I have had numerous discussions – both with groups and individuals – within the last year about the number of high school athletes that play sports collegiately. Many of the people I talk to are parents or avid sports fans, and among these there are many that coach as volunteers. Frequently their view is drawn from inaccurate information or from sports sources that shed little light on the facts. Sensational sports reporting, over focus from an “arm chair” perspective and the human tendency to aggrandizement contribute to what we see as “facts.” Unfortunately, too often high school sports programs are driven, not by sound biblical philosophy, but by those that have a flawed perception of reality. In this framework perception rather than reality frequently becomes the foundation from which athletic decisions are made.
“Dragnet,” a famous television series from the 1960’s, had an investigator that was named “Friday”. He was business like, but polite, and was famous for the saying,” just the facts, ma’am.” It is vitally important that we make decisions based on the facts, particularly when it involves our mission as a school or Christian athletic program.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has published information on its website that is most revealing. The NCAA has calculated the probability of high school senior’s chances of competing in sports beyond high school as a student in an NCAA member institution. For instance the NCAA has concluded that “less than one in 35, or approximately 3.1% of high school senior boys playing interscholastic basketball will go on to play men’s basketball at an NCAA member institution.” Let me explain it another way. If the average high school basketball team has five seniors on the team per year it will take seven years to have one player to play on an NCAA member institution’s team. To be more concise let’s look at another reality. The NCAA has three divisions comprising a membership of 1,084 institutions. Of that number only one-half provide athletic scholarships for basketball. Now let’s extrapolate the numbers even further. Using these numbers the average school will produce only one scholarshipped basketball player every 14 years! That is not all. This is applicable to seniors only. That begs the question as to how many boys played high school basketball but never played as a senior. Another question must be asked: How many of the one scholarshipped player that graduated from the average high school that played on an NCAA team actually graduated from college?
Again, I am quoting from the NCAA website: “Approximately 6.0%, or less than one in 16 of all high school senior boys playing interscholastic football will go on to play football at an NCAA institution.” If you follow the same process in applying the numbers as I did with basketball you come to the same conclusions. Again, only about one-half of the NCAA member institutions provide football scholarships. Therefore, on the average, only one in 32 would get a “free-ride.” The numbers are amazingly low as to the number of athletes that benefit after leaving high school.
What about baseball? According to the NCAA “approximately three in 50, or about 6.4% of high school senior boys playing interscholastic baseball will go on to play at a NCAA member institution.” That means that for every 17 seniors one would play baseball at a NCAA member institution. On the average it would take two to three years to have one senior baseball player to play baseball collegiately at a NCAA member institution. Again, less than one-half of those playing baseball on a NCAA member institution team would be scholarshipped.
I must interject often ignored facts that I believe inflate these numbers. For instance, there are those high schools that play with little or no governance that are known to be football or basketball factories. Grades are inflated, scholarships are given, conduct and age restrictions are lacking. The athletes are better than average and more from these schools go on the play at NCAA member institutions. There are two well known schools in the Birmingham, Alabama area that fits this description.
Why the discussion and an essay that is rather controversial? The answer is simple: Once athletics become a force that is driving your school in delicate decision making your school loses its distinction and starts dying. Yes, it may grow, and in one sense it may prosper. But once it ceases to be what it was founded to be and philosophy, purpose, and mission are compromised the school is dying. The priority should always be first, the spiritual; secondly, academics; thirdly, a balanced extra-curricular program that includes athletics.
It is good when students have an opportunity to compete in collegiate sports. However, students knowing how to live for God both in time and eternity is better. Let’s strive for excellence! (Philippians 1:10)
Written By J. Robin Mears
April 3, 2011