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Estimated probability of competing in professional athletics

More than 480,000 compete as NCAA athletes, and just a select few within each sport move on to compete at the professional or Olympic level.

The table presents of how many NCAA athletes move on to professional careers in sports like basketball, football, baseball and ice hockey.  Professional opportunities are extremely limited and the likelihood of a high school or even college athlete becoming a professional athlete is very low.

In contrast, the likelihood of an NCAA athlete earning a college degree is significantly greater; graduation success rates are 86% in Division I, 71% in Division II and 87% in Division III.  

Download the 2016 Probablility of Competeing Beyond High School Figures and Methodology

  NCAA Participants Approximate # Draft Eligible # Draft Picks # NCAA Drafted % NCAA to Major Pro* % NCAA to Total Pro^
Football 72,788 16,175 256 256 1.6% 1.9%
M Basketball 18,697 4,155 60 46 1.1% 12.2%
W Basketball 16,589 3,686 36 33 0.9% 4.7%
Baseball 34,198 7,600 1,215 738 9.7% --
M Ice Hockey 4,071 905 210 60 6.6% --
M Soccer 24,477 5,439 75 75 1.4% --

Percent NCAA to Major Pro figures are based on the number of draft picks made in the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL and MLS drafts only.  See methods notes for important details on the definition of NHL draftee in men’s ice hockey.  Column percentages were calculated as (#NCAA Drafted) / (Approximate # Draft Eligible).

Percent NCAA to Total Pro takes the number of pro opportunities from the “% NCAA to Major Pro” calculation and adds in some additional professional opportunities that we were able to quantify.  So, for football, this calculation includes NFL, Canadian Football League and Arena League slots available to first-year professionals.  For men’s basketball we accounted for NBA, NBA D-League and international opportunities.  For women’s basketball, we assessed WNBA and international roster slots.  See methods notes for details on these calculations.  Data on full-time international professional opportunities available in baseball, men’s ice hockey and men’s soccer were not analyzed here. 

Methodology and Notes

General

  • College participation numbers are from the NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report.  These college numbers account for participation in college athletics at NCAA-member schools only.   
  • To estimate the number of NCAA student-athletes in a sport eligible for a particular year’s professional draft, the total number of NCAA student-athlete participants in the sport was divided by 4.5.  This figure was used to provide a general estimate of the number of student-athletes in a draft cohort (single draft class) in a given year, accounting for redshirting, degree completion delays due to transfer, etc. that extend the average time to graduation to just beyond four year in all sports.  In other words, we observe a year-to-year departure rate (whether due to graduation, dropout or departure for a professional sports opportunity) of just below one-quarter of the total number of student-athletes in each sport.  Because the sports examined (M/W basketball, football, baseball, men’s ice hockey and men’s soccer) have dramatically different rules for draft eligibility, these calculations should be treated as estimates only. 
  • Data on available professional opportunities are described below for each sport.

Baseball

  • MLB draft data from 2015.  There were 1,215 draft picks in that year; 738 of those picked were from NCAA schools (source: MLB Draft Tracker 2015).  Of the 738, Division I student-athletes comprised 643 of those chosen, Division II provided 84 and Division III had 11. 
  • Percent NCAA to Pro calculated as number of NCAA student-athletes taken in the draft (n=738) divided by the approximate number draft eligible.  Not all of the student-athletes drafted go on to play professional baseball and many draftees fail to reach the Major League.

Men’s ice hockey

  • NHL draft data from 2014.  There were 210 draft picks in that year.  Only 5 players from NCAA rosters were selected in that draft.  However, this is not indicative of the likelihood of going from a college team to a professional team due to the nature of the NHL draft, where players are typically selected prior to turning college-aged. 
  • In examining the subsequent hockey pathways of 2014 draftees, we determined that 60 of the 210 (source: hockeydb.com) had attended an NCAA college for any period of time through October 2015. These numbers, although not fully comparable to those used in the other sports examined, were used to calculate an approximate NCAA to Major Pro percentage.  Note that only a small subset of players drafted ever play in an NHL game.  Undrafted college players may go on to sign contracts with NHL teams after completing college (those numbers are not part of the current NCAA to Major Pro calculation). 
  • In 2014, 31% of players on active NHL rosters played college hockey, up from about 20% in the year 2000 (source: collegehockeyinc.com).  Of the 1,437 hockey players under contract with any NHL team in 2014, 27% were former NCAA student-athletes (all but one from Division I ice hockey programs).  Thanks to Nate Ewell at College Hockey, Inc. for providing these data.

Men’s soccer

  • MLS SuperDraft data from 2016.  There were 81 draft slots in that year, but only 75 players selected (all from NCAA schools).  Of the 75 picks, 72 were NCAA Division I student-athletes, two were from Division II and one was from Division III.  Percentage NCAA to Major Pro calculated using the 75 NCAA selections. (Source: mlssoccer.com).
  • These calculations do not account for other domestic or international professional soccer opportunities.

Men’s basketball

  • NBA draft data from 2015.  There were 60 draft slots in that year, but only 46 went to NCAA players (others chosen were international players not attending U.S. colleges).  Percentage NCAA to Major Pro calculated using the 46 NCAA selections. Since 2006, 12 international players have been drafted on average each year.
  • On 2015-16 opening day NBA rosters, former NCAA players filled 81% of roster spots (all but two from Division I schools).  (Source: Jim Sukup, College Basketball News).
  • Data on other professional opportunities in men’s basketball were collected by NCAA staff with the assistance of Marek Wojtera from eurobasket.com.  Tracking 2014 international opportunities for the 2013 draft cohort and 2015 D-League opportunities for the 2014 draft cohort, it was determined that an additional 459 former NCAA student-athletes played internationally or in the NBA D-League (343 from Division I, 89 from Division II and 27 from Division III) after leaving college.  These numbers were combined with the NBA draftees to calculate an approximate NCAA to Total Professional opportunities figure (calculated as [46 + 459] / 4,155 = 12.2%).   
  • We estimate that 3.8% of draft-eligible Division I players were chosen in the 2015 NBA draft (46 / 1,207).  However, in total, 32% of draft-eligible Division I players competed professionally (NBA, D-League, or internationally) in their first year after leaving college (calculated as [46 + 343] / 1,207). Approximately 16% of draft-eligible players from the five Division I conferences with autonomous governance (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) were drafted by the NBA in 2015 (36 / 228), while 57% played professionally somewhere in their first year post-college (calculated as [36 + 94] / 228).

Women’s basketball

  • WNBA draft data from 2015.  There were 36 draft slots in that year’s draft, 33 of which went to NCAA players (other 3 chosen were international players not attending U.S. colleges).  All 33 NCAA selections came from Division I colleges.  Percentage NCAA to Major Pro calculated using the 33 NCAA selections.
  • Data on international professional opportunities in women’s basketball were collected by NCAA staff with the assistance of Marek Wojtera from eurobasket.com, and are limited to the 2013 draft cohort.  It was determined that an additional 139 former NCAA student-athletes from the cohort played internationally in 2014 (129 from Division I, 8 from Division II and 2 from Division III).  These numbers were combined with the WNBA draftees to calculate an approximate NCAA to Total Professional opportunities figure (calculated as [33 + 139] / 3,686 = 4.7%).   
  • We estimate that 3.0% of draft-eligible Division I players were chosen in the 2015 WNBA draft (33 / 1,108).  However, in total, 15% of draft-eligible Division I players competed professionally (WNBA or internationally) in their first year after leaving college (calculated as [33 + 129] / 1,108). Approximately 10% of draft-eligible players from the five Division I conferences with autonomous governance (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) were drafted by the WNBA in 2015 (21 / 203), while 32% played professionally somewhere in their first year post-college (calculated as [21 + 43] / 203).

Football

  • NFL draft data from 2015.  There were 256 draft picks in that year’s draft, all of whom were former NCAA players.  NCAA to Major Pro figure calculated using these data.
  • NCAA divisional breakdown of the 256 NCAA players selected in the 2015 NFL draft: Division I FBS (236), Division I FCS (17), Division II (2), Division III (1).  The five conferences with autonomous governance accounted for 200 of the 256 draft picks (SEC=54, ACC=47, Pac-12=39, Big Ten=35, Big 12=25).
  • Data on Arena League and Canadian Football League opportunities were collected by NCAA staff via rosters on each organization’s website (sources: cfl.ca and arenafootball.com) in  October 2015.  The 2014 draft cohort was used to estimate unique playing opportunities in the Arena League, while the 2015 draft cohort was used to track CFL rookies. It was determined that an additional 56 former NCAA student-athletes from those draft cohorts were listed on a roster (28 in the CFL, 28 in the Arena League).  Across these two leagues, there were 36 former Division I FBS players, 11 from Division I FCS, 8 from Division II and 1 from Division III.  These numbers were combined with the NFL draftees to calculate an NCAA to Total Professional opportunities proportion (calculated as [256 + 56] /16,175).    
  • We estimate that 4.1% of draft-eligible Division I players were chosen in the 2015 NFL draft (253 / 6,194).  Limiting this calculation to FBS players, 7.1% were estimated to be drafted (236 / 3,330).  Narrowing further to the five Division I conferences with autonomous governance (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC), we estimate that 12% were drafted (200 / 1,710).  Accounting for Arena League and CFL opportunities, the NCAA to Total Professional figures are estimated as 4.8% for Division I ([253 + 47] / 6,194), 8.2% for FBS ([236 + 36] / 3,330) and 13% for the five autonomous conferences ([200 + 14] / 1,710).

Last Updated: April 25, 2016