The importance of a college degree in football

I just found an interesting article in the Wall Street journal about  how the Eagle mostly try to acquire college graduates. The Eagles feel the more college graduates they have, the more successful the team will be. The article cites how the Patriots and Colts typically had the most college graduates in the NFL when they dominated the league last decade. Last season, the Seahawks and Broncos had the most five-year college players, and the Giants had the most three-year college players.

To read the article, click here.

The past five years, Trent Baalke has drafted the following notable players who did not graduate college: Anthony Davis Aldon Smith Chris Culliver Corey Lemonier Marcus Lattimore Aaron Lynch

This article has 42 Comments

  1. It’s definitely a good strategy in general, but it’s smart to make exceptions. For example, it makes absolutely no sense for a top notch running back to play 4 years in college and take the pounding. They can always return for the degree.

    I’d rather draft a good student who took tough courses and left after his sophomore year than a 4-year graduate with a degree in “Undergraduate Studies”.

    I’d like to first see a correlation between career PFR and years in college before shifting some of the credit from Brady and Manning to their team mates who earned college degrees.

    On a different note, here’s wishing Happy 31st Birthday to Frank Gore!

  2. Fascinating. It may not be the only way to do it, but graduating from college shows that you can consistently apply yourself to a multi-year task or challenge and finish it. It demonstrates your ability to execute (far more than learn). It would stand to reason that the same kind of concentration and followthrough would be useful for becoming better player, winning a Super Bowl, or excelling in any job.

  3. Interesting angle, but you don’t draft degrees; you draft talent. You also need a QB as the most successful teams on that list clearly show.

    1. but talent is a mix of natural skills and hard work/studying. Players with degrees may indicate more of the latter.

      1. The top players in the draft are rarely Sr.s staying to get their degrees. You don’t need a degree to learn a playbook; you need it for after football is over. I would imagine the correlation here is that a degree usually means a more mature player who has stayed in school, and that is good, but it rarely means anything in terms of wins and losses. That is about talent and Coaching.

        1. no you don’t need a degree to learn a playbook. it’s not an either or thing. but usually earning a degree means that the player has developed study habits and has the perseverance to learn things. So while a player without a degree can certainly have these traits; players with degrees are more likely to have these study and personality traits.

          1. I don’t think it shows anything other than the player stayed for the requisite time it took to get the degree. You can get a degree without establishing a good work ethic or study habits. Football is about combining athleticism with mental preparation. I don’t see a link between a degree and being successful in the NFL.

            1. i’m not sure what college you attended, but few degrees require a decent amount of dedication and study work ethic.

              “mental preparation”. what do you think perseverance and study work ethic are?

              1. I know how much help student athletes get in achieving degrees, and some degrees are not that hard to achieve.

                Mental preparation combined with athleticism. Taking what you learned in the classroom and enacting it physically on the field. That is very different from studying and then doing written/oral exams.

                Getting a degree is great and does show an ability to reach a certain level of scholastic achievement. What it doesn’t do imo is help a player on the football field. It is simply a box Chip Kelly likes to check off when looking at players because it probably makes him feel they are mature enough to focus on what he’s teaching. That is his opinion and nothing more. There are no facts that back it up.

              2. I wonder if you understand the incredible complexities of the NFL game.

                NFL playbooks are HUGE. But not only does a player have to know the plays and what they need to do and how to do it. But they must also be able to read the opposing offense/defense and now to make adjustments to their assignments and understand the assignments of their teammates. Offensive play nomenclature has at least 3 different languages and numerous variations of them in the NFL. Most of the time, when an new OC comes in, players essentially have to learn a new language. Defenses are also often times as complex. Being a good player starts in the classroom taking notes on plays and coach’s lectures and film study. Then it has to translate on to the field…which is the next level.

                Student athletes don’t get help getting degrees. They get help to pass classes. And yes some degrees are not that hard to achieve…most aren’t. And usually an athlete that sets the goal to graduate with a degree, probably isn’t going to get an “easy degree”.

                “Getting a degree is great and does show an ability to reach a certain level of scholastic achievement.”

                what do you think the ABILITY to reach a certain level of achievement means???? good study habits, perseverance?

              3. one old story I like was about “Hacksaw” Jim Reynolds. He was an incredible student of the game. When the Niners signed him he showed up to training camp with his own personal projector for watching film and a briefcase full of notebooks, pencils and a pencil sharpener. Former Niner DC recalled that Hacksaw would sit at a desk during meetings with a big old box full of his pencils and a sharpener and he’d just go through them. He’d just go through them. The coaches loved Hacksaw’s influence on young players (Hacksaw was already a 11 year veteran when he came to the Niners). Early in Ronnie Lott’s rookie training camp , Lott asked to borrow a pencil from Hacksaw and was refused. Hacksaw told Lott he wouldn’t be a success in this league until he brought his own pencil to every meeting so he’d better start now.

              4. I have both played and Coached over an extensive number of years so yes I’m familiar with how complex a playbook can be. I’m also familiar with how difficult it is to get somebody to play without thinking. That is not achieved through reading a playbook. The playbook is the tool, but repetition is the teacher. It has nothing to do with getting a degree and certainly does not translate to someone being intelligent or a hard worker.

                Some people get a degree without having to work very hard. I know many examples personally. Just because you get a degree does not mean you developed great work habits or are studious in nature.

  4. The Patriots and Colts also had guys named Brady and Manning during that time, and Manning is now on the Broncos.

    It’s a belief in a system. Good for the Eagles.

  5. interesting article.

    Ramping up from college football to the NFL is a daunting task that takes an incredible amount of work and studying (playbooks, film on opposing offenses and defenses…etc…) I can imagine that screening for college graduates may provide or indicate:

    1. more football playing experience (presumably a graduate would have played 3-4 years of college football).

    2. Perseverance or known as the (Big Five) personality trait of Conscientiousness. The ability and desire to stick to an objective and get it done.

    3. How a player learns. A player that graduated college has presumably figured out the best way they learn and study.

    But with the 2011 CBA with a rookie salary structure in place, I can imagine that many College players may think about coming out early so they can start earning money immediately and get to Free Agency (or be resigned) as early as possible in their careers. And I believe more and more underclassman have been entering the draft every year. For positions like Running Back with such a short career shelf life, it only makes sense for them to enter the NFL as early as possible.

      1. Barrows said there is a chance it could happen. That is if they even get to him which they haven’t the past two times his hearing has come up.

      2. @TonyKovaleski 1h
        #WeInvestigate Hearing rumblings- may be a plea agreement today in the @aldonsmith weapons/dui case in Santa Clara County

    1. @tkaplanreport · 3m
      Aldon Smith cuts deal on DUI, Weapons charges. He will enter a guilty or no contest plea w/in an hour. Terms of deal not clear yet.

      1. Smith will return for sentencing on July 25. Perfect timing for the 49ers.

  6. The past philosophy was you needed guys with a mean streak and if that meant a history of bad behaviour, it was almost an advantage because they would be willing to go thru a wall for their coach and teammates.
    Now the thinking is sports requires a tremendous amount of thinking as the hardest skill in sports is decision making. I can see where education plays a big part nowadays.

    1. well…It requires both. But the old days of being able to clothesline a receiver in the middle of the field are gone. the stuff they used to do in the 70’s, 80’s and up through the 90’s, you just can’t get away with in today’s NFL. Football has become far more complex and structured. So you need a guy that can learn things, follow orders like a good soldier and not do anything stupid. You still want them to be aggressive beasts until the whistle is blown.

  7. First of all, I assume your referring to 4-YEAR degrees because I think most NFL players earn at least an associates degree…could be wrong.
    But anyways…how about a little research on the subject, Iggy?
    Question: What % of players in the HOF earned a bachelor’s degree BEFORE being drafted?
    (Many go back and get their degrees later but don’t count those guys)
    That’d be an interesting stat.

      1. I agree…at least as far as the old-timers are concerned.
        Not so sure about the younger guys.
        It’d be interesting to see if the players of old were more successful with regard to getting their bachelor’s degree prior to the Draft than were the more recent inductees.
        If this is a downward trend, it’d make for an interesting discussion.

  8. The way I see it, after the first and maybe second round looking to draft guys that have completed their degrees makes sense.

    You can understand why topline talents wouldn’t take the risk of another year in college and potential injury when they have the opportunity to sign a big rookie contract in the NFL. But for mid to later round guys I can see why teams would prefer players that have shown an aptitude and willingness to complete their studies – it takes a combo of smarts and dedication to do this which can only bode well for their career, and also shows a level of maturity. At this point you aren’t talking about the best talents available, so if you have two guys of similar ability why not go for the guy that has displayed the capacity to learn and do the hard work necessary?

  9. question:
    when interviewed by the press,
    how many 49er players
    speak in complete sentences,
    use reasonably correct grammar,
    demonstrate an adult-sized vocabulary
    (and tend to avoid excess jargon/slang) …

    With or without a college degree, many players
    struggle to sound the least bit intelligent/mature
    at the podium. “Lacking polish/poise/grooming”
    (to put it mildly).

    1. That’s an excellent point.
      That fact isn’t exclusive to 49ers players though.
      The entire sports industry employs a multitude of less than articulate players.
      And we all know which sports employ the majority of them.
      I mean, have you ever seen an interview with a tennis player that sounded uneducated?
      That begs the question: how much is a college degree really worth if the student that recieves it remains, or at least appears to remain, uneducated?
      While by no means completely worthless, the diploma just becomes another piece of paper…

  10. As mentioned above not all degrees are equal. Most D1 players get 2 weeks off a year. A week around christmas time and a week at the end of may beginning of june. The rest of the time they are required to be around campus for lifting/conditioning which goes on 5 times a week. Since you are there anyways some players take extra classes in the summer and end up graduating in 2.5 years (like alex smith) or working on their masters (christian ponder) while some players decide to take a single ball room dancing class with their girlfriend (Matt Leinart USC) So it comes down to did the player decide to take on more work to complete his degree sooner or did he opt to hang out at the beach instead. Inteligence is more important to a QB or a lineman than it is to a DE or a RB so a lot depends on the position. Gronk is as dumb as nails and his alma matter Arizona will never be mistaken for Harvard but he is a top notch TE in the league. Reading Shakespeare and reading defenses are entirely different concepts

  11. I think it is a travesty that colleges take the talent on the field to generate millions, yet do not think enough of the student athlete to give him a decent education with a degree. Every college should provide courses for football players that include economics, marketing, statistics, business administration and accounting.

    1. Free college and healthcare for every American, even if you don’t have the talent to generate millions….

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