CMU offers degrees in the business of port

February 14, 2012
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With the cost of broadcast rights reaching record amounts and premium charges being added to ticket prices, professional and collegiate sports have clearly become as much of a business venture as an athletic event. Commerce has dipped its fingers into high school sports as well, with ESPN deciding to televise what were once local football and basketball games to a national audience.

Legendary Los Angeles Dodgers manager Walter Alston, who captured three World Series titles during his lengthy tenure on the West Coast, saw a growing dollar sign on the wall before other sports executives did — so much so that Alston has been credited as the first to recognize that business would overtake his beloved game. He also was the first to admit that former players, coaches and managers wouldn’t possess the knowledge necessary to run a sports operation in the coming decades.

So in the 1970s, Alston decided a business curriculum was needed that would specifically apply to sports and would develop managers who would bring financial, marketing and event management skills to the games.

“Walter Alston realized that the people he had running his team, and all of Major League Baseball, weren’t really trained in the business of sport. They were all ex-players. So he went to an East Coast graduate student and said, ‘Let’s develop a degree program to train people to run the business of baseball.’ So they put a master’s degree together. He couldn’t get it going in Florida, so he went to Ohio University, and that was the beginning,” said Scott Smith, who directs the sport management program at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.

CMU offers an undergraduate and a graduate degree in sport management. The university has had its graduate offering since 1997, a time when such programs were growing, following a decade in the 1980s when few colleges had even considered adding an undergraduate offering.

“Here at Central, we actually had an undergraduate degree in sport studies that was pretty generic and that morphed into an undergraduate management degree,” said Smith, who has spent 20 years as a high school and college athletic director in addition to his teaching responsibilities.

Smith said most of today’s sport management degrees, like those at CMU, are being offered in a business format. “These are taught in a business-administration framework as opposed to sport or physical education. Sport management kind of grew out of the department of phys ed, as we did, but they’re really now much more from a business-administration management perspective,” he said.

“In fact, any new program actually launches from the business schools as opposed to colleges of education.”

Graduate studies in sport management are a specialized version of MBA and Master’s of Management programs. In order to gain such a master’s at CMU, students need to complete 36 credit hours in management, marketing, research methods, statistics, finances and how law relates to sports. The program also requires students to complete an internship and do a research project or write a thesis. Smith said most CMU students choose the research project.

“It’s nine or 10 courses focused on the business of sport,” he said. “It truly is a business. It’s how do we sell tickets, how do we sell memberships, how do we sell sponsorships, how do we put butts in the seats, how do we increase revenue, and how do we entertain the fans. It’s all of that.”

The demand for the program has increased over the past decade, especially from students who played high school sports and love the games but aren’t good enough to move to the collegiate level. High school athletic directors also are looking into the program because they have to create revenue now just like their peers at the professional and collegiate levels.

“Our degree is very broad based, so it will work for anything that is sport-related,” said Smith. “So when you do our degree, it’s good for professional sport and for college sport at any level. You can also take it to the high school ranks. Although, it’s not a guarantee that it’s going to get you a high school AD job because the first option there is still teachers and coaches down the hall. We have a lot of certified teachers and coaches who do our degree option because they want to be the high school AD.”

CMU is offering the sport management graduate program now in a cohort format at its Grand Rapids location at 1633 East Beltline Ave. NE. The program is currently being taught completely on a face-to-face basis, but Smith said the school will shift to a hybrid format next fall at the request of students and will offer about 40 percent online.

“They don’t want a total online degree, or they’d be in one. They like the face-to-face interaction. They like seeing their instructors. They like meeting fellow students,” said Smith. “We are currently recruiting to start cohort number two in Grand Rapids next fall, probably in early September.”

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