Defensive end Calais Campbell is attending Harvard Business School for part of the offseason through an NFL program.
For a while, Calais Campbell couldn't avoid getting important opportunities.
In early February, he got to play in his first Super Bowl as a rookie. About a month later, veteran defensive end Antonio Smith left the Cardinals as a free agent, giving Campbell a wide-open shot at becoming a starter in his second season.
And sandwiched between, Campbell tried to build himself off the field, taking part in an NFL program that sent him to Harvard Business School.
"I heard I had the chance to go to Harvard, I was like, wow, 'That's Harvard Business School, No. 1 in the nation and there's a waiting list to get in,' " Campbell said. "So I was going to try and capitalize on it."
Every offseason, the NFL selects players to participate in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. Players, both active and no longer in the league, are sent not only to Harvard but also the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Among the 25 other players who joined Campbell at the session Feb. 22-25 at Harvard included Patriots running back Sammy Morris, Raiders wideout Ashley Lelie and 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes (former Cardinals Michael Stone and LeVar Woods, both retired, are going to Stanford, while one-time Cards Darwin Walker and Jeff Feagles are attending Wharton).
Campbell actually missed the deadline to apply for the program, getting wrapped up in the Cardinals' drive to the Super Bowl. But the Cardinals' senior director of player development, Anthony Edwards, managed to find a way to get Campbell in the door.
"I am a business-minded person," Campbell said. "I have ideas of things I want to do. I was always taught you can never have too much knowledge. There isn't anything I am going to start right away, but over the next couple of years I want to start some businesses so I want to get the information of what the steps should be. Plus you make some connections. It's a good way for me to get a head start."
The program at Harvard, in its fifth year, has an entrepreneurial bent, said Michael Roberts, who, among other things, is Harvard's co-head of its NFL Executive Education Program and one of Campbell's professors.
Players attended for three days in late February and will return in early April to finish. The short-but-intense process include about three case presentations a day about generic business problems – the attractiveness of a market, the desires of a customer – and then discussion groups. The players were asked to mull ideas of their own before coming back to talk about them next month.
"These players, by and large, have a lot less business training and experience than most of the people we serve," Roberts acknowledged. "But (Harvard) decided to do it because these people have position of leadership and influence in their community and have the potential to do a lot of good in corners of the world where we don't have a lot of graduates or alumni.
"These guys show up just so hungry to learn."
Campbell is hungry to learn in a couple of areas. He said coaches gave him the heads up after the season ended that Smith's departure was a possibility, and they expected Campbell to "step up and be a big-time player" if that happened, he added.
First, though, he has to conquer his brief tenure in the Ivy League – although he won't toss his allegiance to the University of Miami because of his new higher education.
"Nah," Campbell said. "I love the 'U.'
"But Harvard is definitely something you can do after the 'U.' "
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 3/27/09.