In 2014, Kelley established a degree and certificate program with the NFL Players Association through Executive Degree Programs. At the time, only two students were enrolled.
Ted Karras was one of those students — and has also been a member of three NFL teams: the New England Patriots — winning twice in the super bowl — the Miami Dolphins and now the Cincinnati Bengals. Since its inception, the NFL Players Association has continued to see growth.
“As a professional athlete for eight years, my only professional experience has been as a football player,” Karras said.
In 2020, he received an MBA from the Kelley School of Business through Executive Degree Programs partnership with the NFLPA. He also received his undergraduate and master’s from the University of Illinois.
Karras said the program was rewarding because it was online and easy to accommodate with his schedule.
“I thought it was very valuable to get to experience these projects, actually working for companies,” he said.
Karras said he encourages all players to take advantage of this opportunity, since the tuition reimbursement was reinstated last year.
EDP provides students with an online MBA and other graduate certificate programs — including a partnership with the National Football League Players Association. This means that players, recent NFL alumni, or union representatives are also able to seek higher educational opportunities.
While this program is primarily through Kelley, students can seek other graduate programs depending on their interest.
“If the client suggests that they would like to have students take courses from O’Neill or pursue a degree from O’Neill, we would certainly work with O’Neill and work with the client to make sure that happens,” faculty chair of EDP Richard Magjuka said.
In the beginning, the NFLPA said they were interested in partnering with universities with fitting programs.
Magjuka said he thought Kelley did a great deal to emphasize how players are treated like everyone else and the school creates a sense of normalcy for them.
“We just said, ‘If you join us, we promise we’ll provide a high-quality flexible MBA program that you’ll take with all of our other students,’” Magjuka said. “Your players will be treated like other students.”
Magjuka said even with increasing enrollment, it’s important to have alumni reflect and represent the programs. The goal for next year is to get more active engagement from NFL alumni, he said.
“I’m just interested in finding good students,” Magjuka said. “It really doesn’t matter the association or university affiliation or the company.”
EDP was designed with flexibility in mind due to the rigorous student courseload.
The NFLPA program has a program manager dedicated to assisting each player on a one-on-one basis with their plan of study.
“We lay out a schedule that can be flexible to match the demanding needs, that they deserve,” Usha Venkataramanan, executive director of the EDP, said.
She said EDP also work to enhance the learning experience of graduate students in the online environment. For example, they offer chat rooms during their sessions in order to provide an enriching environment where students can participate.
“We try to have networking opportunities for these students in different disciplines, different industries, countries and time zones,” she said.
Karras used his experience and knowledge from EDP to start the Cincy Hat Project, which put all sales toward the Village of Merici, an Indianapolis-based non-profit community service provider for adults with developmental disabilities.
His project partner, Mat Renie, is also a Kelley graduate, and his mother runs the Village of Merici.
Karras said he and his neighbor in Fort Lauderdale came up with the design idea for the Cincy Hat because he thought everyone loved new gear and he wanted to give them to his new teammates, the Bengals.
The demand became humongous to the point where Karras decided to sell it, but he said it needed to be sold for charity.
“This hat project has really catalyzed such an income stream that they’re able to double or even triple their footprint hopefully with the opening of two new facilities, the first being in Carmel, Indiana,” he said.
Karras’s biggest goal is to be able to pay villagers hourly to help ship these hats and create income streams for both the Village as well as the individual villagers long-term.
“It’s a really extraordinary place and I want to show the people who have supported how good this organization really is,” Karras said.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the number of students involved in the Executive Degree Program at the Kelley School of Business, the nature of the program manager's job and the program director's title.