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.