Going Pro

Len Pasquarelli has a reality check for everyone who says blue chip college athletes should stay in school:

Leaning against a wall in a back corridor of the Indiana Convention Center on Friday morning, Lee Evans paused during an individual interview to follow with his eyes the advance of University of Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, as one of the 2004 draft’s premier players navigated his way through a crowd.

“What a great, great player, and a great guy,” said Evans, shaking his head as Fitzgerald passed by. “He really deserves everything that is coming to him.”

There wasn’t so much as a hint of jealousy from the Wisconsin wide receiver as he went on to speak about the burgeoning group of standout pass-catchers here for the combine, with the wide receiver contingent possibly the draft’s deepest position. Then again, Evans could have been forgiven a moment of pettiness, given that, just a couple years ago, he was the Larry Fitzgerald of the college game.

Coming off a sterling 2001 campaign for the Badgers, the explosive Evans flirted with the notion of leaving school and petitioning for the 2002 draft as an underclassman. He opted, after months of examining his various alternatives, to remain in college. And five games into Wisconsin’s 2002 spring game, to the horror of everyone who witnessed the freak incident, Evans blew out the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee.

Nearly two full years later, following a pair of reconstructive surgical procedures, it’s as if Evans is now an afterthought. Not until some teams mention the names of Fitzgerald, Roy Williams of Texas, LSU’s Michael Clayton, Washington’s Reggie Williams and Rashaun Woods of Oklahoma State, do they bring up Evans as a prospect. There are a group of other teams, however, that feel the Wisconsin star will be a steal.

It sounds like Evans is going to be okay. Indeed, one suspects someone with his attitude would be successful even if the injury cost him a pro career entirely. But all of the hand wringing over underclassmen leaving school for the lure of the big money seems to forget how fragile the human body is.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James Joyner says:


  2. Dan Wismar says:

    The other thing the “stay in school” lecturers don’t mention is that there is absolutely nothing preventing a newly wealthy professional athlete from finishing school and obtaining the degree if he is really motivated to do so. He no longer requires the scholarship, and he has plenty of offseason time on his hands.

  3. Meezer says:

    Yeah, but, I’m kinda in favor of people with huge amounts of money having an education. They don’t have to go to college but how about a forced NFL program including statistics, macro-economics, U.S. History, Government, etc? Also, the communication skills of many athletes are now cringingly bad.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Problems almost entirely relegated to the NFL, to be sure.

  5. Meezer says:

    Well, actually, they are, in a way. Other than althletes, most people in this country who make millions of dollars either already have a pretty good understanding of how finance and government work or they have had (assuming they inherited their money) a very good education. They may still make atrocious political decisions, but at least they have been exposed to economic theories, etc.

  6. Scott Harris says:

    For all those “educated” people out there what is so hard to understand about the following data.

    Leave School: $5,000,000.00 signing bonus, 5 year contract worth $13,500,000.00.

    Stay in School, blow out knee, get a good job as engineer or accountant. Forfeit two years of possible pay. Starting pay $40,000.00 increasing to $50,000.00 over three years.

    Leave school. Make $13,500,000.00 plus possible new contract for more.

    Stay in school. Make $135,000.00 over the next five years.

    By my calculations, the guy leaving school early makes 100 times the amount the “smart” guy does by staying in school. And as has been pointed out, nothing prevents the guy leaving from becoming “smart” by finishing his degree on his own.

  7. craig henry says:

    The people who will be hurt leaving early are not the high first round picks– they make so much money that they are set for life. But athletes, like most people, can over-estimate their value in the market.

    So you get a sophomore who gets taken in the late second or third round, gets a small bonus, and then never flourishes due to immaturity and lack of coaching. In many cases, if he waits two years, he goes earlier, gets more money up-front, and has a longer career.