Amid the explosion of sports management-related courses worldwide in recent years, Ohio University’s Professional Master of Sports Administration (PMSA) has consistently stood out as an international benchmark.
In 2018, for the sixth time in seven years, the US university emerged at the top of the overall SportBusiness Postgraduate Course Rankings.
According to Greg Sullivan, director of the university’s PMSA, institutions worldwide need to focus on the structure of their degrees if they are to offer students a credible vehicle for boosting their career aspirations in sports administration.
“There are varying levels of quality for graduate sport administration degrees, particularly for online programs,” he says. “Many offer the quickest path to a master’s degree and don’t differ very much in content from many undergraduate programs. There are other programs that stand out in what they can offer to graduate students and we strive to be one of those programs.
“We are constantly modifying and adjusting our curriculum to ensure that our students earn a degree that is useful and directly applicable to their current positions. At Ohio University we are very fortunate that we have a very active and engaged alumni base that assists us in providing cutting-edge information and applied projects in such areas as esports, data analytics and sports gambling.”
The online program’s flexible approach is centred on the knowledge that many of the students are already working in the sports industry and therefore have pressing existing commitments.
For example, for students who work with the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee, the course leaders make a conscious effort to shift the bulk of their workload away from the spring semester, when March Madness – the pre-eminent college tournament of the year – understandably monopolises their time.
“Without sacrificing academic rigour, we understand the demands of working full-time in sports,” Sullivan says.
The university has embraced online resources as a key part of its strategic plans, but in-person experiences continue to play a vital role.
“Improvements in technology have made online learning a rich academic environment, offering adult learners the flexibility to earn a degree from the oldest and most established sports administration program in the world,” Sullivan adds.
“Certainly, that opportunity would not exist for many of our students without an online program. However, the need to connect with others in more tangible ways shouldn’t be ignored. Throughout our 21-month program we offer residencies on campus that provide the opportunity for students to bond with each other and our on-campus students.
Sullivan adds that there is always the potential for a student’s motivation to wane as they juggle a multitude of personal responsibilities. However, those behind the program are keen to ensure the right foundations are in place to minimise the chances of such a scenario.
“The research regarding student motivation is very robust and focuses on the satisfaction of three very important needs,” Sullivan says. “The first is the need for competency. Students need to perceive themselves as being capable of doing quality graduate-level work. Our instructors provide quick, meaningful feedback to our students to highlight what they have done well and with strategies for continued improvement.
“Secondly, students need to perceive themselves as being autonomous. We allow our students a voice in how the program is run, the projects on which they work and the academic and social content of our residencies.
“Finally, there is the need for belongingness. Despite being located all around the United States and the world, our students feel like they are part of a group and they are not working in a silo. Group work is encouraged in most of our classes and, of course, the residencies are as important for their social aspects as for their academic goals.”
Underpinning the university’s feeling of belonging is its unrivalled network of graduates – many of whom are now sports industry leaders.
“It is unlike any other network in the sport industry and cannot be duplicated by any other sport administration program,” Sullivan says. “It is truly Ohio University’s competitive advantage.”