Attending College Versus Going Pro: A Tough Decision Facing Successful Student-Athletes


August 15, 2012
by Alexis Mattera

An Olympic gold medal is the ultimate goal for many athletes but when you’ve managed to achieve this feat before even turning 18, what do you set as your next accomplishment? There are usually two options – attend college and perfect your craft or go pro and rack up endorsement deals – but figuring out the right choice is becoming more difficult for many up-and-coming student-athletes.

An Olympic gold medal is the ultimate goal for many athletes but when you’ve managed to achieve this feat before even turning 18, what do you set as your next accomplishment? There are usually two options – attend college and perfect your craft or go pro and rack up endorsement deals – but figuring out the "right" choice is becoming more difficult for many up-and-coming student-athletes.

A perfect example is Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old swimming phenom who scored five medals at the London Olympics. She has made it clear that she wants to swim in college but if she does so, she will not be able to take advantage of the potentially millions of dollars in endorsements her Olympic success has afforded her. (The NCAA strictly prohibits athletes from accepting sponsorship and advertising money if they want to maintain their eligibility, though many athletes have petitioned this rule).

A recent article in The Atlantic details that going pro makes more sense for athletes in certain sports – for example, since the level of competition in collegiate gymnastics is lower, gold medalist Gabby Douglas didn’t hesitate to give up her amateur status...and sign a deal with Kellogg’s – but for Franklin, attending college would give her not only a chance to improve upon her already impressive swimming skills but earn a degree and have somewhat of a normal life after her time in the Olympic spotlight. Her choice? She hasn't announced it yet but it's her decision to make. "If Missy Franklin wants to go to school, bravo for her, and nobody who doesn't live inside her heart and mind should criticize it," said sports agent Leigh Steinberg, who has worked with athletes ranging from Olympians Brian Boitano and Kerri Strug to pros Troy Aikman and Steve Young.

What path do you think Franklin will follow? If you shared her situation, what would your choice be and why?

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