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It Pays to Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys or Giants or Eagles or Redskins

Jun 22, 2008
NFL Draft Season is now upon us and if you're a pro football fan you already know about the widespread speculation about where your favorite players are going to plying their trade on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays and, if they're lucky, the weekends in January and February after their college seasons were over.

If you're a pro football fan, you've also listened to analysts discuss the odds of players making it to the big leagues; the lower you're drafted, the worse they get. You've also heard what it takes to get on the field with most teams; talent and fit are the most obvious qualities, though some franchises place a premium on character. In this sense, the NFL is no different from any other business that hires entry level workers.

Each college season, there are between 15 and 25 seniors, and a much smaller number of juniors who played football at 120 Division 1 schools, as well as seniors who have similar talents, but played at lower levels of competition. A "best guess," is that there are 3,000 young men who played college football last season who have completed or relinquished their college eligibility and would like to play in the pros. Their resumes are their game films, statistics and workout results from a scouting combine and college pro days. Those who are serious about playing on get at least one chance to impress at a pro day and the big schools often invite athletes from smaller schools to come to their sites to try out.

Those 3,000 young men compete for 256 spots in the NFL draft; there are seven rounds of 32 teams, plus 32 supplemental picks that have been awarded to teams that lost players to free agency. Each team also signs rookie free agents, also called "street free agents" after the draft. And I haven't considered openings in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football. But it's safe to say that a player who is in the upper 10 percent at their position will get at least a tryout in a pro camp if they want it.

I look at the numbers and wonder if the odds of success are that bad. A good college football player who consistently plays well at a high level of competition has a better chance of getting a shot at the pros than, for instance, a business or engineering major who wants to work for the Ford Motor Company.

According to data collected by CollegeGrad, an entry-level job site, Ford expects to have 300 entry-level hires this year. No doubt they will get more than 3,000 applicants for those jobs through on-campus recruitment and their Web site. Those who have spent some time as interns at Ford will have an edge, just as those who played for the major football powers have a better chance of being invited to turn pro. But there are over 300,000 business majors, and close to 120,000 computer science and engineering majors and the most desired companies are more likely to pursue the top fraction of one percent.

I like the odds for the football player much better.

I know that NFL also stands for "Not For Long." Every player has to hang up the helmet and cleats at some point, but that's no different than other fields. If you've read this far you probably know of many people who are not working at the same profession they did after college, even if they didn't continue their education.

The difference is that smart football players who stay healthy have a chance to build a nest egg at a very early age to help them move on to the next station in their working life. The smart players are the ones who don't expect to fall back on their glory days to land the next job -- and we don't read enough about them in the sports pages. We always read about the first-round talent who hooked up with undesirables and lived beyond his means before losing it all; that makes great copy, but it hardly applies to everyone who plays the game.

(Originally published at Educated Quest blog and reprinted with permission of the author, Stuart Nachbar).
About the Author
Contact Stuart Nachbar at Educated Quest, a blog on education politics, policy and technology or read about his first book, The Sex Ed Chronicle, a novel on education and politics in 1980 New Jersey, at Sex Ed Chronicles.
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