Professional Sports and Ivy League Schools

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Many high school athletes pick a university based on the likelihood that the one they choose will enhance their chance of having a professional career. Similarly, many high school students pick a school based on the likelihood of it helping them rise to the top of their chosen field after they complete their studies.

You may have heard that less than 2 percent of college athletes ever play at any level professionally. The most recent probability study shows that just 1.5% of college football players will ever even briefly play on a professional team at any level and the probability for men’s basketball players is a mere 1.1%.

The last year they studied the real numbers was 2012, and the actual numbers are very close to the probabilities listed above: 1.7% for football and 1.2% for men’s basketball. The only men or women’s sport with a better than 2% chance of ever briefly making a professional team is baseball.

Remember the numbers above are just to be part of a team that pays you to play for any length of time, sometimes that equates to less than one game. The odds of you having a career lasting over five years at the professional level are astronomically lower still.

Similarly, high school students who choose Ivy League schools to help them rise to the top of their field are likely to face a similar fate. It’s true that the top of the class at Ivy League schools tend to receive the best offers upon graduation, but once you get past the top two or three in each field, most will find they would have been better off being at the top in their field at a state school.

Just because you are the top graduate in your field at the top college in that field, does not mean you will be the most desirable candidate to those hiring. Similarly, the top player on the top team in college football last year was only the 12th player selected in the NFL draft and the third player taken at his position. In addition, the top player on the top college basketball team was the 15th player selected in the NBA draft this year and the fourth player picked at his position.

Comparably, there’s a reason that Paul George, who was the star player for an average Indiana Pacers team last season, will probably make over $100 million dollars when he becomes a free agent next year, and Shaun Livingston, who was the sixth best player on the champion Golden State Warriors, just signed a contract for $24 million dollars. It’s not the team or school you are associated with that matters, it’s what you do with what you have, wherever you happen to be.

The top of the class at Harvard may get the best offers like the top player on the Golden State Warriors (Steph Curry) does, but once you get to the sixth best in the class at Harvard they would probably be better off being the top of the class at Indiana University.

Furthermore, it’s common in athletics or in academics for people to go to places where there is a lot of competition and lose their self-confidence early on. This usually leads to very capable people changing positions, changing majors, languishing there, or outright quitting.

Had these same people gone to a school with less competition, they likely would have had time to grow into themselves and perhaps exceed the accomplishments of those who initially out-performed them at the more competitive school. Not everyone grows at the same rate, and an untold number of students and athletes who could have reached great heights, are lost each year for these reasons.

Many students and parents lose sight of the fact that it’s not where you start (or go to college), but where you finish, that matters. The cream rises to the top and over time, where you went to school does not matter as much as what you accomplish once out of school.

Like I advise college quarterbacks who are thinking about coming out after their sophomore year in college, if you don’t think you have what it takes to make a career as an NFL QB, then by all means it behooves you to come out early and take the money and run. Similarly, I would advise any students who do not believe in themselves to go to the best school they can get into. But if you truly want to be a star in your field and are willing to put in the effort to reach your goals, go to a school where you feel most comfortable, and have some fun while you are there.

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