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Football

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
1,083,308 73,660 6.8% 2.6% 1.8% 2.4%

Sources: High school figures from the 2015-16 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations; data from club teams not included.  College numbers from the NCAA 2015-16 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^
73,660 16,369 253 251 1.5% 1.9%
  • NFL draft data from 2016.  There were 253 draft picks in that year’s draft, 251 of whom were former NCAA players.  NCAA to Major Pro figure calculated using these data.
  • NCAA divisional breakdown of the 251 NCAA players selected in the 2016 NFL draft: Division I FBS (228), Division I FCS (20), Division II (3).  The five football conferences with autonomous governance accounted for 189 of the 251 NCAA draft picks (SEC=51, Big Ten=47, ACC=33 [includes Notre Dame], Pac-12=32, Big 12=26).
  • 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 March 2017.  Due to the timing of each league’s season, the 2015 draft cohort was used to estimate unique playing opportunities in the Arena League, while the 2016 draft cohort was used to track CFL rookies. It was determined that an additional 57 former NCAA student-athletes from those draft cohorts were listed on a roster (28 in the CFL, 29 in the Arena League).  Across these two leagues, there were 29 former Division I FBS players, 14 from Division I FCS, 13 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 [251 + 57] /16,369).   
  • We estimate that 3.9% of draft-eligible Division I players were chosen in the 2016 NFL draft (248 / 6,307).  Limiting this calculation to subdivision, 6.7% of FBS players were estimated to be drafted (228 / 3,404), as compared to 0.7% of FCS players (20 / 2,902).  Narrowing further to the five Division I conferences with autonomous governance (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC), we estimate that 11% were drafted (189 / 1,747).  Accounting for Arena League and CFL opportunities, the NCAA to Total Professional figures are estimated as 4.6% for Division I ([248 + 43] / 6,307), 7.4% for FBS ([222 + 29] / 3,404) and 12% for the five autonomous conferences ([189+ 19] / 1,747).

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: March 10, 2017