By Lindsay Baslock
Every year we see it: college athletes decide whether to go professional or stay for another year of school. It gives us conversation to discuss, analysts to analyze and history for us all to learn from.
Based on the statistics from a 2015 Inside Higher Ed article, the perception among Division I college athletes is very high compared to the reality of players going on to playing professionally.
Going Pro: Division I Perceptions and Reality
Perception: 76 percent
Reality: 1.2 percent
Perception: 44 percent
Reality: 1.9 percent
Perception: 52 percent
Reality: 1.6 percent
Perception: 60 percent
Reality: 9.4 percent
Men’s Ice Hockey
Perception: 63 percent
Reality: 0.8 percent
Perception: 46 percent
Reality: 1.9 percent
Gershon Tenenbaum, a sports psychology professor at Florida State University, calls this the “self-bias phenomenon.” He explains that because of all the praise an athlete gets after making it to a high-level college team, the expectations rise.
At this point the athlete is standing near the top of an athletic pyramid after progressing to higher and higher levels of competition. When college is nearing the end, the question of ‘what comes next?’ comes to mind.
Colleges have conditioned students as well as athletes to be considered not as a number but as someone special with potential. For an athlete this makes them believe they are not a statistic and can make it to the professional level. For some athletes they are clearly born to be in the pros. But for many of the 400,000 student-athletes, they will go pro in something besides the sport they play.
Securing the Future
When an athlete chooses to go pro, there are so many uncertainties. In one tackle or one tweet, a player’s career could be over. When something like this happens, what do they have to fall back on?
For those fortunate enough to play professionally, it is a quick way to pay off any loans and provide for his or her family. But when a tragedy strikes, a college degree is best to fall back on.
Greg McElroy, former New York Jets quarterback, received a full-ride scholarship to the University of Alabama. Just three years into his college career, he earned his bachelor’s degree in business marketing, maintained a 4.0 grade point average all the while playing football.
The following year he earned his master’s degree in sports administration then went on to getting drafted by the Jets in 2011. His NFL career did not pan out as well as he could have hoped, as he is not signed to any team presently. But because of his college degree, he has options as to what he wants to do next in his life.
“I have a genuine love for sports and I just want to be involved in sports, whether that’s in the broadcast booth, whether that’s working for ESPN, working in a front office [as a general manager], or on the players’ side. Who knows? I kind of like it like that. It’s very much open-ended and I just don’t have to have every answer yet,” McElroy explained.
The Here and Now
Other than the piece of paper that all college students work for, there are numerous intangible aspects the college experience can give you. Sure signing the big bonus check for a pro contract would be ideal. But staying for the four years you are given will give you so much more than what that check can.
Being in college during your 20’s is a special time. Some could say it is crucial to a person’s maturity growth. But during this time you learn how to live on your own, how to interact with people, how to foster a good work ethic and much more.
Parents, teachers and coaches all say that college will be the easiest time of our lives…and they are right. At no other point in your life will your best friends live down the hall from you, you can live in sweatpants or sleep in until mid-afternoon. After graduation or the athlete signs the contract, the responsibilities come rolling in like a flood. So even though the future is what we are striving for while we are in college, we need to pause and soak up what we have now and embrace it!
Let’s Consult the Doctor
Shaquille O’Neal was a giant on the court and in 2012 he became one in the classroom. After leaving LSU with three years completed, O’Neal began his career in the NBA. He played for 19 years in the NBA before retiring and fulfilling his promise to his mother to go back and get his bachelor’s degree. In 2005 he earned his master’s degree online through University of Phoenix and then his Ph.D. in 2012 from Barry University.
O’Neal says getting his Ph.D. was harder than anything he ever did athletically. He stands as a advocate for players to finish their education before going pro.
"A lot of guys do it because of their financial situation and they need to do it. That's the only way to provide a better means for their family. So when you look at it from that aspect, I understand it," said O'Neal.
But if it were up to him, in an age of one-and-done basketball players, they should stay in school at least three years before going pro.
It is up to each athlete to decide whether or not to go pro or not. But from the studies done on professional players, the wisest thing to do is finish his or her degree and then pursue a professional career afterward. It is beneficial for a secure future and a well-rounded life. So kids…stay in school!