UF Online and the Major League Soccer Players Association announced a new partnership Tuesday to allow current and former MLS players to pursue online degree programs.
Beginning in the Fall 2023 semester, players will be able to choose from 25 UF Online programs and will be connected with an academic adviser when they start their program.
The educational partnership is the most recent between the MLSPA and a university. The league has partnered with Southern New Hampshire University and the University of South Carolina before to open pathways for players.
Tesho Akindele spent eight seasons playing in MLS for FC Dallas and Orlando City. When the league partnered with SNHU, he finally found the opportunity to get his degree.
“It was convenient that I didn’t have to go and find my own college program that would work with my career,” Akindele said. “I never had to worry about conflicts with practices or games to get my schoolwork done.”
The former MLS Rookie of the Year went to the Colorado School of Mines to study engineering, but he left school early when he was drafted in the first round of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft by Dallas.
Akindele spent the first two years of his career looking for an option to finish his degree, but there weren’t any options that fit into his schedule as a professional athlete, he said. He now works in real estate development in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Getting his degree has helped him pursue opportunities in his post-playing career, Akindele said.
“Getting my undergrad and masters opened a lot of opportunities for me after my career,” he said. “Of course, the degrees make me more qualified for jobs. But also, the fact that I got two degrees during my career shows people what kind of person I am.”
Rachel Cook, a UF Online spokesperson, said UF Online and the MLSPA have been working to develop their partnership for the last fall.
“We've been really thrilled to develop this partnership to support their current and former players,” Cook said.
This isn’t the first time UF Online has partnered with another organization, Cook said. UF Online partnered with Amazon’s Career Choice Program in March to provide access to programs for employees in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
Partnerships allow UF Online to connect with working people and enable them to continue their education, as well as help businesses with staff recruitment and retention, Cook said.
Connor Ford, director of player programs for the MLSPA, said he was excited to partner with UF Online. The program was recently ranked the No. 1 online bachelor’s degree program for the second consecutive year by U.S. News and World Report.
“I think online programs are great, and we felt good about UF Online’s options,” Ford said. “Not compromising on quality at all, in that process, and our players just need to have flexibility from scheduling and online standpoint.”
The prior partnerships with SNHU and USC were run through the league itself. The partnership with UF Online is run directly through the player’s association, though, Ford said.
Programs like these are important for players after their playing careers, and it was important for the player’s association to help provide those opportunities, Ford said.
“We try to preach that awareness to players that at some point, it will be very good and needed to have a plan B, plan C or just another plan A after your initial plan has been playing professional soccer,” Ford said.
The demand for educational opportunities among the players is high, Ford said. More young players are entering the league before going to college, and many players are looking for graduate programs, he said.
“We're really going to be pushing these partnerships hard and we're excited to see them because I think, more than my time at NFLPA, I've seen just a lot more demand for these types of resources,” Ford said.
Contact Topher Adams at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.
Topher Adams is a fourth-year communications major and in his fourth semester with the Alligator. He previously covered football, baseball and women's basketball. He also enjoys professional lacrosse and Major League Soccer.