Going Pro: A Long Shot

CSU against San Diego State. Image credit: collegian.com

CSU against San Diego State. Image credit: collegian.com

I had a discussion recently with Jim, vice-president of marketing for a successful private company about his experience with hiring college students who’d recently graduated. Our discussion confirmed my long-held belief that college-athletes for the most part, are less likely to find a satisfying career after college than those that don’t play a NCAA sport.

Jim shared the story of one of his recent hires, a college-athlete—Sean, who attended a prestigious university playing for the school’s ice hockey team on a scholarship. Jim described how Sean, hired as an account manager, appeared confident and personable, yet spoke frequently about how he ‘almost made it to the NHL’. Sean seemed haunted by ‘just missing’ his chance at the pros. “Sean had lots of potential, but seemed to be holding back—almost as if the job was beneath him” is how Jim described it.

Results from a recent NCAA supports shows that Sean’s aspiration of making it to the pros (or Olympics) is an assumption held by many college-athletes from all sports—case in point as many as 78% of Division I male college-athletes playing hockey think it’s at least somewhat likely they’ll become a professional and/or Olympic athlete in their sport, as do 53% of soccer players, and 24% swimmers (NCAA, slide #92). Even with the median falling around 50%, that’s a significant number of athletes thinking that they’ll be going pro after college. Female athletes don’t have as high expectations (NCAA, slide #94).

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NCAA Research (2016), Slide #91

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NCAA Research (2016), Slide #94

Huge Discrepancy Between College-Athletes Expectations and Reality
Yet not surprising, the chances of going pro or making the Olympics is incredibly small; for the majority of sports it’s around 1.0% or less (NCAA Research, 2015). The discrepancy between what college-athletes think is likely to happen, going pro or getting to the Olympics, and what will happen is significant. Distressingly so. The concern is how this mindset of these athletes affects the choices they make in college, and the plans and expectations they have for the future—after graduation.

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NCAA Research “Estimated probability of competing in professional athletics” (2015)

Negative Impact on College-Athletes Mindset During College Years
The goal of higher education is to prepare students for adult life that includes not only having the critical thinking skills to engage fully in civic, family and community life, but the experiences that will guide them to a path that leads to a fulfilling and satisfying career. College is the foundation for providing these opportunities, yet the schedule of college-athletes leaves little time for athletes to engage in clubs, participate in on and off-campus events, mix with different groups, or explore different academic paths. Their schedule is tight, thinking narrowed because of it. Their sport is the single focus for most athletes. The lack of breadth in school experiences is likely why many student-athletes think of little else but going pro.

Fortunately not all college-athletes think this way. The NCAA research reveals that Division I and II male athletes are more likely to think of going pro, while female athletes and Division III athletes have for more realistic expectations (NCAA research, slide #93).

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NCAA Research (2016), Slide #93

Means to and End
There are benefits to being a student-athlete, being able to attend a college one might not have been able to attend without one’s sport for instance, but it’s a means to an end, where the end is an education that sets college-athletes up for life; not for going pro.

Further Reading



5 Reasons Why Parents Need to See the Movie ‘Concussion’

If you’re a parent of a child who wants to play football [soccer, ice hockey & other contact sports] and you avoid the movie “Concussion” the way the NFL wants you to avoid it, then you’re avoiding reality” — The Chicago Tribune

la-et-mn-concussion-movie-nfl-20150903Kids that play contact sports are at risk for concussions and CTE, a degenerative  brain disease caused by hits, even mild blows, to the head. Which is why I suggest that all parents of athletes and kids over 12 years old who play contact sports—not just football but hockey, soccer, rugby, basketball or any other contact sport see the movie Concussion.

It’s based on the true story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, who discovered by studying deceased football players’ brains, that the brain is damaged by repetitive strikes to the head which leads to severe symptoms that can show up later in life. Symptoms that include headaches, memory loss, behaviour changes such as aggression, depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. In younger people CTE begins with behavior and mood changes; in older people it begins with cognitive problems that progress and lead to dementia. Real life examples are Mike Webster, Pittsburg Steeler who died a tragic death at age 50 and Chicago Bears Dave Duerson who commit suicide in 2011. Both had CTE.

While concussion symptoms are immediate, CTE symptoms aren’t. CTE symptoms typically appear years after exposure to repetitive head trauma which makes it almost a hidden disease. Essentially the brain does not have the protection it needs to take repetitive, even mild blows to the head as experienced by heading a soccer ball, or through contact in football during tackling, or hockey during checking or collisions on the ice—all these incidents places our kids at risk. The movie does an excellent job of explaining what CTE is, how it happens and how Dr. Omalu was threatened and ‘strongly encouraged’ to suppress his findings by the NFL. Best described in the following 45-second clip below where Dr. Omalu’s (Will Smith) boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) explains why:

If you’re not yet convinced you should see the movie, below are five (really good) reasons:

1. Protect your Kids… by learning how head trauma can affect your child’s brain over time. There are several scenes in the movie where Will Smith explains what happens to the brain when there are repeated strikes to the head—Dr Omula shakes an egg inside a glass jar, mimicking how the brain moves around inside the skull. Given there’s no shock absorber in the skull, with repeated trauma it can lead to progressive degeneration of brain tissue, putting the athlete at risk for CTE.

2. Be informed…Know the risks so you can assess and make decisions about the kind of sports programs you want your kids to be part of.

3. Learn why the NFL, NCAA, FIFA and other sports associations are concerned about “Concussion”…For several reasons, mainly the culpability; there is a level of responsibility—blame that can be placed. Many failed to provide adequate warning and protection for players, whether through concealing the risks (NFL), or by not implementing adequate safety guidelines (NCAA). There are numerous class action lawsuits past and current: the NFL was ordered to pay $900 million to over 5000 retired players given they concealed the dangers of head trauma, NCAA for inadequate protective measures for athletes diagnosed with concussions, and in youth sports where a group of soccer parents brought a class action lawsuit against FIFA, U.S. Soccer and AYSO for failing to protect players with concussions. There will likely be more to come.

4. Educate your kids…Kids need to know the risks. If they are old enough, have them watch the movie, if they aren’t use an example of the egg in the jar to explain what happens to their brain. There are other resources parents can use to educate kids including this 5-minute YouTube video “Concussions 101, a Primer for Kids and Parents”.  There’s also role models, for instance Chris Borland of San Fransisco 49ers and one of NFL’s top rookies, quit the NFL at age 24 because of concerns about long-term risk of head trauma.

5. It’s a damn good movie.

When I watched Concussion it stirred an array of emotions—sadness, disgust, empathy, and hope. Hope, because at the end of the movie there’s a sense of triumph knowing that Dr. Omalu succeeded in raising awareness about the risks and effects of head trauma, not just among the medical community but to one of the most powerful and influential sports entities in North America—the NFL. Parents—you gotta see the movie and bring your (12+ age) kids.

To Learn More:



The Good, Bad and Ugly in ‘The System’ of College Football

The System, Book review

“The System”, Publisher: Penguin Random House

“I don’t think I will be able to watch a game now without thinking about the scope and amount of physical carnage that’s required for college football to succeed at the level it does.” —
Jeff Benedict, co-author of “The System”

“If I had one absolute revelation [after writing the book], it was how the weight of these $100 million programs is on the backs of these kids and the pressure they are under every week to perform.”  — Armen Keyeyrian, co-author of “The System”

“The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football” is a page turner. I couldn’t put it down, yet I hate football.  “The System” delves into the good, bad and ugly of college football— except it’s short on good. Armen Keteyian, lead correspondent of CBS’ 60 minutes sports program and co-author of the book, describes his goal in writing the book with co-author Jeff Benedict, which was “to pull back the curtain” on an ever-consuming entity—college football (Araton, 2013).  Indeed, when getting a glimpse behind the curtain, it’s not pretty.

If you read “The System” and are a college football fan you’ll never view football the same way again, and if you’re not a fan like me, you’re guaranteed never to become one.  Though on the other hand, I did gain an appreciation for the sport, specifically the amount of work and dedication invested by many honest and dedicated individuals —coaches, athletic directors, administrators, and athletes. Also, before reading the book I viewed the student-athletes as the victims of a system that puts sports before academics, that carry the weight of a multi-million dollar industry on their backs.  Yet there appears to be a hierarchy of victims in this system of college football; at the bottom of the hierarchy is a group of individuals—usually young women, though young men and children are not excluded, that are recipients of college-athletes or coaches, unlawful behaviour of sexual misconduct, abuse, assault and even robbery. Behaviours that are ignored, covered-up or dismissed in an effort to protect the power-wielding, money-generating entity of college football.

Summary of Book
Each chapter of “The System” describes a different aspect of college football; shares the intricate and often disturbing methods that make college football the money generating behemoth it is. Highlights of the book:

  • Recruiting athletes; it’s not about the academics, but the size of the facilities, the promise of NFL exposure and the ‘public relations’ efforts of the recruiting hostesses (pp 21 – 38)
  • Mega-money generated by college football; millions in revenue from television networks, corporate sponsors, ticket sales, branded merchandise, alumni donations—yet the majority of schools’ programs lose money every year. According to NCAA figures, just 22 programs out of 120 schools with football programs turned a profit in 2011. The average debt of the  schools’ in the red was $11 million each (p 44)
  • Boosters; how they support athletes, the programs and schools (pp 146 – 161 and pp 55 – 57)
  • Investigators; NCAA’s efforts to police the schools (pp 196 – 214)
  • Coaches; how they are recruited and how they recruit and manage their teams (pp 295 – 304)
  • Tutors; the academic support system that uses tutors, usually female students to keep athletes in the game (pp 162 -182)

Closing thoughts
An eye-opening read for football fans, coaches, parents of athletes seeking football scholarships, and anyone interested in finding out what goes on behind the curtain of college football.  “The System” is well-written, thoroughly researched—though there were times I struggled to keep track of the names of the players and key actors. Overall, an important book that sheds light on college football’s triumph and successes, yet reveals the stark reality that there’s more scandal than glory, and far more losers than winners.

Further Reading: