Editor’s Note: The final part of the five-part series looks at how NFL teams and the universities are encouraging athletes to go back to school.
Like so many other college juniors, fullback William Floyd saw an opening and bolted to the NFL. But Floyd, who in successive years played for Florida State’s national championship team and San Francisco’s Super Bowl champs, also typifies a new breed of professional player: He’s trying to finish his degree.
“Actually, that degree means the most because football will be over in a minute,” said Floyd, a first-round pick by the 49ers and one of the NFL’s top fullbacks as a rookie last season. “It might take me longer than I first expected, but I feel it’s something that needs to be done by every athlete who comes out of school (early).”
Instead of giving up once a player turns pro without graduating, schools now try to lure their former stars back to class while they’re in the NFL. The league also has its own program to help players continue their studies.
Floyd’s mother, Sylvia, and his former academic advisers at Florida State pester him regularly about completing his degree in criminology.
“It’s kind of hard to tell a 20-year-old kid who is making a million dollars that he needs to come back and get his education,” said Roger Grooters, who oversees the academic support program for athletes at Florida State.
Floyd, for instance, received $1.25 million in signing bonus, salary and playoff earnings in his first season.
To finish his degree, he needs to complete an internship and six hours of class work. He worked on the internship this spring with a Tallahassee attorney and plans to finish it after the 1995 season.
“I know a little bit better now how to better prepare my schedule,” said Floyd, who was sidetracked by offseason appearances following the 49ers’ Super Bowl victory. “My life has changed and I’m still in the process of adjusting to that.”
It’s commonplace today for star players to leave college early for the NFL.
“I can’t compete with money being dangled in front of them,” said Anna Price, academic adviser at the University of Miami. “The pressure is tremendous.”
From Florida State’s 1990 recruiting class of 21 players, three left early for the NFL: Floyd, Corey Sawyer and Marvin Jones, who was a first-round pick as a junior in 1993 and received a $3.25 million signing bonus as part of his $7 million deal. None has graduated.
“If a kid has a chance to secure himself financially for the rest of his life, then it’s acceptable,” said Grooters. “What we’re fighting against is the kid who is leaving without the security of making it. There are still a lot of kids with a lot of false hope.”
In the past, academic support programs at universities such as Florida State focused simply on tutoring student athletes to keep them eligible to play. Now, academic support programs involve counseling, career development and planning.
The NFL also is trying to help. Under a program started in 1991, players can study at 35 colleges and universities in the 29 metro areas with NFL teams. Credits earned at those schools are transferred to a player’s original school.
Ernie Turner, a running back for the Dallas Texans in the old American Football League, now has a doctorate in education and supervises a program for the New York Jets to steer players toward degrees.
Turner received his bachelor’s degree at age 48.
“I was that dumb athlete once,” he said. “A lot of people helped me… . My background is similar to many of the athletes. I think that’s why they trust me.”
Many of the Jets players, including Marvin Jones, are going back to school under Turner’s guidance and enrolling in degree programs at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., or at Fordham University.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.