Last week I was sitting down in my office eating lunch with a couple of colleagues. This one particular colleague of mine is a beast of a human being. He is 6’5” and 280 lbs. He played college football and also spent a couple of years in the Canadian Football League. We were talking about the Oakland Raiders current coaching situation as the legendary Al Davis and his crew begin to make their off-season adjustments. He said to me, “Do you know what NFL stands for?” I was trying to think of some kind of smart remark, but did not have anything for him. He said, “NFL stands for Not For Long.” I chuckled and said, “Yeah, I know” as I thought back to a recent blog entry in which I noted that the average career of an NFL player was 3.5 years.

3.5 Years? That’s like a blip on the radar. That is nothing. College lasts for 4 years. We are over 5 years old by the time that we enter Kindergarten. 1,277 Days. This is nothing. I played Minor League Professional Hockey for 2 years and when I use the word “career”, I feel like I am lying to myself and everyone that I tell it to.

The crazy thing about this 3.5 year period is that there is such a propensity for an athlete to live a lifestyle that can only be supported by the paycheck of major league sports, even though this paycheck will only last for a few years.

 Take a moment to ponder the following statistics;

  • By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.
  • Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.
  • Numerous retired MLB players have been similarly ruined, and the current economic crisis is taking a toll on some active players as well. Recently, 10 current and former big leaguers—including outfielders Johnny Damon of the Yankees and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox and pitchers Mike Pelfrey of the Mets and Scott Eyre of the Phillies—discovered that at least some of their money is tied up in the $8 billion fraud allegedly perpetrated by Texas financier Robert Allen Stanford. Pelfrey told the New York Post that 99% of his fortune is frozen. Eyre admitted that he was broke, and the team quickly agreed to advance a portion of his $2 million salary.

Stats like this are the reason why it is a good idea to finish college. If you are good enough to pick up a large signing bonus by leaving college early or coming straight out of high school, establish a budget and investment team and plan for the long run. By all means, go out and chase your dreams, but always have a backup plan.