The Chances of Success in Professional Sports

In the critical darling of a television series entitled “Friday Night Lights,” high school fullback legend Tim Riggins gave a nugget of an advice to the high school star Luke Cafferty when the former

In the critical darling of a television series entitled “Friday Night Lights,” high school fullback legend Tim Riggins gave a nugget of an advice to the high school star Luke Cafferty when the former told the latter to “embrace state (the championship game), play the game like it’s the last game you’re ever going to lace up. Then let it go and move on.”

That advice should bode well for possibly the millions of high school athletes currently starring in their respective sports. Even if you are the star of your high school team, the chances of becoming successful in the college game, much more in the professional league, are slim at its best and nil at its most probable.

And even if you make it in college, there is a real chance that your playing days are over once you have finished up your college eligibility. The professional leagues get only the elite of the elite, the cream of the crop. Sometimes, even the creamiest of the crop is deemed as not good enough at the professional level.


4 The Sad Stories

Ryan Leaf was a standout quarterback in college, even becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist while playing for Washington State University. He was chosen second overall in the NFL Draft, but his career got nowhere as he never adjusted to the professional game.

The same goes for Tim Tebow. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 while quarterbacking the Florida Gators. His team also won national championships in 2006 and 2008. But despite leading the Denver Broncos to the playoff behind an amazing series of comeback wins in the 2011-12 season, he was still ditched as experts agree that he simply does not have the skills required of an NFL quarterback. Though he is not yet officially retired, his career is practically over as he has had no takers ever since the New York Jets demoted him to a third-string quarterback.

There is also the case of Adam Morrison. He had three highly successful seasons as a basketball player while studying in Gonzaga University. He won plaudits and Player of the Year honors while in college. After being selected third overall in the NBA Draft of 2006 by the Charlotte Bobcats, Morrison found out that NBA basketball is a lot different from college basketball. He never managed to stand out the same way he did back in college. Though he did get a couple of championship rings while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010, these can be considered as fortuitous more than anything else as he did not really contribute anything during the title runs.


3 Exceptions to the Rule

Of course, as with anything, there are outstanding exceptions to the rule. Stars like Moses Malone, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Amare Stoudemire and Lebron James all went straight from high school to make a strong impact in professional basketball. Take note however that either these guys are exceptionally talented or possess height and width along with the necessary big man skills that teams salivate after.  The average high school player does not have these natural skills and talent. As a matter of fact, even an above average player may not have the necessary skills and talent to make it to the big leagues.


2 The Numbers

Let’s take a look at the number of athletes playing from the high school level all the way up to the professional leagues in each of the major team sports, namely men’s basketball, women’s basketball, football, baseball, men’s ice hockey and men’s soccer.


High School Student Athletes (No. of Seniors in parenthesis)

Men’s Basketball – 535,289 (152,940)

Women’s Basketball – 435,885 (124,539)

Football – 1,095,993 (313,141)

Baseball – 474,219 (135,491)

Men’s Ice Hockey – 35,732 (10,209)

Men’s Soccer – 411,757 (117,645)


Compare these to the roster positions available for freshmen in the college level.


NCAA Freshman Roster Positions

Men’s Basketball – 5,111

Women’s Basketball – 4,610

Football – 19,898

Baseball – 9,143

Men’s Ice Hockey – 1,112

Men’s Soccer – 6,568


To provide a bigger picture, let’s take a look at the number of student athletes in the college level.


NCAA Student Athletes (No. of Seniors in parenthesis)

Men’s Basketball – 17,890 (3,976)

Women’s Basketball – 16,134 (3,585)

Football – 69,643 (15,476)

Baseball – 31,999 (7,111)

Men’s Ice Hockey – 3,891 (865)

Men’s Soccer – 22,987 (5,108)


Percentage of High School Players Going to the NCAA

Men’s Basketball – 3.3

Women’s Basketball – 3.7

Football – 6.4

Baseball – 6.7

Men’s Ice Hockey – 10.9

Men’s Soccer – 5.6


The percentage is already low even at this level. It gets worse as we move up the ladder.

Let us take a look at the number of NCAA student athletes who get drafted into the professional level. Take note that you need not be a senior to be eligible for the draft. That means you will also be competing for slots against non-seniors, as well as foreigners or those amazing talents straight from high school. The NBA, however, now requires draft prospects to be at least one year out of high school. The other sports have their own draft rules as well.


Number of NCAA Student Athletes Drafted

Men’s Basketball – 51

Women’s Basketball – 31

Football – 253

Baseball – 693

Men’s Ice Hockey – 10

Men’s Soccer – 37


To further illustrate the point, let us also look at the number of players allowed per team at the professional levels, as well as the total number of teams.


Roster Spots Per Team (No. of Teams in Parenthesis)

NBA – 15 with contracts, 12 on the bench (30)

WNBA – 11 (12)

NFL – 53 (32)

MLB – 25-40 (30)

NHL – 23 (30)

MLS – 30 (19)


Percentage of NCAA to Professional (High School to Professional in Parenthesis)

NBA – 1.3 (.03)

WNBA – .9 (.02)

NFL – 1.6 (.08)

MLB – 9.7 (.51)

NHL – 1.2 (.10)

MLS - .7 (.03)


1 Conclusion

The chances of a high school athlete making it to the pros are quite small. Baseball offers the biggest chance because of the sport’s extensive development system, with its farm teams, multi-tiered divisions, relatively large rosters and high number of teams. Still, even that offers just half a percentage chance for a high school athlete to become a major leaguer.

So unless you’re sure you have the next Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana or Derek Jeter, it may be wise to pass on the advice given by Tim Riggins. Play like it’s the last competitive game, but learn how to let go. To add to that, earning a diploma is still the best option.

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The Chances of Success in Professional Sports