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SportBusiness Postgraduate Course Rankings 2018 | US schools still leading the way

SportBusiness International asked the providers of the top three ranking postgradute courses in North America to talk about the secrets of their success.

1. Ohio University | Master of Sports Administration
Norm O’Reilly – chair, department of sports administration and Greg Sullivan, director, PMSA programme

SB: What keeps Ohio at number one in the rankings year after year?
O’Reilly: It’s a combination of history and our current strategy. First of all, we’re very fortunate in that we’re the oldest [postgraduate sports management] programme in the world. We’ve been around for 52 years and have over 5,000 alumni from our graduate and undergraduate programmes working in the sport industry around the world. So we’ve got an enormous and very devoted alumni network and history.
More importantly, in the past five years we’ve really focused on improving the quality of our faculty and really driving our curriculum to be a business curriculum within the programme, so we’ve been through a number of curriculum changes and updates and we’re now doing that on a very regular basis. The third thing we’ve done strategically is made a real effort to become more international. We’ve internationalised our faculty, we’ve been expanding our partnerships with the universities around the world – we have a number of those – and we’ve been really working to diversify our student body, so that the students in the programme are from all over the world. So it’s an international composition in terms of the faculty focus and the students.
Sullivan: I think diversity is always at the forefront of what we’re doing. Considering our impact on the sport industry, I think we’ve had strong diverse leadership in the programme and I think that that’s translated into our diversity success.
We have a history of success that attracts great students. I think that first and foremost our students really drive our success. They’re engaged, they’re motivated, and they serve to motivate the faculty and staff as well. There has been a long-standing culture of Bobcats taking care of Bobcats. And the understanding is that once you become a Bobcat, you’re a part of the success of other Bobcats. It’s really an amazing and wonderful culture that’s been over 50 years in the making.
What challenges do you face?
O’Reilly: In terms of maintaining our ranking, it’s simply competition. Every week we read about another programme popping up and getting going. A number of major business schools in the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia are launching programmes. And they’re like us: they’re really good business schools, they’ve got great curricula, they’ve got resources. Competition is the number one thing.
The challenge for the industry overall with all these programmes is, are there jobs for everybody? There are programmes where students aren’t getting 100 per cent job placement, and that’s a big challenge. We need to make sure we’re aligned with how many job opportunities there actually are.
One thing we’ve been able to do which has been a challenge for all programmes economically is keep our MSA programme very small. We have about 20 students on the programme, and we’ve kept the number there despite a lot of pressure and a lot of demand. We know that it could be a lot bigger but we’ve kept it focused and kept it elite. It’s really hard to get in and we know we have really talented students. Then they do very well in terms of their careers afterwards.
Ohio received a perfect score for graduate employment. Why are Ohio alumni so appealing to employers?
O’Reilly: By keeping it so competitive to get in, the group that comes in is extraordinary to begin with. We get an exceptional pool of candidates that come through that want to join the programme. Then the curriculum is very focused on fitting with the industry needs around analytics, around high-end sales, around digital content. And then because it’s a small group and a talented group and we have the faculty and our Center for Sports Administration, which is very strong, we have a very focused effort on supporting their job-hunting efforts once they’re in the programme.
The other thing I think is key is that we’re a two-year programme and the first year is an MBA. So we have a good chunk of time with the students and they also have an MBA degree. That just vastly increases your employability. They’ve got work experience, they’re brilliant when they come in, they’ve got an MBA plus an MSA from a really good curriculum. All those things have lead to the 100 per cent job placement and great salaries for as long as I’ve been here.
Sullivan: From an academic standpoint I think we understand the role that analytics is having and will have on decision-making. We just hired a new faculty member and she specialises in analytics, so we’re really excited for what she brings to our course development. And from a leadership standpoint, we create an understanding of employee wellbeing as well as leadership wellbeing and the importance of a positive leadership approach which incorporates a strong focus on ethics which I think is really important.

2. University of Massachusetts Amherst | Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management – MBA/MS Sport Management
Steve McKelvey – associate professor, associate department chair & graduate programme director

What are the hallmarks of the UMass programme?
We’re very experiential learning-based. Our professors lecture and we do provide the theory, but most of our grad classes also incorporate a real-world, hands-on learning component. I think our focus is general sport management and development of leaders in the industry. We have areas where we are historically very strong – college athletics is one, front office of major sports is another very strong area, and we’re also getting stronger with each year in the sports sponsorship consulting area. But you come to our programme to get the finest overall sport management training and education. We’re not focused purely on one thing or the other.
Where do you end up placing most of your graduates?
The reality is, in this day and age, that most of our alums are going to end up bouncing in and out of different industries. Not too many students start in college athletics and will be in college athletics for the rest of their lives. They may start there, and they may go on the brand side, and they may go work for a pro sports team, a sports marketing company, and then they’ll be back in college athletics. One of the first things we tell students in the professional development seminar is that their path is not going to be linear. It’s going to bounce around, in and out of different industry sectors. So we’re preparing them for a bit of all of that.

3. George Washington University | MBA in Sport Management
Lisa Delpy Neirotti – director, sport management programmes

Why do you think GWU graduates are so successful at finding work after the programme?
We’ve tried to build a whole in-classroom and out-of-classroom experience. We have more internships and opportunities to work outside than we have students. We work hard to understand what our students want and then place them in good positions. I think it’s that personal touch. We look for the traditional but often the new opportunities as well. From the time they enter our programme we work with them on getting them experience. Because it’s not only academic achievement, but have they had relevant experience? And do they have a network? So we try to get them that experience, and introduce them to as many industry professionals as possible. We also work closely with them on interviewing skills, resume preparation – just becoming a professional.
What are the challenges you face?
Getting the students placed will remain our main challenge. There are limited positions and so many people going after them. Students these days are used to short-form tweets, or watching videos, and not paying attention to detail. So we really work on our students to go that extra mile and make that extra effort to not take a shortcut. I think that’s important. We also have to make sure students understand there are so many other opportunities than just, they come in wanting to work only in football and only work in Washington DC. We have to say, ‘look, you can work anywhere in the world and it may not be in that specific field you want to work in, but go try something different and then come back and see where your skills can take you’. It’s about getting people to open their eyes to other opportunities.

This article features in the 2018 SportBusiness Postgraduate Course Rankings report. Browse the sections of the report or download the full PDF version here.

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