Are college sports the best way to go if you want to become a professional athlete?
The answer to that question depends. Is it a team sport or an individual sport … also what sport is it because college is more necessary for some than others.
If you want to become a professional football player, you pretty much have to go to college to make it into an NFL training camp. In modern history, only three players have ‘walked-on’ to an NFL team without playing in college:
- Eric Swann
- Raymond Seals
- Sav Rocca
You may be wondering about the guy that Marky Mark played about the bartender who walked on to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970s. His name is Vince Papale and although he didn’t play college football, he went to college and was a star athlete. He also lettered in football in high school and was an all-Delaware honorable mention. But back to his college career. He went to Saint Joseph’s on a track and field scholarship, so college still significantly impacted his entrance into the NFL.
As far as the three listed above, I really only consider Eric Swann and Raymond Seals legit because Sav Rocca was a professional Aussie rules footballer before he entered the NFL as a rookie at the tender age of 36.
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Although the NCAA is the biggest talent mill for the NBA, you don’t need to go to college and play on an NCAA team to play in the NBA. Just ask LaBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Moses Malone, Shawn Kemp, Tracy McGrady, and Kobe Bryant—wait, you can’t ask Kobe.
The NBA has gone back and forth on their rules for being eligible for the NBA draft. Previously, players would come in right out of high school. But after a while, the league decided that without maturing at least a little bit within college programs, young players displayed higher levels of character issues.
The league adjusted to a one-and-done minimum for a while but has since reverted back to coming directly from high school as long as the athlete is one year removed from their senior year of high school and at least 19 years old.
However, many players are drafted out of Europe as playing in European basketball ball leagues, or on national team level counts as that necessary year of college.
The NCAA Tournament is wrapping up, check out the NCAAB odds on the last few games!
Major League Baseball
Big League ball is generally routed through college, but if you are good enough to walk-on to a minor league team, you could find yourself as a pro ballplayer, even if you’re only making 45K a year and never making the bigs … you’re still a pro.
Other examples are the international players that never played in the NCAA from Japan, Korea, China, Panama, Mexico, Dominican Rep. Venezuela, Cuba, Columbia, Nicaragua, etc.
Unlike the NFL, the MLB still holds open tryouts to find those few diamonds in the rough that have been overlooked or denied by other factors other than their ability to play baseball.
Major League Soccer
Tryouts for the MLS team, the LA Galaxy are open to players between the ages of 17 and 25. So, much like the MLB, you don’t actually need to go through the college system.
However, much like with football, basketball, and baseball, the college system is a proving ground and is likely the surest way to a professional sports career. In college you have scouts watching, and tons of statistical documentation and film footage. Essentially, if you’re actually good enough to become a pro, the proof is in the pudding. If you are trying to walk on you’ll be proving yourself for a long time and probably won’t be as developed as the players who had a decent college career. College sports literally grooms you for the pro level. Sure, not everything translates from the college level to the next, but the system at this point is pretty much designed as a minor league for the pro leagues—especially when it comes to football and basketball.