Should Star Athletes Skip College for the Pros?

Usain Bolt, Derek Jeter, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Lionel Messi. What do they all have in common? All are world-class athletes, champions of their sports, and respectively command a massive following. They’ve also never been to college.

Enrolling in college is one of the most important decisions a young athlete can make. For many athletes to get recognition from professional sports organizations, they need to have a great college career. College sports provide the best opportunity for talented athletes to compete against each other to distinguish good athletes from great ones.

Beyond the competitive nature of college sports, receiving a college degree opens up a variety of pathways  for success. Making a decent living as a professional athlete is not an easy task. Unless you’re an Olympian or competing in a major sports organization such as the NFL or NBA, you’re going to have trouble paying the bills. Having a degree serves as a valuable safety net if an athlete cannot make it in the professional setting.

The only issue is that college is expensive. If you’re not on a scholarship, you’ll be paying thousands – in some cases, hundreds of thousands – to enroll in a quality college with an athletic program.

Debates have fired up recently about whether or not college athletes should be paid. Millions of dollars worth of merchandise is sold based on their likeness, including jerseys. Although colleges often offer scholarships to alleviate the financial struggles of their top athletes, many others are left out to dry.

Fortunately, for athlete who cannot afford college, new pro sports organizations are always popping up. Recently, the XFL had become popular as a source of football outside the NFL. If XFL players had started earning a decent wage, some high school football players might have bypassed college for the paycheck. Plus, a solid XFL career could have potentially lead to a shot in the NFL.

With the XFL’s success pre-pandemic, more sports organizations are bound to be born.  College sports may soon be competing with minor sports organizations for talent. This is great news for aspiring athletes who want to make a living off their craft. Those who do not have the funds to enroll in college have new outlets to earn a living wage competing in their sport.

A serious factor to consider before deciding to bypass college for an athletic career is the fragile nature of the human body. Competing at the top level in a sport means putting oneself at high risk for injury. One wrong step or awkward fall could spell the end of a promising future. Basing your financial stability on physical capabilities is not always a wise investment.

In the rare case that a young athlete makes millions off their skills without attending college, a whole new slew of problems present themselves. Handing over a multi-million-dollar contract to an 18-yea- old without a higher education has a high potential to backfire. Attending college and going through financial struggle builds an appreciation for wealth, not to mention the many financial management classes you can take in college. Skills learned throughout a college career can significantly impact your financial stability throughout your career.

It’s a tough road for any athlete to make a living. Some of the greatest sports stars of all time went broke after their legendary careers. Scottie Pippen, Lawrence Taylor, Mark Brunell, and Michal Vick are just a few. The bright lights and fame often cast a cloud that’s difficult to navigate through.

There are many pros and cons to an athlete bypassing enrolling in college. As more independent sports organizations grow, the opportunities for young athletes to make money fresh out of high school will become more available. Taking these opportunities also means deferring on a quality education that could greatly affect wealth later in life.

There’s certainly a quality list of legendary athletes who never attended college. However, there’s a significantly longer list of athletes who didn’t attend college or make it as professionals. Should a young athlete take a paycheck over a college degree, or should they value a quality education over their craft?




Written by: Cameron Jones