What might attract highly touted recruits is the ability to win, playing time and national exposure, but what does life bring after that?
According to the NCAA, only 1.6 percent of football athletes advance to the NFL and 1.1 percent of basketball players make it to the NBA. In basketball, some may play overseas or with the NBA D-League, both secondary aspirations. The truth of the matter is more than 95 percent of athletes who play college football and basketball today will not compete after their collegiate careers are over.
So in reality, where should college administrators place the emphasis on recruiting for not only the prospective athlete but also the parents and guardians of the aspiring youth?
The answer should be simple: Recruit with the emphasis that the school will try everything in its power to make sure success is found after the collegiate playing career is over and competing professionally does not come to fruition. Preparing for life after athletics should not be viewed as a fallback plan but a primary objective.
You would think popular sports agent Leigh Steinberg would be an advocate of college athletes targeting a pro career to line his pocket book. Steinberg, however, is a significant proponent of college athletes preparing for themselves for life after their careers. He is writing a series of articles for Forbes magazine on the topic. The latest installment deals with the various athletic departments that have “life skills” programs in place to prepare college athletes to life after their sport.
“There is simply no excuse other than major disability for current professional athletes not to succeed financially and career wise in their time after pro sports,” Steinberg writes.
Steinberg highlighted Arizona, UCLA, Virginia Tech and Arkansas State as having exemplary life-skills programs. “Not every university offers a well-developed program in this area, but schools that don’t deal with life after sports will lose out in recruiting to those who do,” he writes. “One-and-done NBA players and minor league baseball players who haven’t attended college don’t get the benefit of these programs.”
Steinberg points out that Arkansas State has dramatically prepared athletes for life after their sport under the leadership of athletic director Terry Mohajir. The Red Wolves Leadership Academy was created to guarantee that 100 percent of their graduating athletes secure full-time employment.
Two years ago, some of their athletes participated in the first study abroad program offered to athletes by any university. Included in the England trip was a meeting with the Minister of the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. One-and-done NBA players do not have this at their availability, but if they are good enough to be lottery picks, they have the money to keep themselves stable, at least for a while. What happens, however, if the lottery pick does not pan out in the NBA? What if playing overseas is not to his or her liking? What comes next in that athlete’s life?
Taking it one step further than what Steinberg described with these admirable life-skills programs, thought should be put into having an extension for these high-profile athletes with potentially shorter college careers because of professional aspirations. That would be a real recruiting game-changer. The coaches and administrators could sell to those athletes that if something happens to adversely affect a pro career after a brief college stay, they will have started a concentrated life-skills preparation plan during their freshman year.
During this time, former athletes whose careers were cut short could serve as mentors. The young athletes can receive guidance on proper financial planning and how to cope with sudden life changes. Some of these athletes come from the inner city. It can be daunting or dangerous for them to go into a multi-million-dollar contract unprepared.
It is one thing to promise a high-profile recruit playing time and it’s another to assure his parents or guardians that if he leaves for the pros after only one year in college, he will have everything in motion to handle his sudden shift in life. Schools should view the “one-and-done” phrase as more “one-and-we-got-your-back” proposition. Also by athletic programs doing this, that athlete with his riches might be more inclined to financially support this type of schooling so others in his situation will be better prepared for life.
Now, that’s something a recruit with big dreams can sign up for.
Javier Morales has worked as a sports journalist for more than 25 years. He reported for The Arizona Daily Star for 13 years. He was the Star’s beat reporter for the Arizona men’s basketball program when the Wildcats won the national title in 1996-97. A 2010 Arizona Press Club award winner, Morales operates the blog site AllSportsTucson.com.