Odds of high school players going pro: A look at the data

You may have seen the NCAA commercials that claim just about all of their student-athletes will be turning pro in something other than sports. It's not just a catchy slogan, but also a reality. With players leaving school early at alarming rates, the NCAA is trying to educate young athletes on the importance of an education. As part of this plan, the NCAA has posted data on the probability of a high school athlete playing in college and eventually turning pro in sports with major professional leagues. The data may not come as a surprise to many, but can be quite humbling to young athletes who see college as an express lane to the pros.

The study illustrates just how elite professional athletes are within their own sports. In comparing men's basketball, women's basketball, football, baseball, men's ice hockey and men's soccer, the data shows that the "easiest" sport to turn pro in is baseball, with approximately 0.44% or 1 out of every 225 high school participants reaching the professional ranks. By comparison, the most difficult sport to turn professional in is basketball. Both men's and women's basketball place about 0.03% of all high school players into a professional basketball league, with most playing overseas in Europe. That means that out of every 333 high school basketball players, only one will turn professional and chances are that won't be in the United States.

Basketball parallels life.

Even if high school athletes are unlikely to reach the professional ranks, an athletic scholarship can provide an excellent chance for a high quality education at little or no cost. Studies show that high school men's hockey players have a very high success rate at playing in college. In part this is due to the lack of high school hockey programs in the United States. However, with 10.8% of high school hockey players earning a chance to play in college, the odds are nearly triple those of basketball.

Overall, the numbers are quite staggering. In the six sports listed, there are approximately 854,200 high school senior athletes. Of those, approximately 44,000 or five percent will have roster spots waiting for them in college. Of those 44,000 student-athletes, only about 1,000 of them will get drafted into a professional sport, with 850 of those in either baseball or football.

While an athletic career is certainly achievable for a privileged few, the harsh reality is 99.883% of high school athletes who participate in sports with major professional leagues, will have to find ways to make a living outside of sports. When you stop to consider the data, it becomes quite clear as to why the NCAA continues to stress the value of a college education. Yet, even those fortunate enough to turn professional can value from a strong education. Professional athletic careers are often short-lived, and the skills developed in a college curriculum can help former athletes succeed even after their playing days are over.


Athletes Going Pro, Probabilities, NCAA.org

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Updated Thursday, Mar 3, 2011