Cardale Jones: The Financial Education Of A Football Star

On January 12, sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a commanding national title win against Oregon. And just months before, Jones had contemplated a transfer to another school, in fear that he’d forever remain a third-stringer behind two Heisman Trophy candidates. But after a succession of injuries to the star players, Jones took the field as the starter for the final few games of the team’s dramatic season. In those few games, Jones went from third-string sophomore to folk hero, national champion, and NFL prospect.

Then, just three days after winning the title, Jones addressed the media in a press conference at his alma mater, Ginn Academy. In the run-up and aftermath of the final game, pundits and peers debated whether Jones would forgo his education as his value as an NFL draft pick skyrocketed. Many suggested he would have a strong chance of either a first- or second-round NFL draft selection. Meanwhile, Jones would still have to compete for the starting spot in Ohio next year, despite having just won the national championship. The security of an NFL contract seemed too alluring for a young athlete to pass up.

But at the podium in his childhood school gym, Jones did not waver in his decision: “Being a first-round draft pick means nothing to me without my education,” he said. “After I’m done with football, I still have my whole life to live.” Without hesitation, Jones declared he would enter the draft after graduation so that he could finish school and pursue a degree in financial planning.

After a 2012 tweet disparaging the need for education among student athletes, Jones has clearly learned how to keep the dream of professional athletics in perspective. His drastic attitude shift reflects immense maturity and an ability to suppress ego for the sake of solidifying a future. But in accepting early entry into the NFL as a quarterback, Jones would have accepted newfound fame and adulation, along with a sum of money most people don’t earn in a lifetime. So why bother finishing an education if you’re set for life?

Despite the glamor and fortune NFL careers often seem to offer, many athletes have perpetuated a tale of ultimate financial ruin. Some of the league’s most elite players— Warren Sapp, Vince Young, Lawrence Taylor, Terrell Owens— famously squandered everything they earned. Indeed, 78% of former NFL players two years out of the league have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress, according Sports Illustrated. It’s not that NFL stars are worse financial decision makers than average Americans, but players are unique in that they must manage such a sudden crescendo of cash.

It’s why we so often see lottery winners penniless not long after major windfalls. The quick cash, combined with a culture of excessive spending and one-upmanship, often set players on a track toward spectacular collapse.

It’s difficult for an athlete to realize he’s living beyond his means during a career. Checks from teams or endorsement deals easily cover the multiple mortgages and car payments. But NFL careers are short—just 3.5 years on average—and they often come to an abrupt end. The checks stop coming in, yet cash keeps flowing out. Overspending, bad investments, and loans to family members quickly deplete millions.

Anyone that’s experienced such humble beginnings as Cardale Jones would certainly struggle to defer sudden wealth and stardom. Beyond the maturity in his decision to complete his education, his particular career choice bodes well for someone starting a life in professional sports. After school, he will have gained the necessary knowledge to avoid the struggle that many ex-players often face. If Jones remains as wise as he’s shown in his decisions thus far, he could excel as both an athlete and a planner.

Jones might soon capably educate his peers in the importance of long-term financial planning. He might remind them of the inherent value in securing their wealth sooner rather than later. He might help them realize that without education, football might provide the only source of income for 60 years or more after their last game. He’ll show them how to budget, invest for the long-term, and even manage the worldly temptations of spending. He’ll steer them away from selfish advisors that exploit naïve young players. And in the meantime, he will have secured his own permanent financial independence. After all, when football ends, he’ll still have a whole life to live.


  • Fowler, Jeremy. “Cardale Jones Staying at Ohio St.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, Jan. 16, 2015.
  • Torre, Pablo S. “How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke.” Sports Illustrated, Mar. 23, 2009.

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