Issues: NCAA Reform

Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Why College-Sport “Reform” is Doomed to Fail

By Richard M. Southall and Mark S. NagelUniversity of South Carolina

 In 1817, philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested readers willingly suspend disbelief about even the most outrageous story as long as human interest and a semblance of truth are skillfully woven into the narrative. Willing suspension of disbelief is vital to the big-time college sport enterprise. Almost from its inception, fans and reformers have willingly accepted a mythology that college athletes are simply students engaged in an extracurricular activity. They forego critical analysis and tacitly accept legal, financial, sociological, and educational fictions, which in any other walk of life they would vehemently denounce. This is one reason – among many others – why college sport “reform” will not derail the NCAA’s commercial sport enterprise.

NCAA_logo.svgIn literature, willing suspension of disbelief allows readers to enjoy fictional realities populated by zombies, hobbits and all manner of superheroes. Similarly, many college-sport reformers ignore decades of contrary evidence and “believe” in the sanctity of the collegiate model of intercollegiate athletics. This tacit acceptance of the NCAA’s paradigm allows reformers to hope “magically” college sport can be reformed if only athletic programs “truly embrace” the NCAA’s amateurism mythology. Reformers seemingly overlook that in order to maintain this educational façade, the Constitutional and human rights of profit-athletes must be violated, and long-term financial, intellectual and emotional harm inflicted upon them.

Reform groups, including the Drake Group, Knight Commission, and Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA) seemingly choose to “willingly disbelieve” big-time college sport is fundamentally a commercial enterprise designed to enrich athletic administrators, coaches, sponsors and media partners, while providing predominately middle-to-upper class consumers and student-athletes a “collegiate athletic” experience. Unceasingly, reformers contend college sport contributes to universities’ educational mission: the current system just needs tweaking.

However, any reform must occur within the shadow of the NCAA, as president Mark Emmert declared:

Student-athletes are students. They’re not professionals. And we’re not going to pay them. And we’re not going to allow other people to pay them to play. Behaviors that undermine the collegiate model, wherever they occur, are a threat to those basic values, and we can’t tolerate them (Moltz, 2011, para. 5, 11).

Emmert’s statement reflects the NCAA’s success in skillfully using institutional propaganda and rebranding strategies to create, imbed, and disseminate its collegiate model to shape and control college sport reform.

Not surprisingly, most fans and college-sport stakeholders unconditionally accept the NCAA’s collegiate model. However, it is perplexing that Congress, and the U.S. judiciary, overlook and/or ignore the enterprise’s illegality and immorality, with committee hearings and high-profile legal cases consistently eliciting logically inconsistent

Ed O’Bannon

responses. In the initial O’Bannon v. NCAA (2014) district-court decision, Judge Wilken ruled the NCAA illegally restrained trade: a criminal conspiracy in violation of the Sherman Act. However, unlike nearly every other identified antitrust violation, instead of enacting specific measures to “remedy” the antitrust violation, the court proposed a modest “reform” ($5,000 deposited annually into a trust fund) while allowing the illegal system to remain in place. The Ninth Circuit appellate also suspended its disbelief, ignoring clear violations of law in nullifying Wilken’s injunction designed to cure specific violations and arguing any remedies must be “educational” and consistent with the NCAA’s existing collegiate model.

While it was to be expected the NCAA would base its O’Bannon strategies on its collegiate model, even plaintiffs’ attorneys consistently used the “student-athlete” nomenclature and stressed they did not seek to dismantle the current system, but simply address its marketplace inequities. Even the media consistently suspends disbelief when reporting college-sport issues. Despite Judge Wilken’s ruling the NCAA a criminal conspiracy in violation of federal antitrust laws, the media largely “buried the lead” – and focused on the business of college sport’s unchecked survival. In the case’s aftermath, media accounts consistently contained little discussion that big-time college sport is an illegal, criminal conspiracy.

Trapped within the current paradigm, reformers are left with minor victories: increased cost of attendance stipends (i.e., pay raises), the possibility of four-year grants-in-aid, and “calls for” reductions in practice schedules. What is conveniently overlooked is the legal fact: The NCAA’s century-old collegiate model of athletics (rebranded or not) is a criminal conspiracy.

A critical examination of the NCAA’s collegiate model leads to the conclusion that what is needed is not reform, but rather a revolution – a paradigm shift or conversion in which previously “normal” beliefs are discarded and replaced with fundamentally new ones. Such a paradigm shift will allow us to discard college sport reform efforts that have done nothing to prevent continual and cataclysmic difficulties. Simply put, college sport reform is doomed to fail.


Issues: Para Sport I

Beyond Rio…Accessibility, Elitism and Sport Development

Laura Misener, Ph.D. – Western University

Editors’ note: This post is the first in a series focused on disability sport and the Paralympic Games. The second post, written by Dr. Josh R. Pate, will be published on February 20, 2017.

As a scholar in the realm of disability sport, I must confront my seemingly incongruent position of privilege as a white, able-bodied, former elite athlete with the critical discourses of disability which I interrogate. I was struck by that reality as I spent time in Rio, Brazil in the lead up to and during the 2016 Paralympic Games. I found my time in Rio both a pleasure as a sport fan, and problematic as a conscientious citizen and researcher.

Dr. Laura Misener at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

The question remains, has this event changed anything about Rio or Brazil for the lives of persons with disabilities? This issue remains central to much of the ongoing research about so-called legacies or impacts of the hosting the Paralympic Games. I situate my own scholarly thinking about disability, on what Goodley (2013) and others argue is systemic discrimination based on ableist (i.e. able bodied as ideal) assumptions, institutions, and structures that disadvantage persons with a disability. Spaces of poverty and deprivation abound in Rio and throughout the urban landscapes of Brazil, which presented a stark contrast to the pristine, elite sporting venues of the Games. In terms of accessibility and understanding of disability, I witnessed how far Brazil must go to address some of the basic standards set forth by the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The crumbled pavements, lack of curb cuts, no audible cues in traffic, and inaccessible transportation network are just some of the ongoing physical issues that were to be addressed through the hosting of the Paralympic Games. But the expectation that such an event can meet such a colossal challenge is insurmountable, particularly in the face of such economic and political turmoil. In many ways, my experience of being in and around venues only served to further highlight the inequalities experienced by many Brazilians with a disability.

On the other hand, I felt optimistic about the event being able to highlight inequities and potentially focus on shifting negative attitudes and stereotypes about disability. But as a spectator and fan of sport, they got it all wrong. As I listened to IPC President Sir Philip Craven’s speech during the Opening Ceremony, he framed disability around the problematic inspirational narrative (i.e. supercrip) and missing the mark on the social inequities that disability often produces. Further, the Paralympic flag was brought into the stadium by a group of severely disabled children who will never access the Paralympic movement, literally puppeteered by adults was further demonstrative of the distanced understanding of disability in the everyday life. Yet, the crowd of international elite Sport Managers, Policy Makers, and Dignitaries around me loved it! It is perhaps a call for me as a scholar to work harder from within and without to demonstrate the value and importance of our work.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Laura Misener

My time at the events was brief, but it highlighted further the poor understanding and inequalities of disability sport in this country. At Athletics, I watched a T36 (visual impairment) athlete from Portugal miss his jump time because the crowd was too loud for him to hear the coach to know when to jump. Then, after protesting, he was allowed an additional attempt and foot-faulted – yet the crowd cheered loudly applauding his failed attempt. Certainly, we can chalk this up to different cultural contexts where Brazilian crowds are supportive of all sporting efforts, but athletes know and feel the difference between educated sport fans and piteous encouragement.

I still believe that these Games and similar types of events can be an opportunity for social change. I met volunteers and local citizens from Rio who saw the Paralympic Games as the highlight event. They believed that this was the opportunity to change the way people think, understand, and act towards disability. I am not convinced that sport managers have the solutions about how to appropriately manage sport, disability sport, or mega events but I do see that we have much space as scholars for interesting conversations and the real machinations of political will to see these as social change opportunities.

Knowledge is Power: How Can We Contribute to Social Justice in Divisive Times?

Editors’ note: The following post is intended to be a conversation starter amongst NASSM members and blog readers regarding this timely sport issue. We strongly encourage readers to contribute to a thoughtful and respectful dialogue on this topic by writing your comments on this post. Please check back often to view additional comments and responses!

Christine E. Wegner, Ph.D. – University of Florida
John N. Singer, Ph.D. – Texas A & M University

redskins-protest-signsThe year 2016 has seen a number of events and incidents in organized sport that speak to social injustices in the United States in particular, from Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the systemic racism within the criminal justice system, to the reactions of both the NBA and the NCAA in the wake of North Carolina’s Hb2 law. As more and more perspectives join the conversation about social justice, we should be reminded of George Cunningham’s 2014 Zeigler lecture, calling for ways to support and create social justice both through and in sport. Given the increasing gravity of recent events, sport management scholars and researchers need to become part of the current conversation, offering their knowledge to the intersection between sport and social justice, through immediate action in the community.

We are quick to recall the importance of sport in our lives when we seek to justify our existence as a field. Therefore, when this importance serves as a platform for fighting injustice, we owe it to ourselves to reinforce that platform, a charge we too often have left to sport sociologists. As Wendy Frisby suggested in her 2005 Ziegler lecture, sport management, with a unit of analysis as the organization, can be an important part of the ongoing dialogue. What is happening today is such a force, in part, because of the power of organizations, and specifically the power of organizing in sport. We therefore must find new modes through which to engage with and contribute to the current conversation.


In in a keynote address at the 2016 North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) Conference, Harry Edwards talked about the critical difference for scholars and researchers engaging with the activism of athletes in the 1960s and those of today. The pace of the 24-hour news cycle and the actions and perspectives created constantly through social media outlets shrink the temporal window for current scholars and researchers. Writing journal articles about today’s climate, attitudes, and actions are a vital reflection of process, change, and social inquiry. However, those articles, whose contributions are slowed by the submission process, can rarely ever be part of the current dialogue, the crucial discourse that is so fundamental to progress and social change.

Discourse can be hard. It can be painful. It can force us to reflect on our privilege. Our failings. Our humanity and lack thereof. But it is necessary. In a world where ignorance has found a powerful faucet in social media, we as individuals who know history, politics and theory, owe it to the future that we teach to be a part of the immediate discourse as well, and to counter some of this ignorance.

Just as the events of the past few months and even weeks have no doubt found their way into classroom discourse as teachable moments and opportunities for dialogue, we need to continually find ways to engage in the current climate in real time. For example, Joseph Cooper’s Collective Uplift at the University of Connecticut, works to educate and empower student athletes of color directly.  As another example, organizations such as RISE combine managers, athletes, activists, and educators in its efforts toward social progress. And many programs and organizations already rely on our expertise as researchers to assess both their efficacy and understand the sources of change.

icant-breatheBut this is more than a call to join in these efforts.  We also hope to start a dialogue about innovative ways we can be a part of the social justice movement, especially in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign and U.S. election, which has left many emboldened to openly discriminate, and others in fear of their rights and lives. Where are the spaces and opportunities in which we can insert ourselves into the national and international conversation, given the role of sport and sport organizations in our world today? How can we incorporate collective action into our research to make it meaningful immediately, in addition to the knowledge it generates through our studies, manuscripts, and conference presentations?

Please join the conversation and post your thoughts on this topic below!

Paying it Back: The McCormack Octagon Bowl

By Elizabeth Delia, Ph.D.

As current or former students, we all have classes we look back on with fond memories: the class that eloquently combined classroom and experiential learning; the class that challenged us to think outside the box; the class that ignited our competitive spirit; the class that makes us proud to call ourselves alums. For graduate students enrolled in the Masters program in the McCormack Department of Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass), one such class is Sport Marketing and the Octagon Bowl.


Each fall semester for the past decade, the graduate Sport Marketing class at UMass has partnered with the global sports and entertainment agency Octagon for what has been termed the Octagon Bowl. Students in the class work in groups on a semester long project with Octagon to create an integrated marketing campaign for a real-world Octagon client. Following the Octagon Bowl, Octagon incorporates ideas from the student groups into the actual campaign, illustrating the value Octagon places on the work of the students.

This year’s project is with Mastercard, in conjunction with the company’s sponsorship of the British Open, and will conclude with the 2016 Octagon Bowl on December 16. During the Octagon Bowl, students present their proposed campaigns to a panel of judges comprised of representatives from Octagon and Mastercard, who question each group of presenters and then vote on a winner. The presentations test the knowledge, preparedness, and professionalism of the students. As Dr. Matt Katz, the instructor of the course, commented, “The judges are tough. They come to campus and expect professional presentations with professional insight. Their questions are challenging, and their expectations are high. We have mock presentations, ‘dress rehearsals’ of sorts where we record a practice presentation and force the students to evaluate themselves, and we try and simulate the types of questions the judges will ask. It makes for a great learning experience because our students know the level of excellence expected from them – and they prepare accordingly.”

This year’s panel of judges is relatively unique, as it includes Michael Goldstein and Noah Kolodny, both graduates of the UMass MBA/MS Sport Management program. Goldstein graduated from the program in 2007 and is now Vice President of Global Sponsorships at Mastercard. Kolodny graduated from the program in 2006 and is now Vice President at Octagon Marketing. In addition to their participation in the Octagon Bowl as professionals, both Goldstein and Kolodny participated in the Octagon Bowl as UMass graduate students.

“The Octagon-UMass relationship has been a win-win partnership,” Kolodny commented in reflecting on the Octagon Bowl. “Octagon has provided the UMass students an opportunity to gain real world experience in developing 360-degree marketing programs for leading corporate sponsors including Mastercard. Throughout our decade-long partnership, students have been given the opportunity to demonstrate research abilities, creative thinking, and written communication and presentation skills. Our agency has been able to leverage the students’ strategic thinking to enhance our clients’ initiatives and generate innovative solutions.”

2015 Octagon Bowl winners with representatives from Octagon and UMass

Providing students with experiential learning opportunities prepares them to enter into the sport industry as professionals, but the case of the McCormack Octagon Bowl shows us how such learning opportunities do more than just that. As Kolodny noted, “The benefits [of the partnership] are not limited to specific projects. The partnership has helped Octagon and our clients to identify and foster the next generation of marketers and strategists.”

The Octagon Bowl illustrates how experiential learning can allow students to realize the value of their educational experiences, such that as they progress upward in their professional careers, they remain connected to their alma mater, allowing alumni networks to thrive. These networks are not only advantageous in the industry, but also back “home” at the university as well. These networks motivate our former students to periodically turn to their alma mater and pay it back.

How Safe Are Parking Lots?

Gil Fried, Professor, University of New Haven

Most stadiums, such ad Dodger Stadium, have rules of conduct coming into the facility.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has indicated that more than 7% of violent attacks occur in parking facilities (Fickes, 2016). Whether tailgating, assaults or other issues, facility managers need to more proactively manage risks in parking lots. There are a number of liability cases where spectators have recovered for their injuries in a parking lot outside a stadium. In a recent case, a San Francisco Giant’s fan was attacked in the parking lot of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The game was a highly spirited opening game of the season between the two rivals. Mr. Stow was viciously attacked after the game when heading towards his car by some intoxicated thugs. The case drew significant media attention and resulted in a $13 million verdict against the Dodgers’ prior owner (Fried, 2015).

Over the past couple years, the number of incidents occurring in stadium and arena parking lots has dramatically increased in the United States. Some recent examples include:

  • In August 2011 two men were shot and wounded in the Candlestick Park parking lot after a preseason night football game (Goldfine, 2011).
  • In 2013, Jonathan Denver, 24, was fatally stabbed in a fight outside AT&T Park in San Francisco after a game between the Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers (Gomez and Melvin, 2013).
  • In December 2013, in the same parking lot, a man died during a confrontation during the Chiefs’ game against the Denver Broncos. (Associated Press, 2014).
  • Several weeks’ later at least three people were stabbed in a parking lot at the Denver Broncos’ stadium after a night game, allegedly stemming from a fight over a near fender-bender (ESPN 2013).
  • Another fan, was shot in the head in Lot 10 outside AT&T Stadium around an hour and a half after the Dallas Cowboys lost to the New England Patriots. The shooting in 2015 was disturbing for a number of reasons, one being that the shooter was being encouraged by others to shoot (Hensley, 2015).
Tailgating can create both a festive and possibly dangerous environment.

These examples show that fights or confrontations in a parking lot are not so unusual. Whenever there are numerous people moving around, excited or upset about a game’s outcome, possibly intoxicated, and faced with the prospects of waiting for up to an hour or more to exit a parking lot…tempers can be high. That is why any crowd management, risk management, or security plan needs to analyze conditions outside a stadium or arena as much as inside.

Some strategies to help reduce the risk of threats in parking lots include:

  • Using crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) process to improve the line of sight, remove trees/bushes, buildings and other obstructions that makes it more difficult to see what is going on in the parking lot.
  • Appropriate lighting is needed to minimize dark areas and improve visibility.
  • Training all those who will work in the parking area to serve as eyes and ears to address all violations of policies, interact with fans to make sure they know there is a security presence, spot disturbances and intervene as quickly as possible, monitoring as much at the end of the game as at the start of the game, and watch for vandalism/theft issues as examples.
  • Having enough people patrolling the lots in various vehicles such as on foot, bikes, golf carts, and other vehicles to effectively maneuver around vehicles and people.
  • Have at least one elevated viewing platform for police or security if the lot is large enough to warrant such a structure.
  • Have enough high-resolution CCTV positioned to effectively monitor the parking lot and record any disturbances.
  • Schedule a pre-season meeting with all parties (officials, police, security, etc..) to get everyone on the same page, and have regular debriefings to discuss what is going right as well as what steps can be taken to correct any potential problems.
  • Communicate safety strategies with fans through fliers, scoreboard, public address, and other means.
  • Some parking facilities are experimenting with parking lots dedicated to families and women to help provide a safer environment (Mosebar, 2015).

There can be no guarantee that a facility will be 100% safe.  If there have been past instances of assaults, crimes, etc… then a facility is on notice that such actions can occur. That is where facilities can face significant liability. Thus, sport facilities need to monitor what is going on in their parking lots and undertake some of the strategies mentioned above to reduce the chance of future assaults and possible liability. There is no magic formula as to what needs to be done, but the more strategies that are used and that can be proven, the better defense a facility can have if they get sued.


Associated Press (2014, February 21). Man charged in death of fan. 

Bearman v. University of Notre Dame (453 N.E.2d 1196 (1983). news service (2013). Three stabbed after Broncos game.

Fickes, M. (2016, September). 9 keys to building security. Buildings, 30-34.

Fried, G. (2015). Lessons from Stow. Connecticut Lawyer 26 (3) 18-20.

Goldfine, S. (2011). Security burns brighter at Candlestick Park. Security Sales & Integration 33 (12) 40-44.

Gomez, M and Melvin, J. (2013, September 26). Jonathan Denver, 24, son of Dodgers security guard, stabbed to death following San Francisco Giants game.

Hensley, N. (2015). Man shot in head during Dallas Cowboys tailgate fight outside AT&T Stadium after crowd goaded gunman.

Mosebar, J. 92015). Parking spaces. Security-Today 19 (9) 75-77.

Environmental Sustainability and Sport

by: Brian P. McCullough & Galen T. Trail

On October 4, the Pittsburgh Penguins visited the White House as part of their ceremonial press conference and congratulations from the President. Not only did President Obama congratulate the Penguins on their success on the ice, but also praised their success and commitment to environmental sustainability. In fact, the President also declared October 6 as Green Sports Day. This declaration follows the NHL’s collective commitment to environmental sustainability. As Commissioner Bettman notes frequently, without action, global warming will continue and the sport will lose its primary setting to teach and play the game – frozen ponds. The League’s commitment has gone as far as to releasing a sustainability report – notably the first professional league in North America to do so. However, in a recent webinar hosted by the Green Sport Alliance the NHL’s Director for Corporate Social Responsibility noted the importance of educating current and future professionals to be able to address the environmental sustainability issues that the sport industry faces and will continue to face as time progresses.

IMG_8833Like the NHL, other sport organizations and events have begun to advance their sustainability initiatives by deepening their commitments to reducing their impact on the natural environment. Michael Pfahl (Ohio University), Sheila Nguyen (Sport Environmental Association, formerly at Deakin University – Australia), and I wrote a piece conceptualizing the ebbs and flows in the waves of environmental sustainability within the sport industry. As sport organizations deepen their commitments, the sophistication of their environmental sustainability initiatives and campaigns dramatically increase. We have been fortunate to assist several sport entities in their sustainability efforts. In particular, we have explored fan and participant consumer segments to better design effective sustainability campaign messages.

From our initial work and conversations, it is obvious that sport professionals do not have the appropriate amount of time to dedicate to their organization’s environmental sustainability initiatives. It seems then that sport managers are not able to handle the multitude of components and time to coordinate well-executed sustainability campaigns. Some sport professionals, it would seem, are learning as they go rather than being more intentional about their campaigns. As a result, there is a need for knowledgeable professionals to be able to evaluate, design, and implement, a strategic plan to reduce their organization’s impact on the natural environment. The sport management academy needs to respond to this demand with fluid classes and curriculum that continually discuss the impact of all aspects of environmental sustainability

artsci-msal-spiritmark-copyAt Seattle University, we are working to fulfill this responsibility within the sport industry to meet the needs of the natural environment in practical ways. We launched the first comprehensive curriculum by creating the 100% online and standalone Sport Sustainability Leadership certificate. The program uses theoretical frameworks as a foundation to teach our students how to be on the leading edge to make the business case for implementing environmental sustainability into all aspects of the operation of a sport organization. The dynamic online environment and design of the courses allows working professionals to network with other student globally, which brings in perspectives that are not commonly shared in traditional face-to-face programs.

Our students have already contributed to the industry through their course work and final projects. For example, one has worked with the Olympic Club (San Francisco, CA) to create their first sustainability report to be released soon. Additionally, this student worked with the Super Bowl 50 Planning Committee to compile their sustainability report following the week long festivities in San Francisco to the LEED Gold Certified Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. Recently she has started her own sport environmental sustainability company, Impact360 Sports.

Additionally, another student has been working with the Los Angeles Football Club (MLS),soccer-698553_1280.jpg a 2018 expansion team, with their sustainability strategic plan as the organization grows and plans its facility. He has worked to maximize the organization’s LEED certification classification and develop other procurement procedures to ensure the team is zero-waste from day one. Lastly, he is also helping the team reduce their water and energy consumption, which comes as a financial premium in drought parched and energy starved Southern California.

Now is the time for the sport management academy to respond and meet the current and future needs of the industry and our practitioner colleagues by encouraging curriculum and research focused on the emerging questions as the industry seeks to be more environmentally responsible. Seattle University’s SSL program has taken the global lead in doing such.

What makes a successful golf management university program?

By Matthew Walker, Ph.D.
Texas A&M University

Training the next generation of employees, managers, and future leaders is an essential and necessary practice for any industry. This practice is especially important for industries pro-golf-imagewhere economic conditions, coupled with waning consumer interest, has reduced the aggregate value and revenue generating potential of the service. This is the case for the Golf Industry in the United States, where approximately 5.9 million golfers left the sport between 2003 and 2014, and approximately 160 courses closed in 2013, marking the eighth straight year for this latter trend (NGF, 2014). In light of these and other data showing fluctuations in key industry metrics (e.g., rounds per year and consumer spending), it is imperative to assess whether employment/training programs are equipped to deal with shifting industry challenges.

The PGA of America is well-aware of these and others challenges facing the Golf Industry in the United States. One tactic the PGA is taking to reverse this trend is to focus on their educational programming. Their aim is to ensure new leaders in the field are highly qualified, motivated, and well-prepared to exceed stakeholder expectations. This concern was the catalyst for sponsoring a recent research project intended to evaluate the delivery and impact of golf management university (GMU) programs around the nation.

The GMU landscape has a long history, stretching back to the mid-1970s, when the first program at Ferris State University was initially established. Since that time, the PGA of America has officially accredited 21 programs, with 18 active programs currently delivering golf management content to hundreds of students nationwide. The 4-5 year programs are designed for aspiring PGA Professionals and are intended to be skill acquisition-based with a heavy emphasis on field experiences and experiential learning. Combined with campus instruction, primarily housed in business schools around the country, the students are exposed to courses ranging from introduction to teaching golf, food and beverage management, and merchandising, among others. The programs provide students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the golf industry and collectively boast an impressive 100% job placement rate upon graduation.

These elements make for a degree path that is especially enticing for students interested in a golf management career. However, new student enrollment has waned in recent years, and the programs are plagued by high rates of student attrition, low graduation rates, and waning demand for the degree. Combined with a slowing market for recreational golf in the US, the PGA of America was keenly interested in better understanding the influence and impact of the GMU programs to help plot a course for their future direction.

hlkn_stacked-sportmanagementA team of sport management faculty from Texas A&M University comprised of Drs. Matthew Walker, Steven Salaga, George Cunningham, Paul Keiper, and Paul Batista were awarded nearly $200,000 from the PGA of America to evaluate the GMU landscape and formally identify and compare the characteristics of high and low performing GMU Programs. To this end, the research team engaged in a multi-step, iterative research process, which included: (1) qualitative and quantitative data collection aimed at understanding the attributes and perceptions of PGA GMU Programs; (2) estimates of the strength of relationships between program data, individual student characteristics, and economic factors; and (3) a market analysis to assess high school golfer awareness of and intentions to pursue a PGA GMU degree. Multiple data collection methods and analysis procedures were employed to ensure substantive conclusions could be most confidently derived by triangulating across measures and methods with non-overlapping strengths and weaknesses.

Based on the performance evaluation, the results showed the highest performing programs separated themselves from their peers through programmatic features, student engagement, connections with the industry, and attention to assessment and evaluation. The majority of these areas were closely tied to program delivery, student quality and commitment, and quality cohort management. In the aggregate, the programs are struggling with producing industry leaders with the acumen necessary to deal with various managerial challenges. Among the recommendations delivered to the PGA of America were: a renewed focus on innovation, a more committed stance for increasing diversity, a more robust standards and expectations evaluation for the member programs, and strategies designed to bolster new student recruitment and existing student retention.

Debate: are eSports sport?


In the article Virtual(ly) Athletes Where eSports Fit Within the Definition of Sport, authors Jenny, Manning, Keiper, & Olrich (2016) utilize academic definitions to debate whether or not eSports are indeed sport.  Extracted from philosophical definitions of sport, the authors examined the following components: play, organization, competition, skill, physicality, broad following, and institutionalization.

eSports are NOT sport
by Margaret C. Keiper, Ph.D. – Northwood University

The debate of whether or not eSports should or can be considered a “sport” is very much binary and legitimate.  However, parties believing that eSports is technically not a sport often base their perspective on components of academically accepted definitions of sport.  Specifically, the two major characteristics of sport that are arguably absent in eSports are the physical use of ones body and institutionalization of the sport.

Undoubtedly, eSports competitors use their hands and high level cognitive skills to succeed in eSports but true physical and strategic use of one’s body to compete is not present within eSports matches.  The novelty of eSports also lends to a deficiency in a clear presence of institutionalization.  To have institutionalization there must be standardized rules, formal learning, expertise and official governing bodies, among other things.   With ambiguity being present in reference to physical skill and institutionalization it is fair to say eSports cannot be unmistakably and completely be defined as a sport with two major components being in question.

esports2eSports are sport
by Seth E. Jenny, Ph.D. – Winthrop University

In this short essay I will briefly defend why eSports, or organized video game competitions, should be considered a sport.  Jenny, Manning, Keiper, and Olrich (2016) note seven definitive characteristics a sport must possess in order to be considered a sport as derived from sport philosophy (Suits, 2007) and sport sociology (Guttmann, 1978).

First, play forms the foundation for all sports and there is little doubt eSport players voluntarily play video games for enjoyment.  Second, eSports are organized goal-directed activities adhering to rules. For example, see ESL One (2016) for its eSports event 30 page rulebook which covers event, player and game-specific regulations.  Next, not only do eSports include competition resulting in a winner or loser, but eSports uniquely permit global competition through online gaming.  Fourth, eSports include skillful play where chance or luck is not the sole reason for winning.  In addition to the technical dexterity utilized with individual controller or computer button inputs, skillful eSports players and teams must utilize “sporting intelligence” (Hemphill, 2005) where excellent communication skills and the ability to adapt to the opposing team’s strategies must occur in order for success (Rambusch, Jakobsson, & Pargan, 2007).

Moreover, sports must include physical skills and professional eSports players have been known to skillfully perform more than 300 keyboard or mouse actions a minute (some up to 10 per second) (Heaven, 2014b).  In addition, as motion-based video gaming (Jenny, Hushman, & Hushman, 2013) – which track players’ gross motor body movements through motion-capture software and camera devices (e.g., Xbox Kinect, Nintendo Wii, etc.) – gain popularity, these more physical video games may be utilized more into eSports.  Sixth, there is no doubt eSports is beyond a local fad and has a broad following as over 70 million people watch eSports via the internet or television globally (Wingfield, 2014) and, for example, in 2013 League of Legends (the most popular eSports video game) had over 70 million registered players, including 32 million monthly active players (Snider, 2013).

Major television networks now air eSports (e.g., TBS, ESPN, X-Games) and dedicated eSports stadiums have been or are being built around the world (e.g., United States, South Korea, China, etc.) (Heaven, 2014a).  Finally, eSports are being institutionalized by several agencies where the rules are standard and formalized with governing bodies.  This will always be a fluid process in eSports as new video games are constantly created.  On the world’s stage, the International eSports Federation has been created while in the United Kingdom, the UK eSports Association and in South Korea the Korean Esports Association (KeSPA) have been created to standardize the sport in those respective countries.  In the United States, this is being done by Major League Gaming (MLG) and ESports League (ESL).  Like it or not, eSports is a sport!

It doesn’t matter
by Douglas Manning, Ph.D. – University of Southern Mississippi

Utilizing the word ‘eSports’ to describe competitive video gaming, has had an impact on television programming (ESPN, TBS, Pac-12 Network, etc.), collegiate athletic departments/scholarships (Keiper, Manning, Jenny, Olrich, & Croft, 2016), and perceptions/views about gaming. The debate of eSports as “sport” will certainly continue in academic and non-academic settings alike, but its reach, popularity, growth, and revenue generation cannot be denied.

eSports revenue is estimated to reach $1 billion globally by 2019 (Ogus, 2016; Riddell, 2016), and continues to grow exponentially in terms of participants, viewership, and even spectators at championship events. Along with the High School Starleague and Collegiate Starleague, eSports initiatives are now thriving on university campuses (“UCI to launch,” 2016) and being established by professional athletic clubs internationally (“Valencia FC to reveal eSports team,” 2016).

While my colleagues above make valid and logical arguments, is the debate ultimately one which is rooted in semantics? Would it be inconceivable to argue that video gaming constitutes sport, while the word eSports provides a different connotation?

Semantics aside, at this point it may not matter if eSports are truly sport due to its enormous potential for revenue generation. However, it is our hope you will review the attached article, Virtual(ly) Athletes: Where eSports Fit Within the Definition of “Sport” (Jenny, Manning, Keiper, & Olrich, 2016), and decide for yourself – is it sport?


My Cool Sports Job

Stories from sport industry professionals

By Brett Fuller, My Cool Sports Job

Mike Bucek
Mike Bucek, Kansas City Royals

Academia gives a student the tools to succeed, but how one utilizes the tools creates the level of success for graduates. Preparing for that dream career or dream job in some cases is the easy part, and upon graduation everyone needs that first break or bit of luck to make it in the sports industry. What if successful people in the sports industry had an outlet to share their career wisdom?

Throughout my career, I have always enjoyed guest lecturing, mentoring and doing countless number of informational interviews. In some ways, I find it inspiring to know how hungry the next generation is to get into this wonderful career of sports. The genesis for the idea about a blog about cool sports jobs all started one evening last winter while guest lecturing for the Sports Adminstration program at Ohio University. I think the exact quote was, “Dude, you know everyone and have tons of contacts, you should start a blog and interview people on our behalf.” The students implored me to use my connections and access to tell the stories of successful people in the sports industry and, more importantly, how they got from point A to point Z. It is easy for students and young grads to imagine that dream job, but understanding the path and appreciating all of the zigs and zags is a whole different game. Of course, it goes without saying that any advice a young person can obtain for breaking into the industry (and maybe just as important being successful once they have caught the first break) is invaluable. My goal for the blog is to share stories from those that have succeeded and pay it forward.

I have been fortunate to be a part of the sports industry for 20+ years and in a crazy variety of roles. My career has touched many people and many industries and I have been blessed to bounce different directions. When I graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Economics, I never expected to work for the Sprint corporate sponsorship group activating major properties like the NFL, U.S. Ski Team, or the PGA of America. Somehow, that led to sports marketing jobs with the largest architecture firm in the world and an industry-leading concessionaire. Being a huge believer in giving back and karma, I have always enjoyed mentoring, guest lecturing and trying to help the next generation of sports industry experts break into the world that can be so enjoyable.

Christian Elias, green monster scoreboard operator

Some question why I find it necessary to stay in touch with every person I have ever met in life, but I find it very beneficial. Once I committed to starting a blog about “cool” sports jobs, it was critical to have a strong network of friends and colleagues scattered about the industry. I felt it was important to interview a wide variety of people within the industry to appeal to a wide audience of students with a wide spectrum of dreams. The blog is broken up into categories so it is easy to search within collegiate, professional sports and goods & service providers. Hopefully, the blog has both inspired and motivated folks to realize those dream jobs are possible; maybe it has even provided a road map on how to reach that destination. It can be tough to break into the sports industry, where every job is in extremely high demand, so hearing authentic stories from real people doing real jobs was the main focus of the blog. My hope is there is a piece of advice or a quote that makes a small difference who read the blog. As Tom Bowen, AD at the University of Memphis likes to say, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; life is about learning how to dance in the rain.”

Debate: Internships

Internships: Framing the Conversation

By Mike OdioUniversity of Cincinnati

The past few years have brought many issues surrounding internships to the forefront of the public consciousness. However, much like the controversies involving the amateur status of student-athletes in the NCAA, the prevailing conversation seems to ainternship2lways revolve around whether interns are entitled to compensation. Although important for many reasons, the topic of compensation tends to draw away from the other issues existing in each system. This often turns discussions into a frivolous debate on whether the youth have become too entitled rather than addressing the balance of power in these contexts and the vulnerability of amateur athletes or sport management students, who are advised to repeatedly work for free while networking and guarding their reputation.

In addition to an ongoing debate on compensation, amateurism and internships share several historical similarities. Internships, like amateurism, stem from a 19th century concept that has been borrowed and adapted from its original source. Also like amateurism, internships benefit the privileged and assigned inferior status to those not in power. While I am not advocating for the eradication of amateurism or internships, I believe studying the history of each of these helps to frame the conversations and bring forward the underlying issues that must be addressed. It helps us understand that many of these issues are not new and not unique to our domain. The past few years have seen momentum growing for changing the NCAA’s definition of amateurism, but we in the field of sport management have not been quite as proactive when it comes to internships.

internThe idea of a student performing closely supervised work as part of their training has been enthusiastically adopted by other fields in the 20th century. However, surveying the use of the term internship across professions makes the definition of an internship difficult to peg. This lack of standardization often leads to great opportunities for forward-thinking and creative people who can offer to become an intern for an organization that is not hiring, but it also limits progress in many ways.

Doctoral internships in psychology are rigidly structured with mandates on content and the number of hours a week a student must receive didactic supervision and much more. On the other hand, the term is used by many organizations in politics, journalism, fashion, media, and sport as a temporary or flexible position or as an extended recruitment and selection process with no consistent standards as far as university involvement, duration, number of hours per week, role of the site supervisor, or expected outcomes. Without some amount of standardization any conversation about internships, practicum, field experiences, fellowships, residencies, or any other long-term experiential learning will be inherently limited.

However, as evidenced by the reports of abuse, discrimination and harassment in the medical field, the standardization of internship criteria alone would not resolve many of the issues potentially facing interns in the sport industry. Fortunately, there have been some changes at the local level, and movement at the federal level to protect unpaid interns from some of the abuses since they do not benefit from the protections of employment law. But paid or not, all interns are still vulnerable in other ways.

We, as a field, must begin to evaluate our participation in the process, both through our offering of course credit for internships and our direct relationship with organizations that offer not-for-credit internships that keep people bouncing from organization to organization trying to “break in” to the industry. This conversation may involve the question of compensation, but it should be more comprehensive. We should question all of our practices and assumptions involving why we have internships and how they are operated. And most importantly, whether we strive for some sort of standardization or not, we should be sure to aim for an ethical system that acknowledges the position students and graduates are in when they sign up for an internship.