Should Tebow take the money or finish school?

Recently during the “Faceoff” segment on our “Sports Saturday” show, Will Manso and I debated whether or not Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow should declare for the NFL draft before the end of his college eligibility. I said that I am always in favor football players taking the money when it’s available. That prompted this response from one of our viewers:

“Dear Mr. Smith,

You should be very ashamed of yourself to have said “I personally think he should take the money” referring to Tim Tebow. Advising a young man to not finish an educational career at a prestigious university (i.e. University of Florida) is exactly what’s wrong with our society. According to a statistic cited during an NBA Players’ Association meeting, 60% of NBA players go broke 5 years after retirement. Maybe if more of these pro athletes finished college, the sorry statistic could be drastically altered. Instead people on the news encourage young talent to go after money instead of the education that teaches them not only how to manage their finances but how to become a true professional (unlike the professional athletes that act like animals instead of businessman).

Next time think twice about your recommendations; you should be fired for what you said.”

Here was my response to this viewer:

“I am in no way encouraging people to go for the money instead of an education. With that said, there are plenty of examples of people who have succeeded in life without finishing college (Steve Jobs of Apple Computers, moviemaker Steven Spielberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, businessman Magic Johnson being jut a few). There are also plenty of examples of college graduates who are abject failures. However, do I personally believe that a college education is the best way mentally prepare one’s self to think critically about the world? Will I insist that my kids attend college? Absolutely! However, I could never advise someone, like Tim Tebow, who stands to make millions of dollars in a legal, honorable profession not to take that money while he still can. Football players, in particular, are constantly at risk for the type of catastrophic injury that could close that window of financial opportunity forever. The window to finish college is much wider and closes much more slowly–especially if you are financially secure enough to pay that high tuition! The list of rich pro athletes who have returned for their degrees is long and prestigious (Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Emmitt Smith, Rocket Ismail, TJ Ford, Cory Redding, David Klingler, Troy Aikman, Isiah Thomas…I could go on, but you get the picture). Obviously, the NBA players I listed are not included in your “60% of NBA players go broke” statistic. In fact, can you tell me which portion of that “60%” did not have college degrees and which portion did?

And, what about that “professional athletes that act like animals” comment? Tell me, if you can, why the athletes I listed above didn’t “act like animals” BEFORE they returned for their degrees. After all, you seem to suggest that those without college degrees are predisposed to “animal” like behavior? And yet, these highly paid, degree-less athletes managed to keep themselves out of trouble. On the contrary, noted NFL miscreants like Jerramy Stevans and Frostee Rucker HAVE college degrees. As for the NBA, here are the findings of an Assistant Law Professor back in 2005:

“Update 7/28/05: I added an education-level comparison of arrested NBA players to all current NBA players. There are some rather striking results that appear to amplify the study’s findings. Most notably, although 41.1 percent of all NBA players went to college for 4 years, 57.1 percent of arrested NBA players went to college for 4 years–meaning that players with four years of college represent a proportionally higher percentage of arrested NBA players than all NBA players. In contrast, although 14.8 percent of NBA players either did not go to college or went for one year, only 9.6 percent of arrested NBA players share the same educational background–meaning that players with one or less years of college represent a proportionally lower percentage of arrested NBA players than all NBA players.” (For the complete study, go to http://sports-law.blogspot.com/2005/07/nba-players-that-get-in-trouble-with_20.html)
Again, with all due respect, I think you have wrongly characterized my position as “anti-education.” And with regard to your assertion that I should be fired, I find your wish to take food off my family’s table reckless and reactionary. I could almost understand your sentiment if I were advocating a racist or sexist position–or even an “anti-education” position. Those type of positions are rooted in ignorance. However, as I have shown, my position on Tim Tebow is well thought out and rooted in facts. If he has a high likelihood of getting drafted in the first or 2nd round this year, then he should avoid the risk of career ending injury and go pro this year–assuming football is the profession he’d like to pursue. If that likelihood of getting drafted in the top two rounds is not so high, he should stay in school another year in the hopes of improving his draft stock and getting closer to earning his degree–again assuming pro football is his chosen profession. If his heart is not in football, then I wouldn’t advocate that he play just for the money. I am in no way “ashamed” of this position for the all the reasons I have discussed. I have thought more than “twice” about my beliefs.

While I believe you were angry when you wrote to me, I in no way am. I’m writing this response to you in the wee hours of the morning because writing about and talking about issues like this is interesting to me! (I’m thinking seriously about including your email and this answer in my blog!) If you’re so inclined to email again, I’d love to hear if you think the points I have made herein are valid or completely off base.

Regards, John Henry Smith”

Here was the viewers’ response to my response:

“I appreciate the time you took to read my email and provide a thoughtful response.

I agree with you that there are various individuals who have succeeded without a college degree (like those you listed); however, these individuals tend to be intellectually superior to our American education system. I also support your statement on how there are persons who attend college but fail out or ultimately fail at their careers; however, those characters do not share the same traits as a Tim Tebow.

Tim Tebow has only one year left of college; too close to graduation for him not to finish. Without completion of a college degree your explanation on how professional athletes are at a constant risk for physical [and even lethal] injuries, supports my theory to complete college. Yes, an athlete could get injured their last year of college but they could also get injured their first year of their professional career.

The list of athletes you provided, that have returned to college and that do not act like animals, are among the elite group of professional athletes. I am sure that I do not have to provide a list of names for you to understand the number of athletes that do not act to code.

I do believe that for some, the superbly talented, should take the professional athletic tract versus the college route (e.g. Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant); however, I feel even more strongly about finishing college once you have already begun and it appears you share some of my believes:

“ If he has a high likelihood of getting drafted in the first or 2nd round this year, then he should avoid the risk of career ending injury and go pro this year–assuming football is the profession he’d like to pursue. If that likelihood of getting drafted in the top two rounds is not so high, he should stay in school another year in the hopes of improving his draft stock and getting closer to earning his degree–again assuming pro football is his chosen profession.”

I believe the above is a solid and strong position and I believe it is what you should have said originally on the air, but I further push my position for Tim Tebow to finish college.”

And, finally, here was my response to her response..to—uh—her response:

“Thank for your reply. I do take issue with 4 of the points you made:

“I agree with you that there are various individuals who have succeeded without a college degree (like those you listed); however, these individuals tend to be intellectually superior to our American education system.”

Whereas I think the people I listed are all pretty smart people, I seriously doubt you could—in any way—prove that any of these people are “intellectually superior.” How do you know that these guys aren’t a product of superior ambition instead of superior intellect?

“Yes, an athlete could get injured their last year of college but they could also get injured their first year of their professional career.”

Every single NFL draft pick in the first 2 rounds last year received over 1 million dollars of guaranteed money. By “guaranteed”, I mean that if they blew out there knees the day after they signed their deals, they were still able to keep over $1 million. After paying 34% to the government and 3% to their agents , that leaves each of them with at least $630,000 thousand dollars to spend. When you consider that the University of Florida’s website lists the annual cost of attendance for Florida residents as $17,300, you can see that Tebow could go back and complete his education after hurting his knee and still have over $600,000 left over. That’s far more money to finish his education than he would have if had just kept his scholarship and finished his education with those scholarship proceeds. If he returns to school and hurts himself, he only gets the scholarship money, but he misses out on an easy half-a-million dollar-plus payday.

“But John” you say. “What if Tebow is not drafted in the first two rounds?” Well, Tebow and his family, being smart people, would do their due diligence before the draft as others have done. For example, last season, Clemson running back James Davis declared for the draft. In the week afterward, he called around to NFL general managers to survey them about his draft prospects. Not liking what he heard, he had the good sense to take himself out of the draft and return to school.

“The list of athletes you provided, that have returned to college and that do not act like animals, are among the elite group of professional athletes.

I would hardly place Cory Redding and David Klingler in “the elite group of professional athletes.” I’m not sure what significance “elite” status has on behavior anyway. Are you saying that Tim Tebow (or anyone else) would be more likely never to graduate and to commit misdeeds if he were one of the worst players on a pro roster instead of one of the best?

I am sure that I do not have to provide a list of names for you to understand the number of athletes that do not act to code.”

What about the study I provided for you that clearly states that college educated NBA athletes were MORE likely to commit illegal acts than non-college educated NBA athletes? In case you didn’t read this section of my email, here it is again:

“Update 7/28/05: I added an education-level comparison of arrested NBA players to all current NBA players. There are some rather striking results that appear to amplify the study’s findings. Most notably, although 41.1 percent of all NBA players went to college for 4 years, 57.1 percent of arrested NBA players went to college for 4 years–meaning that players with four years of college represent a proportionally higher percentage of arrested NBA players than all NBA players. In contrast, although 14.8 percent of NBA players either did not go to college or went for one year, only 9.6 percent of arrested NBA players share the same educational background–meaning that players with one or less years of college represent a proportionally lower percentage of arrested NBA players than all NBA players.” (For the complete study, go to http://sports-law.blogspot.com/2005/07/nba-players-that-get-in-trouble-with_20.html)”

What do you think, dear reader, about our little debate?

JHS

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