For many young men, a starting slot on a professional football team might be their life's goal. Play as long as the knees hold out, bank the cash and when age or injury write a full stop to playing days, cruise on their celebrity as long as it lasts.
Jason Pottinger knows better. The 27-year-old is a backup linebacker for the Toronto Argonauts, the team's second first-round pick in the 2010 Canadian draft. Since 2008 he had been a member of the BC Lions.
A terrific accomplishment for a kid from Whitby who dreamed from the earliest age of a pro ball career.
But Mr. Pottinger also has his eyes firmly set on the long term - those foreseeable years when the glory days on the gridiron are over. That is why this past spring he applied to the Schulich School of Business.
This fall, when he is not at team practices or playing regular season games you will find him taking a course-and-a-half at Schulich. In winter semester it will be a full four-course load. No classes next summer - that is team practice season - but next fall back to that gruelling academic and football schedule.
"I figure it will take me four years, rather than the usual two, to get my MBA, but I also figure it is well worth it," he says. "When my playing days are over, I don't want to be just another former pro athlete."
Instead, where he sees himself 10 years or so down the road is as a successful entrepreneur, probably focusing on some sort of import-export business from Asia. He has already toured northern China and, for the past two years, has been taking Mandarin language training from a private tutor.
"At Schulich, what I want to do is specialize in their international MBA program," he says. "What I want and what I need are the skills and credibility that program will give me. Football is great, but a few years ago I started to realize it is not all there is to life."
Mr. Pottinger is not an isolated case. Increasingly, business schools are drawing students from a broad range of non-traditional business backgrounds - medicine, entertainment, even China's People's Liberation Army, which has sent officers to business schools in British Columbia and Alberta.
In Mr. Pottinger's case, the decision came down to a near-epiphany moment, he says. In high school in Whitby, Ont., and then for three years as an undergraduate taking a bachelor's degree in economics at McMaster University in Hamilton, academic studies were just a way to get to play ball.
"When the BC Lions drafted me in 2006, I was just short of a few courses for my economics degree," he says. "I was so caught up in being a pro ball player, I let my studies lapse. But then, when I got traded to the Argos, I started thinking about life after ball.
"I guess I had grown up. Academic achievement started to mean something to me."
Part of that new interest in education may have come from his girlfriend Elizabeth Morningstar, he says. She recently completed her master's degree in history.
Mr. Pottinger not only went back to complete his economics degree, but also took a bachelor's degree in geography, as well. To support himself, he worked part-time in McMaster's alumni office.
"The truth is, my marks in economics were not high enough to get me into Schulich, so I spent a year taking that geography degree to raise them to the level Schulich demands."
There are benefits to waiting until his pro ball career was established, Mr. Pottinger says. His Argos salary is enough to allow the couple to live comfortably and pay the stiff tuition that goes hand in hand with an MBA program.
So far, course work has been smooth sailing, he says. Granted, there is a lot of accounting work to catch up on, but the economics degree helps a bit when it comes to courses full of number crunching.
And, yes, it will be a long haul to graduation, but one thing pro football does teach is discipline, he says.
"Football is not going to last forever," says Mr. Pottinger. "There is a whole other life waiting for me out there and this MBA is going to help make it happen."
Special to The Globe and Mail
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