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WVU sports economist crunches numbers behind early draft entry for college athletes

A photograph taken during a WVU football game of players bent down at the line of scrimmage waiting for the ball to be snapped. The WVU players are dressed in white uniforms and the opposing team is Pitt.

Brad Humphreys, a WVU economics professor, has researched factors that may help determine if college athletes should declare early for professional sports drafts. (WVU Photo/Matt Sunday)

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With the 2024 NFL Draft kicking off Thursday (April 25), one West Virginia University economist is offering analysis and insight on a burning question facing every star college athlete: “Should I stay or should I go pro?”

Brad Humphreys, professor and associate dean of academic affairs and research at the WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics, has studied college player decisions to either continue their educations or enter the professional sports landscape.

In a new study, he analyzed early draft entry decisions made by college football underclassmen with remaining eligibility from the 2007-2008 through 2018-2019 seasons.


“There are some interesting features to early entrants in this year’s NFL Draft. Players who declared early increased steadily from under 50 per draft in the early 2000s to over 100 pre-COVID-19. But since 2021, early entrants have declined. There were just 59 this year, the fewest since 2011. This trend probably reflects the new NIL — name, image and likeness — environment in which college athletes can be endorsed or sponsored which makes staying another year more valuable than in the previous era.

“Each additional game played in the season before the draft increases the likelihood that an underclassman declares early by about 3% to 5%, depending on the control group. Greater strength of schedule also affects the early entry decision. Underclassmen who acquire more human capital in the season before the draft are more likely to declare early.

“Our research also shows that team success can play a role in declaring. Each additional win by an underclassmen’s team in the season before the draft increases the likelihood of early entry by 2% to 3%.” — Brad Humphreys, economics professor and associate dean of academic affairs and research, WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics

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