Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Exercise and Sport Science

First Advisor

Joel Cormier

Department Affiliation

Exercise and Sport Science

Second Advisor

Heather R. Adams-Blair

Department Affiliation

Exercise and Sport Science

Third Advisor

Aaron D. Sciascia

Department Affiliation

Exercise and Sport Science


Introduction: Several studies have predicted the odds ratio of becoming an elite or professional player based on an athlete’s hometown. The research is evident that a player from a smaller town has better odds of making it to the elite level of sport compared to a player from a large urban city. Where an athlete is raised is important in understanding how they were introduced to football and how they developed their skills. Using the United States Census Bureau and Office of Management and Budget definition and city breakdowns for this study, small-towns are defined as an area with a population of 50,000 or less. The purpose of this study was to find what percentage of NFL players play and are from a small-town. By asking four questions: (a) How many NFL players are from a small-town (population of 50,000 or less), (b) Do small-town players play specific positions, (c) Do certain teams sign more small-town players than others, and (d) How many small-town players start? Methods: A total of 2,103 NFL players from the 2018 rosters of 32 teams were analyzed. Data was collected from Pro Football Reference and Variables gathered were: team, conference, starting status, position, hometown, university, university division and subdivision. The population of each players hometown was collected from the U.S. Census Bureau. Descriptive statistics were calculated for all the variables and 2 x 2 contingency tables were constructed for each comparison. A binary logistic regression was utilized to calculate odds ratios for city size and starting status in the NFL i.e. starter versus non-starter. Results: A large group of the 2018 NFL players were from a small-town; 38.14% of the players were from a town of less than 50,000 people. Small-town players were not found to play any specific positions, rather they played all positions. The Kansas City Chiefs had the highest number of small-town players on their team at exactly 50%. The average amount of small-town players on each team was 36.05%. Small-town players were found to be 25% more likely to start than players from populations greater than 50,000 (p=0.02, 95% C.I. = 0.661, 0.966). Conclusion: This study found that not only do small-town players make up 38.14% of the total NFL players and play all positions but they also have a 25% greater chance of starting and playing. A strong support system, informal sport structure, and the “big fish in a little pond” effect are thought to be the reason for small-town athletes to have strong work ethic, commitment, and enjoyment for the sport.