In Game Plan I point out that while in the realm of football few decision makers are ever under the age of 40, the world’s hottest tech company is run by a guy who started the company when he wasn’t even old enough to drink. That tech company, Facebook, is now worth more than all of the NFL’s franchises combined.
The primary difference between managing or coaching a football team, and managing/running a tech company, is that software is a domain that allows practitioners to get good on their own, while in football the only way to acquire experience is to ask somebody else’s permission to do so. In domains where practitioners are allowed to get good on their own (poker, music, software) the age of the masters of those domains tends to be extremely young. In domains that require that you ask someone’s permission to get good, the age of masters tends to be much older.
I saw something last night that told me that the days of football being a permission based knowledge domain are coming to an end. I saw this headline:
When I say that football is a permission based knowledge domain, I mean that in order to acquire the knowledge to become a master at it, you literally have to ask someone’s permission. You have to apply to become an unpaid assistant at a high school or college, and then you have to hope that someone in that organization takes a chance on you. The internet is going to change that. You’ll still have to ask someone’s permission to get paid to do something football related, but you won’t have to ask anyone’s permission to actually acquire football knowledge. That difference is going to be a disruptive game changer for the NFL. Here’s how it’s going to happen.
The article I link to above is for an online education site that allows teachers to actually charge for disseminating their knowledge. Let’s imagine something that I’ll call “Football University”, but which is essentially just a collection of videos on a site like Udemy, the one mentioned in the article. The key for Football University is that the teachers can teach the class just once, but can profit from it indefinitely. They don’t have to fill up a college lecture each semester in order to make it cost feasible. They teach the class once, then the video stays on Udemy forever and allows the teacher to continue to profit from it.
Now let’s imagine the kind of courses that could be taught at Football University, and the kind of people who might teach those classes.
Maybe former Browns scout Matt Williamson teaches a series of classes on scouting various positions. Scouting Cornerbacks 101, Scouting Linemen 101, etc.
Maybe former Packers VP Andrew Brandt or former Broncos GM Ted Sunquist could teach a series of classes covering NFL player contracts, the salary cap, and the finance of football.
Maybe Smart Football author Chris Brown teaches a series of Xs and Os based courses. The 46 Defense 101, etc.
Maybe the emerging group of sports analysts all have a group of courses. People like Skeptical Sports’ Ben Morris and Advanced NFL Stats’ Brian Burke could teach classes that cover statistics as applied to sports. Predictive Analytics 101, Sports and Probabilities, etc.
Retired/fired coaches could get into the act as well. They could teach classes about motivation, or the organizational/managerial side of coaching.
I’ve tried to throw out a lot of examples because the internet supports abundance. It supports the creation of every type of imaginable content. The emergence of sites like Udemy now make the economics favorable for the people that I mention above to actually take time out of their lives to do what I suggest (and if the people I mention don’t do it, someone else will).
However, just because the internet can change that way that people teach/learn about a business like football, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be disruptive to the NFL, which is what I suggested in the title of this post. Except actually, it does. As I discuss in Game Plan, the NFL is currently drawing its decision makers from tiny talent pools (ex-players) because the infrastructure to educate outsiders has never been in place. But with the education of what I call “obsessed amateurs” through online learning, the traditional paradigm for educating people about football is going to change. Ex-players will no longer have a stranglehold on the acquisition of football knowledge.
The disruption that I am talking about is already under way.
One of the Fantasy Douche readers has written me a few emails to tell me his story, which as he points out, is pretty much exactly what I talk about in Game Plan. This reader is a current college student and ex-poker player. He took a small deposit and turned it into over $10,000 by playing poker online (before the government shut down poker sites in the US). Now this reader is trying to get into the business of football. His story is illustrative of why the teaching/learning system that I discuss above is an important change.
This FD reader is what I would call an Obsessed Amateur, so let’s just call him O.A.
OA isn’t an insider to football, but he wants to become one and he’s willing to burn a lot of calories to become one. He sends notes to me and other internet/twitter folks and asks questions about how he can break into the business of football. He spends time going through Brian Burke’s Advanced NFL Stats, paying attention to things like the relative value of running backs compared to receivers.
OA worked through his college honors advisor to actually get a meeting with some of the coaches of the D1 school he is attending in order to pitch them that he could be their Game Theory/Analytics guy. They were impressed with some of the things he had to say, like a suggestion that their team should rely on one of their more efficient, but underutilized goal line running backs. But there were some red tape hangups with working with that program, so now OA is transferring to another school where he has already been in contact with the football program and has pitched them on looking at their recruiting practices from an analytics standpoint. The football program has thus far been receptive to working with OA.
There are a number of important takeaways from OA’s story. First, he has an analytical/obsessed mind. He’s like a 1,000 kids who taught themselves to play poker. He’s basically exactly the kind of person who should be involved in football. Second, even though OA is obsessed, he still has to ask permission under the current system. He’s waving a flag saying “Please, please let me in.” which is what any employer should want from a prospective employee. But because he wants to get into the world of football, he faces long odds to break in. There are a lot of people who want to work in football, and football organizations are used to turning away people just like OA.
The disruption to football learning that I describe above is the game changer for people like OA. It’s a game changer because OA could take a number of online courses so that when he tries to break into the world of football, and the organization is trying to decide whether to hire OA, or perhaps their recently graduated safety, who was one of their smarter players, OA is now on close to equal footing with the recent grad in terms of football knowledge.
We’re running a little long here, so let me bring this back full circle. Mark Zuckerberg learned to program under a system where he could get good on his own. By the time he launched Facebook he was already an extremely accomplished programmer. Innovations like Udemy mean that people who might aspire to become experts in the game of football could also benefit from learning and getting good on their own. When (not if) that happens, the NFL will see a game changing disruption. The change to the teaching/learning paradigm of football means that the NFL could grow its talent pool by orders of magnitude and select the best minds, not just the best minds conditional upon also being an ex-player.