Reflections After Crossing the Finish Line

SMBA-13On a typically sunny winter day in America’s Finest City – Tuesday, January 17, 2012, to be exact – the SDSU Sports MBA Class of 2013 gathered for the first time in Extended Studies Center Room 206. That orientation morning formally kicked off a 508-day journey that finally culminated on Saturday, June 8, 2013, when the eighth SMBA cohort came back for graduation and one more weekend of getting the band back together. As the SMBA ’13 blog editor and a member of the program’s newly-minted set of alumni, I was asked to write about what being done means to me.

“Intense” seems to be the most common descriptor used by people associated with the program to describe the fast-paced and accelerated nature. It can seem totally cliché, but after surviving and experiencing 14 classes, a week-long excursion to the Dominican Republic, dozens of exams and papers, group projects and presentations, countless volunteer opportunities, frequent guest speakers, and even each other, intense turns out to be rather appropriate. We ran the gamut of knowledge at the intersection of sports and business.

Another common feeling is how fast the program flew by even when many had trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel while grinding out Finance or Statistics assignments in the first semester. Completing the program was simultaneously the slowest and fastest year and a half of my life.

With the previous two paragraphs being general sentiments every SMBA cohort will experience and agree with to some extent, I want to devote the next part to the specific day-to-day experience of being part of SMBA ’13.

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We began as almost total complete strangers; I say “almost” to account for two people that turned out to be distant cousins and another person who I sat next to at an info session the previous summer. While my answer to the “where am I from?” question is simply – and unexpectedly to some people – San Jose, Calif., no other pair exemplified the diverse backgrounds more than Itamar Hassin, an Israeli who spent years living in China, sitting next to Christian Jensen, a Connecticut native who had never traveled outside the U.S. before the program – and that’s not even counting the height discrepancy. We were drawn together by the same desires to further our education and pursue a career in sports business; being in San Diego was the icing on the cake.

The team-building pace started slower than I expected. During one of Steve Gera’s (SMBA ’07) early leadership seminars, I said the other people in the room had still not crossed the threshold from classmates to teammates. Yes, it was still early and I probably could have addressed it more delicately, but it was still a valid concern clearly shared by some.

It was likely no coincidence that we started finding a stride when the workload truly intensified and “got real” around late March/early April and we adapted a “hunker down in the trenches” group mentality. People would use their strengths to help with someone else’s weakness. We hit our groove as many hot-button sports topics provided great classroom fodder. The sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated for several weeks; their television rights managed to get brought up in practically every other class discussion. Linsanity, Manchester United’s IPO, the London Olympics, whatever NHL or lockout-related item was on token Canadian Mike Warkentin’s mind, and ongoing NCAA conference realignment – including SDSU’s then-uncertain future status – also served as starting points, while the defenseless XFL served as a punching bag on several occasions.

We became “The 13th Woman” at home games during the inaugural year of SDSU women’s lacrosse. We handed out shirts on Opening Day at Petco Park; fun, even if patrons failed to grasp the concept of us not having all sizes on hand. Many of us started securing internships to juggle with class. Love Library’s 24/7 area and 4.0 Deli became two of our go-to spots.

SMBA-13-DRThe Dominican Republic trip in June proved to be the eye-opener and program-defining experience it was hyped up to be. It was a chance to observe MLB facilities, see a worker-friendly apparel factory and visit and play with some incredibly grateful children in a culture drastically different from ours on the outside, yet sharing many similarities under the surface. And we had lots of fun, as well, which we paid for with one broken collarbone (sorry, Ben Cooper).

Ryan Gardner got married, a few got engaged and many began forging some of our closest friendships yet. Heck, being the considerate and compassionate group we are, we even decided to pick up a stray from SMBA ’12 midway through the summer. You’re welcome, Ryan Kaltenbach!

And there’s no way to forget the road trip several of us made for a The Price Is Right taping on Halloween. I may have feigned enthusiasm during the opening camera swoop, but when your friend wins a watch, a NEW CAR!!!, hits $1.00 on the wheel twice for $25,000 and wins the Showcase Showdown in the span of an hour … it’s hard not to lose your voice. Getting to storm the stage and mob Sean Leahy was amazing.

Then we all scattered for our consultancies for the start of 2013. I stayed local and was thrilled and proud to be part of the team that helped break the case competition title drought and finally deliver a win for the host school. Finally, Zach Stratton’s favorite adage, Parkinson’s Law – “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” – re-emerged during the stretch run while finishing our 780 and 795 reports.

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Now here I am trying to sum it all up days after commencement. This could go on for a while, but I want to merely substantially violate, and not completely obliterate, the suggested word limit. I don’t think I’ve even really answered the initial question: what does the program, and finishing it, mean to me?

Finishing means having acquired the professional and personal skills to unlock a greater ceiling in our careers and coming out on the other side a better person than I started. The program provided me with a graduate-level knowledge base, gave me a career support system I didn’t have before and left me with a plethora of memories.

frankbeingfrankI’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the “value add” provided by the faculty. For the record, I gave my Faculty of the Year vote to this year’s winner, Professor Frank Ryan, who ended up winning. Along with his endless reserve of props, I believe he best tied relevant sports topics into his always-entertaining lectures – front yards and backyards, anyone? – and it was a well-earned recognition for our resident New York Giants fan.

Each professor had their own unique way of connecting with us in the smaller setting, from visiting Professor Rosner’s corner perch to “Big Daddy” Reinig’s tales of weekend Costco trips and coaching the Beluga Whales soccer team. As faculty members came and went, Scott Minto (SMBA ’06) and Jennifer Bulcao tirelessly kept the ship moving forward. Their constant efforts as program staff put us in position to succeed inside, and now outside, the classroom.

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Graduation weekend was truly bittersweet. Happiness, elation and relief at finishing, yet sad knowing this would more than likely be the last time all 31 of us would be gathered in the same space ever again. Some will naturally keep in contact with certain people more than others; it’s like the offensive linemen doing their own thing away from the wide receivers.

Of course we had our share of differences and conflicts as an entire group, which is hardly surprising in a compressed and occasionally stressful atmosphere. But looking back, it’s in my own personal experience and opinion that the positive episodes vastly outweighed the negative ones. It was our own unique and special formula of camaraderie with a dash of dysfunction.

And we went through it all together. I can only speak for myself, but it’s safe to say my early concerns no longer exist. I already miss the near-daily banter, especially the inevitable fantasy football smack talk that accompanied Monday mornings in the fall, including a week where the Rick and Clarence scenario was re-enacted between Ben Pearson and Ezzard Gadson, respectively. I expect to be attending many weddings – or maybe even performing them with my sweet, brand-new online ordainment – in the years to come. And I look forward to those reunions where we’ll get to recall it all over again. Especially that time I unintentionally fell asleep in my car on a lunch break after staying up for 31 straight hours. That’s just part of the Johnny Potential package.

So with SMBA ’13 moving on to bigger and better things, I can only leave them with these three nuggets:
– When in doubt, the answer to the question is most likely, “It depends.”
– Convert those assumptions to knowledge.
– Something, something, something, networking.