Kevin Boothe and Isaiah Stanback are preparing for their futures by stepping back into their past.
Boothe, an offensive lineman who started the final 10 games in the Giants' 2011 championship season, and Stanback, a practice squad wide receiver last year who is now on the roster, have been regular participants in the Giants' offseason conditioning program. But after completing their weight and cardio work, the two players retreat into the world of academia, which they thought they had permanently departed after graduating from college.
Boothe and Stanback are enrolled in a specialized executive MBA program administered by George Washington University.
"It's catered mostly toward NFL players right now," Boothe said recently. "By that I mean it's scheduled around our offseason. Our class is predominantly active and former NFL players. A few of them have brought their spouses along. There's also some other executives – music producers, music video producers and a couple of other professionals."
The program is divided into six two-week segments – officially called "modules" over a two-year period that will end in June 2013. Boothe and Stanback spent two weeks at GW soon after Super Bowl XLVI and recently finished two weeks at Columbia University in New York. They will conclude this year's requirements with two weeks at UCLA at the end of June. Next year, they will repeat the cycles, but take different classes.
Thus far, they've taken courses in accounting, critical business perspectives, organizational leadership, business ethics, microeconomics, entrepreneurship and marketing. The course load at UCLA will include managerial accounting.
"Some classes I like, some classes I don't," Stanback said. "It's just like anything else, but you have to get through it. I have a creative mind, so the entrepreneurship class and the marketing and advertising are some things that I've always been interested in. Those things were fun to me. Then you get to the microeconomics and the accounting – not so fun for me, but it's good information to know, obviously."
"It's a good program," said Boothe, a Cornell alumnus. "Aside from the 12 weeks in-class, in between we also have a lot of online work and things that we do off-site."
So last week, as several teammates and coaches ate lunch in the dining room in the Timex Performance Center, Boothe and Stanback commandeered a table so they could work on their microeconomics final. They could have easily passed for college students cramming in a dining hall before exams.
"I think a lot of guys get a kick out of it, seeing us in there doing homework," Boothe said. "I'm sure I'll get a lot of remarks about it - 'Ivy league guy, still in school.' It's fun. I'll just look at it as a great opportunity. I think it's something that it's too good to pass up. I just need to take advantage of it now and hopefully it will pay off in the long run.
"It definitely makes it easier having a teammate in the program, especially when there are a lot of group projects and things to do outside the classroom. It's easier to talk with somebody that's familiar with it and be able to see them in person and to go over some of the things."
Some of the other players in the program are EJ Henderson, Rocky McIntosh, Marcus Stroud, Antwaan Randle El and recently retired players like Duane Starks, Samari Rolle, Lance Johnstone and Jonas Jennings.
Boothe, who was a hotel management major at Cornell, and Stanback, an American ethics studies major at Washington, thought they had taken their last academic test.
"I never really cared for school, but all of the excuses that you would have come up with not to be in this program, they took those away," Stanback said. "So you're sitting there looking at yourself, like 'What reason do I not have to get it?' If you look at the numbers straight up, people's salaries with an undergraduate degree and then look at people's salaries with MBA degrees, that alone is enough to make you want to go back and get it if you have the opportunity to.
"The NFL makes you realize a lot of things. I'm going on my sixth year in the league now. Luckily, I passed that three-year mark. Most people are in and out. But I've been through a lot of rough times since I've been in the league, so I know how quickly it can be over and how soon that salary can stop. So I'm doing everything I can do to make sure I continue getting a (good) salary."
Stanback and Boothe have more than just school and football to talk about. Stanback's daughter, Nadia, was born on March 21, two days before the birth of Boothe's daughter, Bria. Boothe also has a young son, Dante. The man who ended the season as the Giants' starting left guard clearly has a lot going on in his life. But he's enjoying his return to school.
"When I graduated from Cornell I thought was 100 percent sure that I would never go back into a classroom," Boothe said. "But I guess it was 99.9 percent sure. It was a little challenging at first, but I think it makes it easier that there's about a group of 45 of us that are going through the same thing. It's always easier to go back into a classroom when there are other people going through the same feelings and the same emotions. It definitely makes the whole process a little bit easier.
"It's a unique experience. You're not taking regular classes. These, obviously, are business-related classes. It's a little bit untraditional in terms of undergrad work. Meaning now we have a lot of guest speakers and case studies and things like that. It keeps it lively and keeps it interesting, keeps the discussions meaningful. The whole process so far has been amazing."
The executive MBA program was the brainchild of Doug Guthrie, a Dean and a Professor of Management and International Business at George Washington. Guthrie said he worked closely with two colleagues, Scott Osman and Michael Lythcott, who agreed that the MBA program and NFL players would mesh well.
"We actually developed it before I came to (G.W.)," Guthrie said. "Once I became dean I have a lot more latitude to make the kinds of decisions and I sort of took the same approach, which was to say we're not trying to build programs that are generalized executive MBA programs. We're trying to pick occupational niches of people who are powerful members of society and market to them."
"There was all of this press about how many people are bankrupt within five years (after their careers ended). We started doing some research on it and realizing just how powerful of a group this was. There is sort of this mentality out there that these people are just squandering or that they are not educated enough, but the more that we talked to people the more we thought there's a tremendous number of highly educated people and highly motivated and highly disciplined people, but they're just lacking the business skills to help them make the transition. I became convinced that it was a great idea."
He pitched the idea of the program over lunch to Joel Segal, a George Washington alumnus who is the agent for numerous NFL players – including Boothe, who quickly agreed to give it a try.
"I'm pretty proud of this one," Guthrie said of the program. "There were people telling us, 'This is risky.' People even say things like, 'Are you diluting your academic brand?' And I have very little patience for that stuff. If you talk and sit with these players, you'll see. I've talked with Kevin a lot. I would love to have this guy in any program. When you hear that you know that people are just following stereotypes. For us, we believed in it. We believed in this passionately and we believe in it not just as a sports program or a way of chasing a new market, but really as a way of helping a very disciplined and motivated, but also a group of people who can really make a difference in the world if they figure out how to harness their resources. We really view it as a powerful leadership type of program. This is the kind of what I wanted to be a dean to do. I'm very excited about it."
Boothe and Stanback are convinced they're building a stronger foundation for their post-football future. Exactly what that will lead to … well, they're not certain about that.
"I'm pretty much open to anything right now," Boothe said. "I think there's nothing really pulling me one way or the other. I look at this as a great opportunity to maybe see some things that I wasn't necessarily thinking about that could be a potential career for me after football is over."
"Hopefully, when the program ends I'll know at least what direction I want to go," Stanback said. "I'm taking full advantage of the people that we've met and I plan on going and following up with a lot of the people from these organizations and businesses. Maybe shadow them a little bit and figure out what I want to do. I want it to be a smooth transition. I know so many guys that are playing ball and once their career ends, they're sitting at home and they don't know what to do, because our lives have been so structured. Everything's been so straight. You went from high school straight into college and straight into the NFL. Then it's like you have no job experience and you're sitting there in the world and you don't know what to do. That's pretty much what it's been. I'm trying not to be one of the statistics."
Boothe and Stanback believe their participation in the executive MBA program will help them find challenging and rewarding work after they've played their last football game.
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