How to decide which sports management and law courses to enrol on? A US perspective

Published 25 February 2019 By: Glenn Wong, Samuel Renaut

Distance Learning

This article was first written for and originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of NACDA’s magazine, Athletics Administration.

This article provides an insight into how the sports law and management programs have been developing in the United States of America as well as give practical considerations for students looking to select and undergraduate or postgraduate degree in these fields. Whilst this is focused on the courses in the USA the advice can be applied to non-USA courses.

If you find this article useful please leave a comment at the bottom, as this may form part of a series of articles on sports law and management education and career development.

Online, or on-ground?

That is the question for many would-be students, including aspiring sports administrators.

Each year, thousands of college graduates look to solidify their career footing in graduate programs. Increasingly, students interested in sport management programs do not have to look far: Since the first sports-oriented graduate programs were introduced in the 1960s, the market for sports education has grown in lockstep with the industry itself. As leagues and teams increased in profitability, exposure, and influence, sport management programs continued to grow in size, diversity, and popularity.

As of Fall 2017, the North American Society for Sport Management counts more than 220 institutions offering some variation of a sport management graduate degree. The Sports Law & Business Program at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is one of the newer sports-focused master’s programs. More established sport management departments are found at the Universities of Michigan, Arkansas, Texas, and San Francisco, Ohio University, Rutgers, Temple, and Duquesne.

Not nearly concurrent with the growth of sport management programs—but twice as swift—is the development of online education (distance learning). Though education-at-a-distance is not a novel concept, the Internet has revolutionized the space in since 2000. Driven by demands for greater accessibility and flexibility, many colleges and universities diversified their offerings to include online sections, courses, and in some cases, whole degrees.

By Fall 2015, more than six million college students were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses, and by 2017 there were well over 10,000 online graduate-level degree offerings. Many sport management departments have adapted their programs to the realities of new-age education, adding online components to their curriculum and/or creating online degrees that parallel the on-ground operation.

This article provides an overview of online sport management programs and surveys several such degrees. It also discusses the benefits and drawbacks of distance learning and offers guidance on selecting a master’s-level program.

Overview of Online Sport-Focused Graduate Programs

Though sports-focused graduate degree options are plentiful, relatively few offer online degree components. In a 2017 study, researchers at Kennesaw State University examined 194 sport-focused graduate programs and found just 11.3 percent featured online degrees in their portfolio. Only 2.6 percent offered both online and on-ground degrees. The Kennesaw State study surmised that online offerings would increase as students continue to work full-time while completing graduate education—especially given the “efficient and effective manner” in which distance learning can accommodate those students’ needs. At ASU, for example, select online and hybrid course offerings reduce travel burdens and time conflicts for students working outside the downtown Phoenix area.

Most online sport management programs take what would otherwise be presented in the classroom and transform it into material delivered from a computer screen. This means distance learning students often take the same courses from the same professors as on-ground students, but access materials from a class website. These websites often include forums where students can correspond with one another and comment on each other’s work, simulating the “discussion” lost in distance learning. In this way, online sport management courses attempt to recreate the on-ground classroom experience, and, through increased efficiency, can enhance it.

Online vs. On-Ground Education

The key advantage of online education is its increased flexibility. By allowing students to access lectures and other course materials on-demand, online courses free enrollees to hold part- and full-time jobs while earning their degrees. Many young professionals would rather not interrupt their careers while seeking a graduate degree, and online programs give them the best chance to continue earning, honing practical skills, and networking while taking classes. If students seeking a sport management degree are currently employed and either prefer to continue working or cannot stop working, online education may be the best avenue to an advanced degree.

However, online programs cannot offer the inherent advantages of in-person learning. Online degrees may only offer a curriculum’s core courses and omit electives, preventing students from pursuing particular interests. Further, the structure of distance learning curtails opportunities for meaningful interaction with faculty members and fellow students—though some online programs integrate forums into their curriculum. An online program’s alumni base may suffer from lack of cohesion as a result of this diminished interaction.

Many assume that online programs come at a decreased cost relative to their on-ground counterparts. But according to data gathered by U.S. News and World Report, the average per-credit cost of online degrees is slightly higher than that of on-ground education. These findings are supported by a 2017 survey of online education administrators conducted by the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, which found “virtually every administrator surveyed said online courses are more expensive to produce.” However, online degrees may eliminate many ancillary expenses related to education, including travel and textbook costs.

Survey of Online Sport-Focused Graduate Programs

Before enrolling in a sport management graduate program, students should examine the program’s length, cost, curriculum, faculty, job placement outcomes, and other factors. That exercise is completed here for three programs:

Duquesne University

Duquesne’s M.S. in Sports Business (MSSB) is offered through the University’s School of Business. A 100 percent online program, the MSSB requires 30 credits, typically completed over 3 semesters. Courses include: Ethics and Stakeholder Management; Business Strategy; Sales in Sports Business; and The Legal Environment. At $934 per credit, the degree itself costs $28,020. The MSSB has recruited Duquesne grad and current Cleveland Cavaliers’ CEO Len Komoroski to promote the program.

Ohio University

Ohio’s well-regarded Master of Sports Administration (MSA) program is also housed in the University’s business school. The program, tailored to working professionals, is not 100 percent online, requiring 6 on-campus “residencies” over a 21-month period. The MSA degree costs $29,000; the average student is 33 with 8 years of work experience; and content is delivered via “online modules, recorded lectures, virtual presenters, discussion boards, and case studies.” Core courses include Sport Governance and Research Methods in Sports Administration. Ohio’s sport management alumni base runs deep, especially in intercollegiate athletics (1,400 graduates employed at some level of college sports).

Arizona State University

ASU’s College of Law offers a fully-online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree with an emphasis in Sports Law. The program is intensive, with each course spanning 7.5 weeks. 30 credit hours are required for the degree at a cost of $1,070 per credit ($32,100 total cost). In Fall 2018, ASU’s Sports Law & Business Program launched its Veterans Sports Law & Business (VSLB) Program, an online degree exclusively for former servicemen and women. VSLB includes optional residencies in Washington, D.C., Santa Monica, and Phoenix (and other locations based on location of enrolled students) and access to mentors and other professionals through skills workshops, learning laboratories, professional development, and networking.

Students: What to Look For

When choosing between online and on-ground sport management programs, many young professionals are at a crossroads in their educational and career paths. While a poorly-researched choice could create additional challenges, a wise decision integrating one’s current and future goals could be the springboard to a fulfilling career in sports. There are several key questions prospective graduate students should ask themselves before selecting an online or on-ground degree:

  1. What is my vision for a meaningful graduate education?

  • What do I want my graduate education to look like?

  • If I’m working full- or part-time, do I want to give up my job, salary, and career momentum to go back to school?

  • Or do I want an immersive classroom experience that may improve my competency as an employee, grow my network, and expand my interests?

  1. What are my priorities and goals?

  • Where do I want my career ladder to lead?

  • How quickly do I want to get there? Am I willing to invest my time, effort, and energy and incur the opportunity costs of face-to-face education?

  • Or can I still accomplish my goals through an online program?

  • Do the courses available at my desired graduate program align with my career goals?

  • Do students in the programs I am considering tend to prefer amateur or professional sports, or does the program offer opportunities at both levels?

  1. How can I evaluate a distance learning program before enrolling?

  • Should I talk to current and former students in the program? (Yes)

  • Should I evaluate the program on a cost-per-unit basis to assess its affordability for me? (Yes)

  • Should I ask about the program’s alumni network and job placement history? (Yes)

  • Are there platforms within the distance learning program that allow for meaningful interaction with other students, faculty, and alumni? (Hopefully so)

Online education can be a powerful tool for aspiring sports professionals or those already in the industry to advance their careers. As these programs become increasingly available, prospective students should carefully consider the advantages and drawbacks of online and on-ground degrees, explore their options, and evaluate their career goals and personal preferences before embarking on graduate coursework.

Glenn M. Wong is the Executive Director of the Sports Law & Business Program and Distinguished Professor of Practice – Sports Law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Sam Renaut is the Assistant Director of ASU’s Sports Law & Business Program and a former NFLPA-Certified Contract Advisor.

Cameron Miller is a 2017 graduate of ASU’s Sports Law & Business Program and is a first year law student at Georgetown University.


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Glenn Wong

Glenn Wong

Executive Director, Sports Law and Business at Arizona State University

Glenn M. Wong is a sports lawyer, academic, consultant, arbitrator and author. He is a past-president of the Sports Lawyers Association (SLA) and SLA board member since 1998. He joined ASU in 2015 as a Disguished Professor of Practice after retiring as Professor Emeritus from the Isenberg School of Management, University of Massachusetts.

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Samuel Renaut

Samuel Renaut

Asst. Director, Sports Law & Business; Coaches' Agent, Attorney, Arizona State University

Sam Renaut is the Director of ASU Law’s Sports Law & Business program. He is at the forefront of developing and growing the program, including curriculum, professional development, career services, strategic partnerships, fundraising, and more.

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