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So You Think You Have What It Takes To Go Pro?

When the NFL draft takes place, it will represent a professional dream come true for the 224 college football players who get picked, some from Michigan, Michigan State and other universities in our state.



2018 NFL Draft
ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces a pick by the Chicago Bears during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)


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.



Wisconsin v Michigan
ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 01: Michigan Wolverines head football coach leads his team onto the field prior to the start of the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Michigan Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan defeated Wisconsin 14-7. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)


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.



NCAA Men's Final Four - Previews
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 05: Nick Ward #44 of the Michigan State Spartans looks on during practice prior to the 2019 NCAA men's Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 5, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)


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.



NFL Combine - Day 2
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 01: Running back Mike Weber of Ohio State works out during day two of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 1, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)


The troubling statistics can be found in "Black Male Student-Athletes and Racial Inequities in NCAA Division I College Sports,." The report, by USC's Shaun Harper, points out how at Power Five schools, black men make up 55% of their football teams and 56% of their men's basketball teams, but just 2.4% of the overall undergraduate population.



NFL Combine - Day 4
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 03: Defensive lineman Rashan Gary of Michigan checks his time after running the 40-yard dash during day four of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)


Are the student-athletes being brought on campus to earn a degree or play sports? Harper's research reveals that only about 55% of black male student-athletes graduate within six years. That's significantly lower than the 60% of all black undergraduate men, 69.3% of all student-athletes and 76.3% of all undergraduate students who graduated within that time frame.

Clash between academics and sports

It's not hard to see why graduation rates are lower for players at schools where football is a priority. Being a college athlete is a demanding and intense full-time job. An NCAA survey, for example, revealed that practicing and playing college football alone required 43.3 hours per week. This practice time doesn't include the time it takes to attend class, complete assignments and study for exams.



NCAA Basketball Tournament - East Regional - Washington DC
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts against the Michigan State Spartans during the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)


The lower graduation rates for student-athletes are troubling for many reasons, particularly or those who don't get drafted. As the NCAA acknowledges in one of its ads, "there are more than 380,000 student-athletes and most of them will go pro in something other than sports." 

The best bet for student-athletes to realize their full potential, then, is to make sure that they stay dedicated to earning their degrees, while continuing to work on becoming professional athletes. This will enable student-athletes to continue to dream the illustrious dream and at the same time, finish the attainable degree.



Wisconsin v Michigan
ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 13: Jonathan Taylor #23 of the Wisconsin Badgers tries to outrun the tackle of Devin Bush #10 of the Michigan Wolverines during the second half on October 13, 2018 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 38-13. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

But student-athletes cannot be expected to do this on their own. They also need the support of people at their institutions – from administrators to coaches to faculty – to help make reaching their academic goals just as important, if not more, as reaching their goals on the field.


© 2019 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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