KSU‚ Falcons partner to help NFL players earn degrees

A new partnership between Kennesaw State University and the Atlanta Falcons is making it possible for NFL players to complete their undergraduate degrees without leaving the comfort of the team’s Flowery Branch training complex.

Georgia (Aug 4, 2004) — A new partnership between Kennesaw State University and the Atlanta Falcons is making it possible for NFL players to complete their undergraduate degrees without leaving the comfort of the team’s Flowery Branch training complex.

In late spring semester‚ professors from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences began making twice−weekly trips to the team’s northeast Georgia facility to teach courses in sociology and Spanish to a handful of players who were just a few credits short of earning a degree. As a result‚ one of the participants in the pilot program was able to complete the requirements for graduation from his home institution. When applicable‚ players may also earn a degree from KSU‚ if they so choose.

“What sets this initiative apart from other degree completion programs is our willingness to go to the location where the players are training and teach the classes that the players need‚” said Mike Spino‚ the director of coaching education and international sports for KSU. “An assessment was made of the players’ transcripts‚ and we delivered the classes most needed by them.”

Spino first approached the Falcons after learning from a contact at the NFL Players Association that players can be reimbursed up to $15‚000 a year for classes they take‚ thanks to an agreement negotiated between the union and the league. He pitched the idea to former Falcons great Billy “White Shoes” Johnson‚ now director of player development for the team‚ who strongly encourages players to complete their education‚ thus giving them something to fall back on when their football careers are done.

“It’s good because it meets the player where he is‚” Johnson said of the KSU program. “The player doesn’t have to do anything extra. He doesn’t have to be intimidated by sitting in a classroom. He doesn’t have to worry about going through a whole bunch of red tape. He is taught in a friendly environment.”

Once the academic needs for the first group of players were determined‚ Dr. Lana Wachniak‚ department chair for sociology‚ geography‚ anthropology and criminal justice‚ took the lead in organizing teachers from her area to conduct the first set of classes — combining traditional hands on instruction with innovative distance learning activities.

“These are top−notch faculty‚ and they take it seriously‚” Wachniak said of Dr. Miriam Boeri‚ Dr. Sam Abaidoo and instructor Amy Messersmith‚ who traveled a total of more than 2‚000 miles by the time classes wound down in mid−June. “It’s good publicity for our department. These are our students‚ and it gives us some name recognition.”

Johnson said feedback from the players has been positive. He hopes strong word of mouth in the locker room will lead to even greater participation in the future.
“We have a pretty good situation here‚” Johnson said. “Our coaching staff and our administrative staff whole−heartedly support this program‚ and they try and tell the players they’re crazy if they don’t take advantage of it.”

The degree completion program is part one of a burgeoning relationship between Spino’s office and the Falcons. Part two consisted of a one−day clinic for youth football coaches‚ held at Flowery Branch in late July.

As Spino sees it‚ the partnership with the Falcons has great potential‚ not only for the participants in the two programs‚ but also because of the high−profile attention‚ and potential philanthropic support‚ it can bring to KSU.

“This partnership is important because it demonstrates our educational delivery capabilities‚” Spino said. “It also casts Kennesaw State University as a leader in creating programs for high−level athletes‚ thus enabling them to balance their athletic careers with their educational objectives.”


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu