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At The U, An MBA For The NFL

Kenny Malone

Grad student Torrey Smith didn’t really drink coffee before he started his master's in business administration at the University of Miami.

“Now I’ve had to try it a few times and step outside of my box because these long hours catch up to you,” the 26-year-old Smith says.

It’s not like Smith isn’t used to a high-stakes, rigorous schedule. He’s won a Super Bowl, caught 30 touchdown passes and just signed a $40 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers.

Smith is one of 43 students in the inaugural class of the University of Miami’s Executive MBA for Professional Artists and Athletes. A definite emphasis on “athletes” here -- specifically athletes from the National Football League.

During a recent marketing lecture, Smith sat in the back row. One row in front of him, looking over a laptop, was wide receiver Santana Moss. Farther down the row, the Miami Dolphin’s 310-pound offensive lineman, Jason Fox, took notes by hand. Dolphins punter Brandon Fields sat in the front row, wearing flip flops.

Technically, other athletes are welcome, but of the 43 people in this class, all but three are playing or have played in the NFL.

“Everyone knows that NFL stands for ‘Not For Long,’” says Torrey Smith.

Smith just finished his fourth season in the NFL and says that is a longer than the average career.

He and his wife, Chanel, are both at Miami getting MBAs. They have a foundation that works with kids in the Baltimore area. Chanel says she and her husband want to be more involved with the business side of the foundation.

“We’ve been learning,” says Chanel Smith, “especially in accounting we’re like: 'Oh, that’s what that balance sheet meant.' Because before they would just send us all the financial stuff, and we’re looking like, ‘You know, we do not know how to read this.’”

“I understood the basics: What’s coming in, what’s going out.” says Torrey Smith. “But actually going through it during this time period and with them teaching us, it’s helped us.”

The U's NFL MBA Market

This first class has 20 current and 20 former NFL players -- $375 million in active contracts, according to UM. Two spouses and the owner of a sports and artist management firm are also in the class.

The 18-month program is scheduled around the NFL season. It has the same core curriculum as any other UM MBA program, but includes specialized classes to help players develop their brand.

“We thought that was the best market for us to start with for a variety of reasons,” says Gene Anderson, Dean of UM’s School of Business Administration.

Anderson says the world of MBA programs is crowded and that a lot of schools are trying out niche programs: An MBA with an emphasis on sustainability, for example. Or healthcare. Or a program targeted at professional football players.

“In part, it was a really attractive market for us because so many of the NFL players already have undergraduate degrees,” Anderson says.

The New York Times reported, in 2009, that half of all NFL players graduated from college, compared to 21 percent in the NBA. It’s about four percent in Major League Baseball, according to Fox Sports.

That has a lot to do with each league’s drafting rules. Baseball will take athletes straight out of high school; The NBA makes athletes wait one year after graduating; The NFL makes players wait three years, a lot more time to go to college.

More Money, More Problems

The NFL graduation statistics, though, seemed to make fewer headlines than a stat Sports Illustrated reported that same year -- that 78 percent of NFL players wind up in financial trouble after they’ve been retired for two years.

Wide receiver Santana Moss went to Miami Carol City Senior High School, was a superstar at the University of Miami and was a first round draft pick by the New York Jets in 2001. He says, over his 14-year career, he can’t even remember all the times people approached him with seemingly good business opportunities.

“I’m lucky,” Moss says, “to have went through some of those things and now I’m looking forward to the future when I have my nephews and my sons... whatever they do in the future financially, I’m able to recognize some of the pitfalls that they might fall into.”

Plus, Moss says, if he’s ever up for a coaching job or whatever comes next, he hopes this graduate degree will give him an edge. That’s assuming the 69 NFL touchdowns, a Pro Bowl and a spot in the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame isn’t good enough.