As a professional sports fan watching multi-million dollar athletes play a game for your entertainment it is probably the last thing on your mind to think about their educational status. You might care about where they went to college to know the information when conversing with friends or to see who the next bright star might be in the league, but has that player earned their degree? As most fans know college football players can leave for the NFL after three seasons in college, basketball players have the one and done rule for the NBA, and the MLB can pluck a player right out of high school. Either way these athletes are not reaching their full potential in the classroom because they have not finished their college degree or never really started it. However, these athletes still have opportunities even as they are playing the sport they love or after they have hung up their cleats.
In the NFL the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) states in Article 46 that players will have the opportunity to receive tuition assistance if they choose to go back to school. The NFL will give a player “up to $15,000 per League Year ($20,000 per League Year for the 2015–2020 League Years) as reimbursement for tuition, fees, and books to any player who earns an average of ‘C’ or better per semester at an eligible educational institution,” (NFL, 2011, pg. 227). This is a great deal for players because while they do make some large paychecks who doesn’t like a free education. With most players obtaining there degrees before getting into the NFL it is a smart idea for players to take advantage to obtain a Master’s Degree or a second Bachelors in something that interests them. It is smart for the NFL to set a grade average to obtain so they know the players are not pocketing the money as extra income. I think the NFL has created an effective program for players to feel the urge to pursue their college degrees.
Other leagues like the MLB have created their own College Scholarship Plan in their CBA with the MLB Players Association. This section in the CBA states, “A Major League Player for whom there is in effect on or after January 1, 1973 a valid and unexpired scholarship under the College Scholarship Plan may commence or resume his studies under the Plan at any time within two years after his last day of Major League service,” (MLB, 2012, pg. 61). If the player then does not start a degree or finish within two consecutive years, the plan will be terminated. The MLB has created a smart opportunity for players as well and lets them engage in their education after their careers have ended. With very unstable career lengths in the MLB it is good to know you can go back to school and get an education within two years after finishing your time in the league. However, this is still tough because most degrees are four year opportunities and if you are a player coming out of high school then you would still need to pay for two more years for your Bachelors. So this might not be as tempting to players to take advantage of, but the agreement makes it seem that all expenses will be paid for so that is a huge advantage.
On another hand you have the NBA where most of the stars coming out of college are going through the one and done rule. These athletes are barely in college for a full year before they thrust themselves into the NBA Draft. This league is different than the NFL and MLB because they offer internship/apprenticeship opportunities for players once they are done playing. It seems the NBA wants to keep their players around the league and possibly find them a home working for a team or the league office. Players can get trained in things like, “basketball operations, community relations, sales and Article XLI 481 marketing, and/or team coaching,” (NBA, 2017, pg. 480) which gives them a variety of options to see what they might be interested in. I like this idea with giving a real world business experience and keeping the relationships with former players strong, but I still wonder if receiving a formal education would still be beneficial. Some things need to be taught in a classroom setting verse on the job training, which is why maybe the NBA can incorporate some type of degree into their next CBA in 2025.
Overall, you look at the NFL, MLB, and NBA to see that they are all doing something to further their players’ educations whether it’s sending them back to school or putting them through internship rotations. Either way these players are learning valuable information they can take to their next job opportunity after their playing career has ended. While each league has pluses with their CBAs I think that the NBA has the best educational plan set forth. I don’t think anyone knows more about the NBA than their own players, so why not teach them more of the ins and outs of the office work that happens. Ultimately, this move might come out with the next Jason Kidd who played and then started coaching in the league or a Magic Johnson who is now the General Manager for the Lakers. The spots might be limited and competitive to enter the internship rotation, but it’s hard to replicate real world experiences and that is why the NBA has the best educational opportunities out of those three major sports leagues.
1. NFL CBA 2011
2. MLB CBA 2012
3. NBA CBA 2017