The Kentucky Wildcats have won the 2012 NCAA Basketball Tournament, and two of their freshmen, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, are the top two NBA draft picks, with no one seeming to doubt that they will go pro. Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, both sophomores, and Marquis Teague, another freshman, are also top draft picks. All this seems counter-intuitive to the business of having a top college team; if the players stayed at Kentucky, the chances of a repeat national title would seem very high. But with all these young players departing, the future of the team will be in the hands of the lesser players and the new recruits. And unless these star players opt for some distance education or online college courses options through the university, the Kentucky underclassmen who go pro are voluntarily depriving themselves of a college education. All this seems unfortunate, but it’s the only thing that the fans accept.
The national trend, however, is that college athletes are graduating at a higher rate than they ever have since the NCAA began keeping track, and at a higher rate than the overall student body. According to ESPN, In October of 2011, the NCAA released a figure of 82% for the 2003-4 graduation rate across the country, and a figure of 65% for Division I athletes that year, which compared to 63% for all students. The tendency to leave college to go pro affects only the top athletes, while in general, a correlation can now be seen between college athletics and staying in school. On average, only one percent of college athletes go professional.
Should we simply cheer on those who go professional? After all, says USA Today, “thousands of student athletes devote more of their college career to their sport rather than prepare for the professional world, damaging their ability to compete in the job market post-graduation.” If a basketball player has the opportunity to enter into a professional career while still very young, he has that much more time as a pro to look forward to.
It is arguably mainly the athletic program that is the loser when its top athletes go pro prior to graduation. The athletes themselves stand mainly to benefit, though, as Bleacher Report suggests, it’s always possible that having millions of dollars before the age of 21 can lead to wild spending sprees; college helps develop maturity. But athletes often go pro because they don’t want to risk getting injured in college and putting their pro careers at risk; once they’re already professionals, if they’re injured they receive benefits. And if they are responsible, they can greatly benefit their families.