Percentage of collegiate level football players who reach the NFL: 1.6 %
Percentage of collegiate level football players who think they will reach the NFL: 52%
A bit of a disparity, I think. Now, to be fair, two things can be said about this. First, the football players are only a symbol of a greater disparity across all collegiate sports; men's and women's basketball, baseball, hockey, even men's soccer. Baseball is the only one of those sports where more than two percent of athletes (9.4% to be exact) are drafted to the next level. Which is no surprise, considering there are six levels of minor leagues and fifty rounds of drafting every year. And yet, the lowest polled sport was women's basketball, where fully 44% believe they will reach the next level of play.
Second, football players aren't even the worst - fully seventy-five percent of men's basketball players across all three NCAA divisions believe they will make it to the NBA. At first blush, you can't help but shake your head at such abberant thinking - surely these kids see that the odds are against them and understand accordingly?
About halfway through his football career at the University of California at Los Angeles, Ramogi Huma, founder of the National College Players Association, said a coach told him during an off-season meeting that he "was an NFL guy with real potential." The coach's comment was a surprise to the undersized linebacker. "I was going to make sure I got my degree, and I really didn’t think the NFL was much of a possibility for me," he said. "But then it got into my head that maybe it actually was."
So there's part of it. It isn't just talent that gets you to the top, it's the people who coach you getting the absolute most out of you and getting you performing at your peak by modifying your perspective of what you are capable of. If you made it into college football, you are already in roughly the 94th percentile of athletes your age in your sport. If you've beaten those kinds of odds for that much of your playing career, and everyone around you has you convinced that it's no surprise, why shouldn't you believe that it can happen one more time?
It's also just youthful confidence though, I think. Young men and women will be who they are, and who they are (namely elite athletes) are people who have gotten where they are by defying and/or ignoring criticism, so why stop now? You don't really know that you're wrong until you hit that wall, so might as well keep running, right?
The problem becomes, of course, that in order to get as far as they do, and in order to have any chance of reaching the next level, a lot of players tend to become rather myopically focused on athletics - case in point:
Cardale has certainly grown a lot since then, but that kind of perspective is more common than you might think. That 52 percent versus 1.6 percent gap is mostly an issue due to that remaining 50.4 percent of players, many of whom give no energy towards building some sort of career skill outside of playing football despite the massively slim chances of that one elite skill taking them to the top. Those young men, of course, wind up stuck behind the eight ball until they either go back to giving full attention to finishing a degree and developing career skills or just give up.
The NCAA has talked about the disparity in perspective and how to address it, but there's only so much you can do when you are dealing with young men and women, whose sole goal in life is to prove the fact that they are not "just a statistic" and that they're going to make it no matter what you think? How do you get them to realize that the small fraction of players who make the next level, and therefore the odds of them making it don't change, no matter their opinion of those odds?