Tip Sheet: Higher learning

No matter what transpires over the rest of his NFL career, Drew Brees will be forever known as a Super Bowl champion.

And there's one more title with which the New Orleans quarterback could retire.

Savvy businessman.

Thanks to the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program, an initiative of the NFL and the NFL Players Association that began earlier this week at the Harvard Business School and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Brees is considerably better-prepared for his life after football.

"It gives you a great foundation for that eventual transition [into the business world]," said Brees, who one day will turn his acumen for reading coverages into a knack for deciphering profit-and-loss statements. "You get to meet people who have been there and experienced it. And you learn a lot about the pros and cons [of starting and developing a business or an investment portfolio]."

In its sixth season, the program has had 502 players participate in what amounts to a four- or five-day interactive or case-study course in readying themselves for their careers after football, and there are 77 current or former NFL players enrolled in 2010. Several players, including Brees, have taken the course multiple times. The Saints' quarterback is not a participant this time around.

The Harvard program, which leans heavily on case methodology, began Monday. The Wharton classes, which are more interactive, started Tuesday. Both the Wharton and Harvard classes conclude Friday.

About 100-120 players apply yearly for the courses.

At Wharton, the focus is on entrepreneurship with an emphasis on real estate. The Harvard program exposes players to a variety of business operations, negotiation, business plan analysis and the legal aspects of business.

Amid the horror stories and the anecdotal examples of players who enter into bad businesses and dubious investments, the NFL-NFLPA program is a solid road map for some players and a cautionary call to others.

"We did a survey about three years ago … and the surprising thing is the number of players who have not started a business or invested money because of what they took from the program," acknowledged Christopher L. Henry, the NFL's director of player development. "There are a confluence of factors at work here … but the [point] is to help ensure that the players do the right thing with their money. We're all about education, and we've had very positive results from [the program]."

At a juncture when the league and its players face an uncertain future and have no idea of the NFL landscape in two years -- there is the near-certainty of an uncapped season in 2010 and the prospect of a lockout in '11 -- the Harvard and Wharton programs may be timelier than ever.

The league and the NFLPA clearly disagree on a lot of issues, but there is commonality in the Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. Both sides want players to be successful when their football careers end, and providing direction, counseling and real-world interactivity is helpful.

Players make a lot of money in a short period of time, and there has been an increase in the number of former players who have squandered the windfall for a variety of reasons. The Harvard and Wharton programs, although less than a week each, help lay the groundwork for players to better invest and protect their NFL earnings.

Said Seattle defensive end Patrick Kerney, who is currently enrolled in the Harvard program: "You really don't know what's going to happen. With so many clouds on the horizon, it's good to know how to look after your money."

Prompted at least in part by the program, several players, including former Tennessee star tailback Eddie George, have either earned their MBA or are taking classes toward it. The popularity of the program has spread, largely through word-of-mouth from players who have participated in the past, and the NFL and the union plan to keep funding it.

The programs have been beneficial to the schools as well. A few years ago, Stanford and Northwestern were part of the program, but there have never been fewer than two schools involved in the courses. Faculty members, said Ken Shropshire of Wharton, have a chance to view players in a different light, and the experience has been gratifying.

"We find the players to be a very engaged group," said Shropshire, director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative. "They're here because they want to be here, not because they have to be. It's like, 'Tell me what I need to know and what I need to do.'

"They are very eager."

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.