Ohio State football: Crash course on 'real world'

Program focuses players on life after football

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Luke Fedlam had some sobering news during a presentation to Ohio State football players a couple of weeks ago, and it was presented in a pie chart with an NFL logo in the middle of it.

“Some 78 percent of NFL players go broke, or suffer from severe financial difficulties, within two years of leaving the league,” said Fedlam, whose chart represented information gained from the NFL Players Association and Sports Illustrated.

The room was silent.

That’s the impact OSU coach Urban Meyer seeks in programs that he and his staff have named “real life Wednesdays”, in which his players are exposed to all manner of presentations, from business, sports entertainment, legal and other leaders from outside the football program.

It’s a program Meyer started at Florida, he said, after the Gators won their second national championship in three years in 2008. Meyer said Chuck Heater, an assistant coach on that staff, told him, “ ‘You know, Coach, 61 million people watched that game on TV, and coaches get all these raises and (athletic directors) get their raises. But what do the players get?’ ”

Players get a full scholarship, the pledge to push them toward a degree, and training that might help them advance to the NFL, but colleges aren’t obligated to do much more. Meyer believed there was an obligation to help players prepare for the real world once their playing days are over, and he thought an obvious step would be exposure to people with real-world experience and success.

Which circles back to Fedlam. An attorney with the Columbus firm Kegler Brown Hill and Ritter, his expertise is business, and he advises sports and entertainment clients on complex business and personal needs. Before that, he served as a wealth manager for professional athletes, so he knows firsthand the pitfalls players face of having a lot of money and not having a clue what to do with it, or with whom to trust it. He embraced the chance to spread some of that knowledge during an hour-long session with current Buckeyes players.

“The ‘real life Wednesday’ program and all the things they are doing here at Ohio State … goes above and beyond, and this is the type of stuff that players need,” Fedlam said. “Really, just from preparing for the real world, when you don’t know what to expect, a lot of times it’s easy to just not do anything.

“But when you have some insight and you can start to see how people — especially for guys who aren’t going to play professional — when they can start to see people who are working with professional athletes, or are in the sports world, or even people who are doing things like owning businesses, restaurants and things like that, to be able to see what it takes to actually achieve that, that’s great stuff.”

OSU safety Tyvis Powell has paid attention to the presentations. It’s not just because before each new one, Meyer walks in and goes through a review of the messages from previous speakers, asking players questions and demanding correct answers.

“The whole message about the program is, yeah, everybody wants to go to the NFL someday, but as they say, less than 1 percent really make it,” Powell said. “What they are doing is helping us understand and establish a plan B just in case the NFL doesn’t work out. Even if you do get there, the NFL stands for ‘not for long,’ so you’re got to have a backup plan.

“What ‘real life Wednesdays’ makes you think about is when football is over, what do you want to do with your life? How you build a team around you. Who you can trust.”

To help players down that path, program coordinator Ryan Stamper is charged with lining up a variety of speakers. In the past two years, they have included Les Wexner, founder of Limited Brands; Keith Wandell, CEO of Harley-Davidson; Clark Kellogg, a CBS college basketball analyst and former OSU great; and Sam Covelli, whose Warren-based Covelli Enterprises owns Panera Bread stores and is the fifth-largest franchisee in the United States.

The players are prepping for the second annual job fair in June, during which headhunters from myriad businesses are invited and the football players and other athletes from OSU, with résumés in hand, are urged to go through interviews.

“One of our rules: You can’t play your junior year unless you have a working résumé,” Meyer said. “No other school in the country does that, that I know of.”

The whole idea of the program goes back to the pie chart at the start of Fedlam’s presentation.

“That was a clear message, (of) how many NFL players lose their tail financially.” Meyer said. “We can’t allow that. After sitting through that presentation, our OSU kids won’t be part of that 80 percent. No way.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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