Indiana University Kelley School of Business has a goal: to help current and former Major League Soccer players prepare for a future off of the field.
In a program similar to the school’s eight-year partnership with the NFL Players Association, the B-school is teaming up with the MLS Players Association to provide athletes with an opportunity to earn an MBA. The Kelley School will offer MLS players an entirely online education in a flexible format — meaning current players won’t have to choose between school and athletics because they can build their education around their soccer schedule, and former players will have a unique opportunity to further both their personal and professional skills to thrive in the business world.
“It’s wonderful to see these partnerships made available,” says Glyn Milburn, a 2022 Kelley grad and former NFL running back for the Denver Broncos. “Pro athletes have years of training in discipline, leadership and many of the soft skills necessary to succeed in the corporate world.”
“I’m excited to have a tangible, practical resource to provide players — especially one that’s at the caliber of IU Kelley,” adds Connor Ford, MLSPA’s director of player programs.
HELPING MLS PLAYERS FIND SUCCESS OFF THE FIELD
Ford previously worked at the NFL Players Association, where he witnessed firsthand the impact the partnership had on its players.
After transitioning to a role with the MLSPA, he noticed that its players were increasingly expressing interest about pursuing grad school. Ford realized that a partnership similar to that between NFLPA and IU Kelley would be of benefit. He believes that encouraging MLS players to harness opportunities to develop off of the field ensures that when their career transition eventually comes, they’re better equipped with the necessary skills to make those moves.
Upon reaching out to IU Kelley late spring 2022 about creating a partnership with the MLSPA, the agreement “happened quickly,” according to Richard Magjuka, IU Kelley’s faculty chair of executive degree programs and the Fred G. Steingraber Chair in distributed education. “It’s exciting to think that we now have two major sports leagues associated with our program,” Magjuka says.
The first intake of MLS players will occur in the winter 2022 quarter, beginning in November.
MAXIMIZING TIME FOR ‘OFF-FIELD DEVELOPMENT’
According to Ford, MLS players are beginning to explore “off-field development” earlier on in their athletic careers; since they’re done training each day in the early to mid-afternoon, many have extra time to fill. “A lot of players are looking to maximize that time,” he says.
While some explore grad school early on, others look at opportunities towards the end of their careers when they’re thinking about what they want to do next. “A lot of our players end up in league management,” Ford continues.
“The online MBA helps to make players more qualified candidates and puts the framework around the skills that they develop during their professional athletic careers.”
A DIVERSE STUDENT EXPERIENCE
IU Kelley’s online MBA isn’t only catered to professional athletes; According to Magjuka, the program draws up to 600 people at once — from all different backgrounds. He believes that integrating the players with the rest of the students adds to rich classroom discussion and enhanced learning — and this excites him most about the new partnership. “We treat our players the same way we treat everyone else,” says Magjuka. “We don’t have a customized program for NFL or MLS players, but what we do is provide a flexible format for them to pursue a rigorous, standard MBA online.”
For the MLSPA, the diversity of the student body is of great value. “Kelley doesn’t shy away from exposing players to the rigors of the program,” says Ford. “It’s not designed specifically for athletes. Players are able to network with people from different backgrounds.”
Tim Parker, defender for Houston Dynamo FC, will begin his IU Kelley MBA in spring 2023. The diversity that IU Kelley provides in the classroom was crucial to his choice to enroll in the MBA; upon hearing about the partnership between IU Kelley and the MLSPA, Parker became excited — mostly about the opportunities the program would provide to network with people and help him to determine his direction following his soccer career. “Getting to know new people outside of the soccer world is something that I really enjoy,” says Parker. “I think getting my MBA and opening up different doors will help me. I’m actually looking forward to going back to school and being in the classroom environment again.”