Sponsored by IMG Academy

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thinking about Turning Pro Instead of Going to College? Study Says 250K in Cash Should be Your Price

I hope that headline isn't too sensational, but the study that I'm referring to--by the USTA National Collegiate Varsity Committee--is of such importance that I want to make sure that it gets noticed and read.

Of course the decision on whether an elite junior should go to college or turn pro is not entirely financial, but it is an appropriate place to start the discussion. To get to the item I mention in the headline, the study provides estimates of the expenses of competing full-time on the pro tour and contrasts it with the value of the college scholarship and the coaching, fitness, and travel expenses that are provided free to college players. The first figure is $143,000 (per year), the second is $90,000 (per year).* Although there may be a few who are in a position to ignore that $233,000 gap, most are not. The passage I'm referring to is this:

From a financial perspective, unless you can get at least $250,000 of “real money” (hard cash dollars) placed into an escrow account in your name (e.g., not promises, not simply clothes, etc.) you should go to college.

*I do wish there had been at least a nod to the difference in this number for men vs. women at the college level, since very few men actually receive a full scholarship, given that there are only 4.5 available at the NCAA D-I level.

The study isn't just about money however. Here is the list of questions addressed, whether in the body of the report or in the appendices.

(1) What is the USTA player development pathway?
(2) What is the monetary value of a college tennis scholarship?
(3) What are the annual costs for playing the professional tour at a highly competitive level?
(4) What ATP and WTA rankings (earnings) are needed to break even financially playing professional tennis?
(5) What can you can make as professional tennis player at the progressive levels of professional tennis?
(6) Can you share any sample case studies of professional careers, including career earnings?
(7) What are the average ages of tour professionals at various rankings?
(8) What does a career progressions of playing records in the developmental pathway look like for a successful pro, including the average number of years it takes to become top 100 and the “life expectancy on the pro tour”?

There is also reference to the advantages of playing a lot of matches in college, which are usually in high-pressure situations, and the value of the confidence gained from that. John Isner has spoken many times about the particular value of having that kind of experience at Georgia. And while this study rightfully focuses primarily on the tennis question, the social and educational advantages of spending four years in college are also considerable, especially when preparing for life after professional tennis.

The study provides a sort of minimum checklist for juniors who are considering the question of pro vs. college:

A truly elite junior tennis player should have a proven track record of success before even considering embarking on a professional career. Some good preliminary guidelines to consider are:

Boy’s scenario – 18 years old; Top 10 ITF; Top 5 in United States; Top
500 ATP and has won at least one national US junior championship.

Girl’s scenario – 17 years old; Top 10 ITF; Top 5 in United States; Top
300 WTA and has won at least one national US junior championship.

It's interesting to note that several boys who did meet most of those tests, Chase Buchanan, Rhyne Williams and Alex Domijan, opted for college, a sure sign that the trend is in that direction. I also doubt that any of them had that $250,000 offer. While Christina McHale met the above criteria and turned pro after much thought, Beatrice Capra, who also qualifies, is still contemplating that move.

There is, however, no template, no easy way to determine who is ready for professional tennis and who needs more time before trying it as a first career. As Kentucky coach Dennis Emery told me last month, "there is one indicator of success on the pro tour, and that's success on the pro tour."

With the USTA's emphasis now on the collegiate game as a pathway to pro tennis, I'm optimistic that there will be more success stories like that of John Isner. The U.S. actually has a huge advantage over many countries with the collegiate sports infrastructure we have. Professional baseball, football and basketball take advantage of that; it's time tennis did the same.


bullfrog said...

I know that Donald Young and Alexa Glatch both received a lot more than double the $250K you cite for turning pro. Even so, I wonder what they would do if they had to do it all over? Just curious.

JD said...

Quick question.

Does anyone know what happened to Jessica Alexander? She left UF after one semester. Can't find her on any roster.

Levon Colm said...

I would like to point out that the article you have linked to is not a 'study'. Giving it that name confers far more credibility on it than is deserved and completely overlooks its incredibly speculative nature. At its very best its a conversation starter but that's all.

I mean, it claims that Samantha Stosur is having great success at the age of 29. Stosur turned 26 this year, ranked inside the top 50 for the past 5 years and the top 20 for the last 2 years. That doesn't include the enormous success she had in doubles.

The paper claims that "the average annual costs for playing the pro tennis tours = c. $143,000" but it doesn't include equipment costs because "most top players receive these from clothing and racquet manufacturers". How can you think that makes any sense? They quote an average cost but justify leaving out equipment costs based on what happpens to 'top' players. The 'average' player is not one of the 'top' players.

I think the USTA should be ashamed at publishing something that makes so many mistakes and tries to justify its claims with the most absurd logic. Hopefully parents and college students won't be sucked in by it and will read it with a very critical eye.

In theory... said...

The fact is...very few make it to the pro level, with or without college, encourging an education be it with only a partial scholarship, rather than pie-in-the-sky dreams is admirable on the USTA's part. Keep encouraging the kids, get them in college then let them strive for thier dreams, with a future ahead if tem bolstered by knowledge and maturity.
Now, if only they would actually give more of those scholarships to Americans, the theory would maybe be successful!

some college first said...

There are several inaccuracies in Appendix D. (1) John Isner did not turn pro in 2005, it was 2007. Also, I believe he still had hours to complete to get his degree. Wouldn't doubt that hew has done that by now. (2) There are quite a few women that have completed their degrees. I want take the time to name them.
Hopefully, this will be a great deterrent for those who think that turning pro is walk in the park. I'm all for the college path to pro!

Amtex said...

I am not a USTA fan, but some very good information in that report. The Nadal's and Sharapova's who can make it huge at 17-18 in the pros are very rare. 99.9% of talented tennis kids should be aiming for college.

Nick Saviano said...

Excellent article, but one of the major areas not addressed is that of the long-term upper potential of the player.

In other words, can you actually make and put away millions of dollars (for men this means a player can SUSTAIN themselves in the top 50 ATP for roughly 7 to 10 years, for women it is more like top 25 WTA) for that period of time? If not, what does a player do after 5 or 10 years?

Getting an education provides them with an opportunity to generate income for their adult life. A pro career does so for only a short period of time.

Bottom line is what is their exit strategy? That is one reason why for men in particular going to school for at least one year is so attractive. Once you are enrolled into a great university, you can go back any time to finish up.

When I have a player considering turning professional, they need to have enough financial support for at least 3 years--approximately $400 K--and they should have some kind of money or assistance for their education put away if in fact things don’t work out.

Levon Colm said...

It's all well and good to talk about players getting an education but, let's face the real world here, not everyone wants to study or is suited to study.

I'm a college grad and an educator but it makes me sick when I read comments made by coaches and administrators who insist on presenting a world view where college is presented as an absolute necessity or an integral part of their pathway in life. That sort of attitude is, at best, simple minded and, at worst, harmful. College does have many pluses but it is not the only course of action and is not for everyone.

Coaches and administrators who actually cared about their pupils would be far better to provide an alternative pathway (and 'exit strategy') that revolved around the tennis or sports industry.

And I'm sorry but if a young player doesn't have 400K to last 3 years, how is that going to stop them turning pro? Just saying they need to have it means nothing at all. You have to explain how you're able to convince them that is how much is necessary.

getreal said...

Boy’s scenario – 18 years old; Top 10 ITF; Top 5 in United States; Top
500 ATP and has won at least one national US junior championship Preliminary guideline? More like pie in the sky guidelines. Results don’t lie and if one has a realistic shot breaking through on the pro circuit shortly out of juniors (at least on the men’s’ side) player should be winning consistently at the challenger level at the minimium. The only current junior who has had those type of results is Harrison, certainly not the Buchanan or Williams, or Domijan, which is why all probably opted for college to develop their games. Correct me if I am wrong but didn’t Roddick and Querry have very solid results at the Challenger or even ATP level before they decided to go pro. That is a big jump from the boys scenario criteria.

yesreal said...

kids rankings mean nothing. It's a different game. USTA "study" would never understand that

wi tennis said...

Yeah, Nick Saviano! What's your background!????? Do you even know tennis? haha. Levon Colm... get a clue! Then, look up his bio online!