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Business, Numbers

Numbers: Football in America – Collegiate Level Has Fewer But More Competitive Players



Photo courtesy of the Times & Democrat, Orangeburg, SC, 04.26.20116 edition

This is the third post in the series: Football in America. The previous post in this series, Numbers: Football in America – Friday Night Lights and High School Teams, took a look at look at America’s favorite sport at the high school level. As a reminder, football is played in more than 14,000 U.S. high schools. Of the 1,088,158 student athletes that play on these teams, 310,465 are high school seniors.

American college football is not vastly different than high school football except for the sharp reduction in the number of student players, and as expected, a better quality of play on the field. Only 6.5% of high school players make it on to one of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams. That’s a total of 70,147 players for all NCAA football teams of which 20,042 (28.6%) are freshmen players.

Suffice it to say that the road to the pros narrows considerably at the college level.

In the United States, the college level is generally considered to be the second tier of American football – one step ahead of high school competition, and one step below professional competition. It is during college where a player’s performance directly impacts his chances of being selected for one of the National Football League’s (NFL) teams. On average, there are 15,588 (22.2%) senior NCAA football players in any given year.  The above stats are provided by the NFL and NCAA.

According to Wikipedia, college teams mostly play other similarly sized schools through the NCAA’s divisional system:

  • Division I schools consists of the major collegiate athletic powers with larger budgets, more elaborate facilities, and (with the exception of a few conferences such as the Pioneer Football League) more athletic scholarships.
  • Division II schools primarily consists of smaller public and private institutions that offer fewer scholarships than those in Division I.
  • Division III institutions also field teams, but do not offer scholarships.

Photo courtesy of the Times & Democrat, Orangeburg, SC, 04.26.20116 edition

It is clear that every high school football player will not attend college. It is also clear that most of those high school players who go on to college will also not play football.

However, there are several organizations that operate college football programs outside the jurisdiction of the NCAA including the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) for two-year institutions, and Club football — a sport in which student clubs run the teams instead of the colleges. The program is overseen by two organizations: The National Club Football Association and the intercollegiate Club Football Federation.

The best collegiate players will typically declare for the professional draft after three (3) to four (4) years of collegiate competition. The National Football League (NFL) holds its annual draft every spring.

While there is much fun and excitement to be had on game day by the players as well as the fans, this post would be incomplete without a short discussion on injuries. In the first post of this series, Numbers: Football in America – Youth Participation Rates, I reported that  1.8 million children played football in 2007. Those numbers dropped to 1.3 million in 2014 – a 28.6% reduction. The primary factor influencing this drop-off in participation along with percentage of parents responding to the survey is “risk of injury – 87.9%”.

Risks of injuries to players is and has been a growing concern of the NCAA as well. The NCAA collected data on injuries for the 2004-2005 to 2008-2009 football season. Here’s a summary of their findings [Ref 1]:

  • The overall injury rate in NCAA football is 8.1 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures (games and practices combined). There were more than 41,000 injuries and 25 million athlete exposures from 2004 to 2009.
  • Football players are nearly seven times more likely to be injured during a game than in practice.
  • Ligament sprains are the most common injury reported, accounting for more than 30 percent of all injuries, with the lateral ligaments of the ankle and medial collateral ligaments of the knee most commonly affected.
  • Concussions make up 7.4 percent of all injuries in college football players.
  • The pre-season has the highest injury rate (9.7 per 1,000 athlete exposures) compared with in-season (7.5) and the post-season (4.2). (Note: Data does not include spring ball.)
  • The greatest incidence for adverse events such as fatalities, heat illness and collapse is more often during transitions such as the first and second day of preseason and after a break period from practice.

Kobe Blackwell – Mountain Point High School’s Junior Varsity Team Pride, Phoenix, AZ, September 2015

A concussion is a brain injury.  Concussions can occur from blows to the body as well as to the head. They can occur in any sport and occur without loss of consciousness or other obvious signs. All concussions are serious and change a student-athlete’s behavior, thinking or physical functioning. Recognition and proper response to concussions when they first occur can help prevent further injury or even death. Athletes can suffer a concussion even if they wear a helmet.

Since 2010, the NCAA has required teams to have a Mandated Concussion Management Plan. The organization also mandates that any injured player be removed from play and cleared by medical personnel before returning to play.

In closing, here’s an update on the three high school football players who were featured in the previous post: Numbers: Football in America – Friday Night Lights and High School Teams:

  • Parrish Allen – a graduate of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School (Orangeburg, SC) and former linebacker for the Bruins, signed a national letter of intent to attend the Apprentice School in Newport News, VA and play for the Builders football team.
  • Dallas Chewning – a graduate of Millennial High School (Goodyear, AZ) and former defensive back and wide receiver for the Tigers, signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson and play with the Wildcats football team.
  • Kobe Blackwell – completed his sophomore year as a junior varsity team member for Mountain Point High School’s (Phoenix, AZ) Pride football team. Although it remains to be seen what path Kobe will take in the game of football, he does plan to major in sports journalism in college and foresees a future as a sports analyst for one of the major television networks.

Until my next post, it’s football night somewhere in America!


  1. Football Injuries, Data from the 2004-2005 to 2008-2009 Seasons, https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/NCAA_Football_Injury_WEB.pdf




About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.

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