Both Brad Butler and Ryan Denney have taken part in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program before. Denney went to the Harvard program last offseason, and Butler has been to both the Harvard and Wharton programs. But they along with Bills quarterback Trent Edwards were three of the 95 NFL players participating again this year.
Denney signed up for the program at the Wharton School at Penn, while Butler and Edwards both signed up for the Stanford Graduate School of Business classes. Both programs ran from March 1-4.
"It was a great experience," said Butler now at his third of four schools in the program. "Every program spends a decent amount of focus on figuring out what you're going to do after your football career. Stanford's program was a little more focused on venture start-ups with a little more entrepreneurial stuff than Wharton or Harvard."
For Edwards it was his first time participating in the league program.
"Attending the Stanford business development program really opened my eyes to my career after football," said Edwards. "A variety of different speakers from a variety of different backgrounds addressed our group passing along many valuable pieces of advice. Too often I am caught up so much with the game of football that I never take to the time to consider my off the field goals. This program gave me the chance to do that and as well as return to my alma mater."
With only four days to provide the players with a plethora of information about the inner workings of the business world, it's a full-on cram session.
"Obviously they offer quite a bit of information to you while you're there," said Denney, who is thinking about getting his Masters degree in business after football. "Each class is dedicated to a specific topic, whether it be real estate, negotiation, business law. Throughout the four days you're able to ask questions and receive feedback from the instructors. It's a lot of information to try to take in."
But the programs are more than just a lecture series.
"At Stanford they do a great deal of case studies," said Butler. "So we would usually have study groups that would meet for a couple of hours before we would go into class. We would have these case studies and we would go through the case and there would be a lot of participation. The professor would kind of guide the case study in the class and then chime in to tell us about the overall theme. It's a helpful way to learn."
One particular case study was very interesting as it involved a Pro Football Hall of Famer and his former teammate.
"We covered one where it was about Brent Jones and Steve Young and how they got involved in a fund-of-funds," said Butler. "That's basically a fund that invests in a multitude of hedge funds or a multitude of startups. And they got into this at the end of their careers. So the professor taught on it and then they actually had Steve Young and Brent Jones there to talk about it afterwards. So you would have certain questions, what do you think they did right, what do you think they did wrong and what do you think they should do in the future. After we did that Steve and Brent got up and explained their story and how it all ended up for them."
For Denney there were times where the class would break off into groups as well, but the interaction wasn't exactly easy.
A lot of times we would break off into pairs and try and go through a negotiation with each other for example," said Denney. "That got a little competitive. My first negotiation was Darwin Walker and he was very hard to negotiate with. But we had a strategic gaming class that talked about how to strategize and think ahead. We had computer simulation between small groups of players where you try to out think and out maneuver the opposing groups."
Being a Stanford grad, Edwards naturally felt comfortable on campus and made sure to find time to give Butler a tour working around the program's schedule.
"Trent took me around campus," said Butler. "He took me to the Hoover Institute and he actually took me to watch Stanford's spring practice on Wednesday. He did a good job of showing me around."
What the Bills players ultimately came away with after four days of intense, thought provoking study was that they have a lot of preparation work ahead of them if they have post-football aspirations in the business world.
"I think it's just humbling to go to these things and realize how much you need to learn," said Butler. "We had a professor last year that had done very well in the business world at Wharton and he said, 'It would be arrogant of me to think I could come onto your NFL football team in one day and go out and play cornerback and cover Randy Moss. So it would be arrogant for you guys to think after your football career that you can step into our business world and do it in a day.'"
"They open your eyes up to certain opportunities that are out there," said Denney. "But what they made evident is it does require quite a bit of work and know-how to be successful. So it's not something you can necessarily jump into or go to a course for four days and be prepared. But they certainly gave us a good first step in that direction."