If you know Cleveland Browns rookie free agent Andrew Sweat, please send him this post. Tell him to drop me a line. Let me help this man avoid making what could be the biggest mistake of his life.
Sweat, a linebacker for the Ohio State Buckeyes, went undrafted in last month’s NFL draft. He later signed as a rookie free agent with the Browns. Now, instead of attending camp and trying to make the team, Sweat has decided to give up on his NFL career and attend law school instead.
Not even a very highly ranked law school. More like the Cleveland Browns of law schools.
I can’t know if Sweat’s decision is being partially motivated by all the media attention focused on the long-term health consequences of playing in the NFL. But I’d bet all the money in my pocket that Sweat has not been paying attention to the media coverage of the long-term professional and financial damage that can be done by going to law school…
Ironically, Andrew Sweat didn’t get into Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law. The schools he did get into are decent enough, but they’re not at the top of the heap. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Sweat got into law school at Pittsburgh, Duquesne, West Virginia, Florida and the University of Miami.
So, Sweat could go to one of those law schools, OR he could show up at training camp with the Browns and try to win a spot on the team. As an undrafted free agent, the odds are stacked against Sweat having a long and successful NFL career. He might not make the team. And he’ll have to put his body at risk. There’s been a lot of talk about the long-term health effects of concussions in the NFL. And Sweat suffered a concussion during his senior year at Ohio State.
Against the long odds and the physical danger that playing for the NFL involves, you can see how a person might think law school was the safe and smart option. Of course, that person would be absolutely wrong and horribly uniformed about the value of a legal education.
If Andrew Sweat shows up to training camp, he has a shot at earning the NFL minimum of $390,000 for rookies. There are about 90 players in an NFL training camp for 53 spots. If we pretend that all 90 are rookies and that all rookies have an equal shot at making the rookie minimum, that would still give Sweat about $230K of expected value ($229,667, assuming also that he makes $0 if he doesn’t make the team). Obviously, not all rookies have the same chance to make the team, but still. The point is that Sweat has a chance to make a not-insignificant amount of money this fall if he shows up to training camp.
Compare that to all the money he will not make this fall, or next fall, or the fall after that if he goes to law school. And then, when he gets out — in 2015 from something like West freaking Virgina Law School — he’s got what kind of chance to make $160K (or whatever the top starting associate salary is in 2015)? Seriously, you think that with those schools he’s got a much better chance at earning a high salary at a major law firm than he does of making an NFL team? And even if he does make the top starting salary, he’ll still be earning less than half in three years of what he could be earning right now if he makes the team.
You can’t make the case economically. Let me say that again, because non-lawyers and especially non-lawyer parents don’t seem to always understand this: if you are a kid with an outside chance to make an NFL football team, it’s a much better short-term economic strategy to do everything you can to be the 53rd scrub on an NFL team than to go to a top-50 law school. BY FAR.
And it’s not like law school is going anywhere! Andrew Sweat can have his cake and eat it too. He can take the short-term potential upside of trying to have an NFL career, and then go to law school when he’s done. Hell, he might even do better on the LSAT, since he evidently took the test while trying to play Big Ten football and suffering from concussions.
Oh, yes, there’s the chance that he could get a concussion. I’m sure that somebody close to Sweat has misguided this kid into thinking that his brain might get irrevocably scrambled during even a brief NFL career, and he’ll somehow be too stupid to go to law school afterwards. But if he doesn’t think law school will screw with his brain too, then he clearly hasn’t spent enough time talking to lawyers.
Maybe playing in the NFL would take an incredible toll on his body, but this is the only time in his life, forever, that he’ll get a chance to try to make that career happen for himself and reap the considerable economic rewards that come from being a player in the NFL. Going to law school and becoming a lawyer will take an incredible toll on his personality and psyche, and it’s a journey that can be started at any time. He could break his neck and become a paraplegic and still go to law school. But it’s very likely that even one year of sitting in a classroom listening to somebody drone on about torts and civil procedure will kill his football career.
We can measure how stupid of an economic decision it is to go to law school instead of training camp. But the opportunity cost of going to law school this fall when the NFL is still calling can’t properly be accounted for.
Can somebody please tell this guy that all the people who are telling him that going to law school is the “smart” choice are horribly irrational and economically uniformed? He doesn’t have to go out like this.