Rawhide Or Pigskin? Dual Threats Like Matt Szczur Face A Decision

  • Wednesday, January 19, 2011 11:10 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon


Back in December, I happened to be at an FCS playoff game between Villanova and Appalachian State, and watched as the Wildcats' Matt Szczur torched the Mountaineers for five touchdowns. It was the kind of performance that certainly would have gotten the attention of any NFL scouts in attendance.

As it turns out, those scouts would have been wasting their time. Szczur, a fast, elusive wide receiver/running back, turned down a chance at the NFL Draft, and has chosen a career in pro baseball. The Cubs' fifth-round pick in 2010 played well in his first minor league season last summer, and Baseball America recently ranked him as the Cubs' seventh-best prospect and their system's fastest baserunner and best athlete. By committing to baseball ahead of the team's Feb. 10 deadline, Szczur gets an extra $500,000 payment but forfeits the chance to play in the upcoming Senior Bowl and get a better sense of his NFL Draft stock.

Szczur's choice is one that is hardly unique. Every year high school kids choose between pro baseball and college football, and college kids choose between pro baseball and the NFL. Occasionally someone will try to do both, and more often, someone will try one, flame out, then go back to the other.

In some cases, the choice is heavily tilted in one direction based on talent. If you're much better at one sport than the other, there's probably not much of a choice to be made.

But what if your talents are roughly equal? Here is a list of the advantages of each of the two choices, as I see it.

-- Immediate gratification: I think this is a huge one. If you choose football out of high school, you've got three or four years of college -- and college football has a much higher profile than minor league baseball -- and then you enter the NFL Draft. If you choose football out of college, you go right to the pros. With baseball, you're looking at a few years riding buses in the minors, except in rare cases of extremely polished college players. And the vast majority of minor league players never make it to The Show.

-- The "Cool Factor": Although I enjoy the NFL and college football, I'm a baseball guy at heart. But that doesn't mean I have my head in the sand and can't see that football clearly has eclipsed baseball as the national sport. The players making these decisions are of a generation that, in general, finds football much more appealing.

-- Fame: A big-market star like Derek Jeter is extremely famous, and a transcendent player like Albert Pujols can haul in his share of endorsements. But in general, I think NFL stars are better known these days despite playing under a helmet and behind a facemask.

-- Career length: Making it to the big leagues is difficult. But once you make it, you're likely to have a longer career than if you made it into the NFL. Recent studies have pegged the average NFL career at about 3.5 years and the average MLB career at about 5.6 years.

-- $$$: While you're playing longer, you'll probably be making more money, too. The NFL has a minimum salary of about $300,000 and an average salary of $770,000. In MLB, the minimum is about $400,000 and the average is better than $3.3 million.

-- Job Security: Once you sign a major league contract, that money is yours, unless you do something extreme and bizarre enough to have it voided. NFL players, on the other hand, are disposable. You get your signing bonus, but if you're cut, the team avoids paying most of the rest of your contract.

-- Post-career quality of life: Obviously, you can get hurt playing baseball. There are a lot of former players walking around with bum knees or arms they can't lift above their shoulder. Even concussions have become more of a known issue in the last year or two. But just as obviously, serious injuries are much more of an issue in a contact sport like football. Guys who play a long time in the NFL, particularly at positions like running back that require frequent collisions, often end up incapacitated at frighteningly young ages. And you don't have to look far to find horror stories involving the repercussions of head injuries.

There might be more factors at play, but I think these are the significant ones. Personally I would make the same choice as Szczur, but what about you?

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