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When we survey NCAA student-athletes about their expectations of moving on to professional athletics careers, the results indicate surprising confidence in that possibility. The reality is that very few go pro.

Estimated probability of competing in college football

High School Participants NCAA Participants Overall % HS to NCAA % HS to NCAA Division I % HS to NCAA Division II % HS to NCAA Division III
1,083,617 72,788 6.7% 2.6% 1.8% 2.4%

Sources: High school figures from the 2014-15 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations. College numbers from the NCAA NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report

Estimated probability of competing in professional football

NCAA Participants Approximate # Draft Eligible # Draft Slots # NCAA Drafted % NCAA to Major Pro* % NCAA to Total Pro^
72,788 16,175 256 256 1.6% 1.9%
  • 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: and 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).

Percent NCAA to Major Pro figures are based on the number of available draft slots 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.  

Last Updated: April 25, 2016