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Signing day is upon us! As the wife of a college football coach I have to admit this day has as much excitement as Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve. According to Scholarship Stats there were 1,122,024 high school football players in 2014. Of that group, 90,136 went on to play college football spread out over 891 different schools at all levels NCAA D1-Junior Colleges. My husband is currently the head coach at an NAIA college. According to this survey, only 0.8% of high school football players go on to play at the NAIA level with an average scholarship of just over $6,500.
Y’all those are some crazy stats! It’s pretty stunning to think that of 1.2 million high school athletes, less than 1% end up playing NAIA football. Of course there are plenty of reasons that number is reduced. The high school athlete and the college athlete are completely different, and one doesn’t always translate to the other. Also, there are plenty of athletes who don’t have the grades making them eligible to play football in college. The recent media focus on concussions has certainly prevented some from continuing to play.
All that being said, my perspective as a coach’s wife for the last 16 seasons tells me that there is an additional reason that some athletes don’t continue playing football. There are some players and parents of players who have expectations higher than their ability. Athletes have told me that they didn’t get a D1 offer, so they aren’t going to continue. Interestingly, these same athletes usually regret their decision. They tell me a year later they feel their playing career was cut short.
Social media and television play a large role in this issue. College Game Day, bowl games, and talk of players being drafted, all come together to help little boys dream of their day in the spotlight. Football is a game that seems to get into people’s blood. It’s also a game that people don’t come back to once they quit 99% of the time. It’s my understanding that these things all combine together along with the fact that athletes are…well…competitive, to have people seek out playing at the highest level possible.
My view from the sidelines is a unique one. I’m also the first to admit that I have emotions invested in the recruiting process. I know what an amazing coach my husband is and I know what a great experience our players have. On the practical side I know my husband has a roster to fill and talented players help my husband keep his job! Finally, I understand that for some athletes NAIA is the highest level they are able to play. Whether it is lack of size, speed, agility or a combination, not everyone is D1 material….and that’s OK, in fact it’s great!
Many of the athletes I’ve interacted with over the years have ended up with a college degrees because they wanted to continue playing football. Others have transferred to bigger schools thinking they would get a chance to play at a higher level if they walk on and show their talent…this rarely to never works out like they dream it will.
Smaller schools, like many NAIA ones, enrollments can be made or broken by the football roster. These schools have plenty of perks including smaller class sizes, opportunity for better relationships with professors and classmates, and the ability to play athletics with people of your same talent level. It is because football is allowed to be played at different levels that 90,000 athletes get to continue with playing careers past high school. It is because football is played at so many different levels that players get to be seen as individuals instead of one in the crowd.
I wonder if that 0.8% would increase if the NAIA games had as much hype as D1. I also wonder if the communities surrounding high school athletes were enthusiastic about players continuing their careers at any level and were supportive of them finishing college, if we might see an increase in percentages at all levels. Besides, there is always the chance the next Brandon Wegher or Keshaun Malone in the 0.8%! 😉