Bruce Capers

Gordon State College

February 15th, 2023

How Many NCAA Players Actually Go Pro

The NCAA offers multiple sports ranging from football, basketball, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and volleyball, just to name a few. After graduation and, in some cases, before graduation, many of these student-athletes are looking to take their talents to the professional level.

Playing professional sports is one of the most difficult professions to get into. The NCAA is divided into three levels, including NCAA Division 1, NCAA Division 2, and NCAA Division 3. For example, the numbers show that there are about:

(450) NBA players

25,000 college players

551,373 high school players

20 million youth players

As you can see, there are more participants than jobs at the professional level. College athletes who earn the opportunity to play at the professional level usually have several qualities and traits that enable them to perform at a high level. For example, the following are examples of features that real D1 athletes have.

  • Don’t have D’s & F’s on their report cards

  • Don’t miss summer workouts

  • Don’t finish last in condition drills

  • Don’t fake injuries to avoid conditioning

  • Don’t run from the competition. They run to it

  • Don’t cry about being coached hard

  • You don’t have to be motivated. They are self-motivated

  • Unbelievable work ethic

  • Focused & detailed oriented

  • They have a purpose and goals. They set a plan to meet goals

There is a lot of commitment, discipline, and consistency athletes must have to reach those high levels. Nobody goes pro by accident. Athletes don’t luck up and go pro. They are prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally for the opportunity.

Let’s look at an estimated probability of competing in professional athletics:

Football: 73,712 participants 16,380 Draft eligible  (254) draft picks (254) NCAA drafted    1.6% go pro

M. Basketball: 18,816 participants 4,181 Draft eligible (60) draft picks  (52) NCAA drafted    1.2% go pro

W. Basketball: 16,509 participants 3,669 Draft eligible (36) draft picks  (31) NCAA drafted   0.8% go pro

Baseball: 36,000 participants 8,002 Draft eligible  (1,217) draft picks (791) NCAA drafted    9.9% go pro

Ice Hockey: 4,323 participants   961 Draft eligible  (217) draft picks  (71) NCAA drafted    7.4% go pro

Estimated Probability of Competing in College Athletics: High School Participants, NCAA Participants, Overall % of HS to NCAA, % HS to NCAA D1, % HS to NCAA D2


487,097                     35,460       7.3%           2.2%             2.2%


551,373                     18,816       3.4%           1.0%             1.0%

Cross Country

270,095                     14,270       5.3%           1.8%              1.4%                        


1,036,842                  73,557       7.1%           2.8%               1.8%


144,024                      8,609         6.0%           2.0%              1.6%


35,060                        4,229         12.1%         4.8%               0.6%                       


113,313                      14,310       12.6%         3.0%                2.4%                          


456,362                      25,072        5.5%           1.3%               1.5%                                


138,935                      9,697         7.0%             2.7%               1.1%


158,151                      7,838          5.0%            1.6%                1.0%  

Track Field

600,097                     28,698         4.8%             1.9%                1.2%


60,976                       2,163            3.5%             0.7%               0.6%

Water Polo

22,501                    1,047               4.7%             2.7%               0.8%


245,564                  7,239              2.9%             1.0%                 0.8%


412,407                 16,614          4.0%                1.2%                 1.6%

Cross Country

223,518                 15,632         7.0%                 2.7%                 1.7%

Field Hockey

59,856                    6,103          10.2%              3.0%                   1.4%


78,781                    5,375          6.8%                 2.8%                   2.0%

Ice Hockey

9,609                      2,400          25.0%               8.9%                    1.2%

Let's take a closer look at some of these numbers:

he most competition is for those who play basketball. Approximately three percent of male and female high school basketball players go on to play college basketball, and only about one percent of those players turn pro. Consider the number in terms of how many high school basketball players go pro.

According to the estimations, only 0.02 to 0.03 percent of high school players play in the NBA or WNBA. Think about that number. That means out of every 10,000 high school players, only two or three will ever get the chance to play professional basketball! No one wants to squash your dreams. If you think you've got what it takes, pursue it.

It is essential, however, to be realistic. Have a backup plan. Even if you are good at something or even great at something, it seems there's always someone out there who is faster and quicker. If you are one of those skilled enough or blessed enough to make the cut, keep in mind that sports injuries do happen. Academics are important!

Why a Degree Matters

 A college degree is attainable by every player on every team. A college degree enhances a student athlete's ability to ensure a profession outside of pro sports. A troubling statistic is at power 5 D1 schools, only 55% of football teams and 56% of basketball teams graduate black male student-athletes.

The question becomes, are the athletes there to graduate or play sports? Based on the numbers mentioned earlier in this article explains why getting a degree is as important, or more important than playing sports. Injuries and other unforeseen circumstances can spoil your journey to becoming a pro.

Over 21 years of coaching, I have always stressed the importance of graduating. Several of my players over the years have played professional sports at various levels. They all are notable players who dream of playing in the NBA.

I am a perfect example of how education assisted my professional career. It was always instilled in me that graduating is essential to preparing me for my future after my playing days. I was told that education was the key to designing and training me to be qualified to enter the professional arena outside of sports.

My education allowed me to walk through many doors after my basketball career was over, including, but not limited to, coaching at the college level. This question was proposed to me by my parents, mentors, and coaches. What are you going to do once the ball goes flat? There are many ways the ball can go flat.

As mentioned earlier, injuries can end an athletic career. You could get cut, or simply be replaced by younger players who run faster and jump higher. Once that happens, you must be ready to transition from sports. I am glad I listened to my elders because I have enjoyed my career after sports by being qualified to do the work.

In closing, this article is not designed to discourage student-athletes or parents from chasing their dream of playing professional sports. It’s designed to encourage but prepare you for your future after playing days are over. It was my degree, more than a solid athletic career, that awarded me opportunities to be involved in other areas of sports. When father's time knocks on your door, be ready, prepared, and qualified to be a pro in something outside of playing sports.

Bruce Capers Head Men's Basketball Coach at Gordon State College