Calculating the Odds of Becoming a Professional Athlete

This post has been in my folder of items ready to post for a few days. John Oliver’s extended riff on the topic on tonight’s episode of his weekly HBO show makes it seem timely.

The scale of the following chart is somewhat ineffective because the percentage of high school athletes who become professional athletes is so proportionately small that it never really shows up on the chart.

Atheletes--High School to College to Pro Leagues

Then, again, perhaps, that is precisely the point that the chart serves to make.

When we are discussing whether college athletes ought to have the right to unionize, whether they ought to receive salaries or stipends, whether they ought to be guaranteed scholarships that extend beyond any injuries that curtail their participation in intercollegiate athletics, whether their scholarships ought to be extended beyond their athletic eligibility to allow them extra time to complete college degrees, or whether they ought to receive some sort of extended medical coverage to insure that they have the means to deal with any longer-term physical or mental issues resulting from their participation in intercollegiate athletics—when we discuss any of these issues, we need to bear in mind that despite all of the attention to athletes who manage to become professionals, that the vast majority of college athletes never compete professionally and that the majority of those who do find spots on professional teams have careers as professional athletes that are shorter than their college “careers.”

As documented in this blog and in many other places, there is a tremendous amount of revenue being generated by intercollegiate athletics, and if the athletes are still to be regarded as students, institutions have a responsibility to give them every opportunity to get the most out of their academic opportunities and to live fulfilling lives after they graduate and leave the playing fields and courts behind.


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