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More Than Football

16 college players received realistic advice on what to expect from a career in the NFL

NFL team executives Ron Brewer of the Browns (left) and Arthur Hightower of the Chargers talk to the college players about the importance of life skills for the future. Jessica ramberg / NCAA

While it’s true that most college athletes will go pro in something other than sports, what about those who are talented enough to realize their dreams of playing professionally?

The Elite Student-Athlete Symposium, a new program created by the NCAA national office leadership development staff in collaboration with the enforcement staff, addressed this issue for players who could be selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

This is the first full year of the elite student-athlete programming, which kicked off in September with an event focused on college basketball players who could be high picks in the 2017 NBA Draft this summer.

In both symposiums, the players are taught effective ways to navigate the next 12 months of their lives as student-athletes.

“When I was on campus at Georgia Tech, I saw a need for education that helped the college athletes prepare to play professionally,” says Nicole Jameson, who has worked two years at the national office as a coordinator in leadership development. “The symposium we created is geared to give student-athletes realistic expectations of the life as a pro athlete and the planning necessary to inform their decisions when preparing for that next step in their lives.”

On March 3-5, 16 participants, accompanied by administrators from their respective campuses, attended the inaugural football event in Indianapolis. Players representing Alabama, Boston College, Clemson, Florida, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, SMU, Texas, Wyoming and UCLA heard about scenarios they could face in the upcoming months and in the future.

They received advice on:

  • The proper way to select an agent.
  • The importance of staying in good academic standing over the next year.
  • Financial awareness, such as the amount of taxes that are taken out of professional athletes’ paychecks and the importance of doing due diligence on potential investments.
  • The do’s and don’ts of social media use.
  • How NFL teams can investigate different aspects of their lives during the draft process, including talking to secretaries and janitors at their schools.

The participants also heard firsthand accounts on numerous topics from former NFL players, including Oliver Luck, the NCAA’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs.

“When you do programming like this, a lot of times you can look in young people’s eyes, and it is like they are ready to go to lunch or take a nap,” says DD Hoggard, the director of student-athlete welfare at North Carolina State. “But here you can look at these guys and there is interaction.”

One of the former players brought in to speak to the group was Marcus Spears, who was selected in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys after a stellar career as a defensive end at LSU. Spears, a nine-year lineman with Dallas and the Baltimore Ravens, told the players how he and his family decided that he wouldn’t spend any of his NFL salary on them until he signed a second contract after his rookie contract expired. This way he saved money in case his career ended abruptly.

Representatives from the NFL Players Association also were on hand, explaining that most NFL careers are brief, with players averaging 3.1 seasons in the league. Some 300 new players take the place of veteran players every NFL season.

Spears, who is currently a TV analyst on the SEC Network, stressed the importance of preparing for life after football. He was a communications major at LSU and used that education to land his current position on ESPN’s family of networks.

During his days with the Cowboys, Spears said his teammates would tease him about his propensity to do interviews when the media entered the locker room. Now, he says, many of those same former teammates are calling him to see how they, too, can become football analysts on television.

One resounding theme the participants of the symposium heard was the need to learn to say no. Eddie Kennison, who played 13 years in the NFL with five different teams, told the players about his wasteful spending habits early in his career. Kennison, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 1996, said he spent around $450,000 in a four-month period after his rookie year. It mainly went for trips that included first-class tickets and the best hotel suites for him and 10 friends.

Eventually, Kennison met his future wife, and she convinced him that he was headed for financial ruin if he didn’t change his spending habits. He said when he broke the news to his traveling buddies, his circle of friends shrank. The college athletes were told that more than 70 percent of NFL players’ marriages end in divorce after their careers are over, and financial issues play a major role in those failed unions.

“You have to remember that we are talking to individuals who are three or four years removed from high school,” says Chris Howard, the NCAA enforcement group’s director of football development. “But instead of them getting a job where they are earning $30,000 to $40,000, these guys are coming out of college with a chance to make generational money. This was about trying to help them prepare by bringing back subject matter experts who have gone through the process and who are willing to share their journey.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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