have got better at this). But then there are we adults — who fuck everything up.
The head of the NCAA has clearly stated: “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.”
“How can we help them understand the realities of what that looks like? 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?”
The NCAA clearly advertises: “there are 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and almost all of them will go pro in something other than sports.”
Let’s be honest. Young athletes don’t always absorb the message. But that is mostly because we adults haven’t learned the delicate balance of managing reality, dreams and confidence.
Reality is tough. Reality is often captured in some harsh truth.
I could simply suggest at the end of the weekend that 50% of the teams will go home as a loser. It would be harsher to suggest that of the 100’s of young men who walk onto the field most likely 90% of them, the elite players on the elite teams, will leave the field and do something other than play professionally.
Has anybody told them that?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that I watch the games and be amazed by the talent and skill and sheer joy of the game and know that most of them will have to figure out a way of making a living doing something other than playing basketball. And. At exactly the same time I will be thinking that we are in the middle of a pandemic, not really knowing the longer term physical affects on each of these superb athletes (even the ones who are more likely to have possible professional sports careers) and know that the universities aren’t doing this because they seem them as students, they see them as money makers.
I love sports and I love watching college sports and, yes, I will watch even in a pandemic. But. Let’s not lie to ourselves. The young athletes we are watching for the most part will be doing something other than the sport they are playing and all of them are playing not because they are students or even ‘student-athletes’ but because they are making money for their schools.