Feb. 28, 2006--More than 100 current and former football players traded the gridiron for the classroom yesterday, as the NFL and NFL Player's Association kicked off an expanded version of their Business Management and Entrepreneurial Training Program at four of the nation's top business schools.

Players began the first of two three-day programs at Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, both which will hold follow-up sessions starting April 3. Other players will begin the first session of classes at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and the Stanford Graduate School of Business on March 6. Last year's inaugural program featured 66 players at Harvard and Wharton.

At Harvard, 35 players, including Chad Lewis of the Philadelphia Eagles, Tank Williams of the Tennessee Titans, and the recently-retired Eddie George, are immersing themselves in the school's case method by focusing on actual financial problems from the business world.

Professors aren't going easy on their new students -- players in Harvard's program will meet each day for breakfast at 7 a.m. and attend a study group at 8 a.m. The rest of the day is filled with small classes on topics such as investing, fiduciary and investment concerns, finance, marketing, and general management. Each day concludes with a group dinner and another battery of case studies as homework for the following day.

While some of the players had a little trouble adjusting the life back in the classroom last year, Carl Kester, chairman of the finance unit at Harvard Business School, said that the group also put forth the type of effort expected from professionals in any field.

"Last year's players really jumped into the pool real fast," Kester said. "The one thing that struck me is how remarkably disciplined these guys are."

At Wharton's program, much like Harvard's, 35 players will spend the majority of their time on and around campus, eating together and living in campus accommodations. Peter Winicov, senior associate director of communications at Wharton, said this makes for a close-knit student body without any trace of their on-field rivalries.

"By no means were they passive students," Winicov of last year's group. "By the end of the week, they seemed like a typical MBA class."

For its part, Harvard's program also tackles the inner businessman. A portion of the program called "Managing Yourself" takes an introspective approach to entrepreneurship by subjecting players to a variety of inward-looking evaluation methods, such as the Myers-Briggs personality test.

In the month-long break between sessions, players attending Harvard's program will be encouraged to prepare business ideas they'd like to discuss and flesh out in the second three-day session. Their business ideas will be subject to "focused feedback sessions" with fellow students and faculty advisers.

Although the entrepreneurial spirit already seems to be alive and well in some NFL players -- Kester recalled Dhani Jones of the Philadelphia Eagles seeking advice about his startup bowtie business -- the Harvard program also trains players to avoid some of the pitfalls of their wealth. Players, Kester said, frequently receive outside business offers.

"While we're training them in business skills, we also want to teach them how to be good investors," Kester said "We try to arm them a little better."

Published on: Feb 27, 2006