What happens when the passes stop coming and the crowds stop cheering? For ex-NFL players who are figuring out what to do after their playing careers are over, finance seems to be an alluring choice.
Just ask Bryce Fisher. He spent seven years in the NFL, from 2001 to 2008, playing for Buffalo, St. Louis, Seattle and Tennessee. After his year playing for the Tennessee Titans, he knew his playing days were soon over. So he enrolled in the NFL Business and Management and Entrepreneurial Program.
For a few days every year, Harvard Business School and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania welcome around 80 current and former NFL players to their ivied buildings to learn about business, real estate and entrepreneurship.
Initially, the program started as a way to prevent players from making bad business decisions.
"There were a number of players who would be contacted about business opportunities," said Chris Henry, director of NFL player development. "We wanted an opportunity to educate players about the complexities about going into business so they could make better financial decisions."
But the program has also spurred players' interest in the finance industry. Over 500 have participated in the program since 2005, its inaugural year, and several of the graduates have used the program as an entrée into finance.
Before he attended the NFL program at Wharton, Bryce Fisher was already working in Seattle as a regional asset manager for Baltimore-based commercial real estate firm AGM, Inc. While he continues to work at AGM, the program made him realize his true goal: obtaining an M.B.A.
"If I really want to be the best, I needed to get an M.B.A.," Fisher said. "That's how I ended up at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business."
Several other players have also graduated from the program and gone on to become MBA candidates: Current Minnesota Vikings tight end Jeff Dugan enrolled at Northwestern's Kellog School of Business in 2009; former New York Giants fullback Greg Comella enrolled at Harvard Business School in 2007; former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Rich Scanlon enrolled at the Wharton School of Business in 2009; and former Denver Broncos lineman Lennie Friedman headed to Duke's Fuqua School of Business last year.
Fisher will graduate from Booth in 2011 and is currently interning at McNally Capital, a Chicago-based private equity firm. He also has a summer internship lined up in leveraged finance at Bank of America.
"Football teaches you how to process a lot of information quickly," he said. "We memorized a new playbook every week as we prepared for opposing offense and defense. We learned to put all the noise out of the way. That's what I'm doing now. Raising my family, interning with a private equity firm, going to grad school. I can juggle all of those things."
Juggle, indeed. Fisher also serves as a reservist in the United States Air Force (he graduated from the Academy in 1999 and spent a few years in active duty before his NFL career).
Lance Legree has a similar story. Legree played for the Giants, Jets and 49ers in his six-year career. He attended the NFL program at Harvard in 2005.
"I took several corporate finance courses, and a lot of it sounded like Chinese, but it gave me an idea of how much work was needed to be in that field," Legree said.
In the off-season, he interned with Wachovia Securities in the wealth management division. After he stopped playing football, he was able to move to a full-time position at Wachovia in New York. His group ultimately moved to Morgan Stanley. Then, the NFL called and he joined as a manager for player development, creating financial curricula for current NFL players.
According to Harvard professor Carl Kester, an Amherst College football alumnus himself, the building blocks for success in football and in finance are the same.
"I don't want to overstate this," he said, "But many of these players have the raw ingredients that go into being good business leaders. They're very competitive people who aren't afraid to take risks."
And if the risks don't pan out, going back to football is an option. Ben Steele, who was playing for Houston when he went to the Harvard through the program in 2007, enjoyed the case studies and real estate education the school offered. After he retired from football, he got his real estate license and joined a Colorado office of Coldwell Banker, a commercial real estate broker.
The financial crisis slowed the real estate boom, however, and Steele quit in the beginning of 2009. Where can you find him now?
Coaching football. He's now the "Coach's intern" at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he hopes to take over as head coach one day.
"I liked real estate, but I love football, and I wanted to get back in the game," he said.
Write to Julie Steinberg
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