Student Questions on Working in College Sports
Let me start by quickly describing the structure of the graduate program at Ohio University in Sports Administration for those of you who may not be familiar with it. The vast majority of students are admitted as both MBA students and Master’s in Sports Administration (MSA) students. So, the first year is strictly MBA coursework (with one class exception), a summer internship follows, then a MSA year is next hopefully followed by a well paying job.
During the two weeks prior to this Christmas, I had the pleasure of meeting with some of our MBA graduate students thinking about working in college sports. Most of the students were questioning exactly where they wanted to be short term and long term with their career. Although all began their graduate work thinking they wanted to work in some aspect of college sports, many had started to question their professional path. The pressure to begin looking for a summer internship (preferably paid in this horrible economy), deciding what aspect of college athletics is appealing, and the reality that they don’t have much practical experience at this point was starting to cause a bit of stress.
So, I thought an appropriate starting point for my blog would be to start a discussion on the reality of working in Division I college athletics. As a quick re-cap, I worked at the University of Florida (compliance undergrad intern, compliance GA, administrative assistant, and event/facility coordinator) and Southeastern Louisiana University (Asst. A.D/SWA, Assoc. A.D./SWA). I’ll start with responding to some of the common themes that came out of my meetings with students and then insert my opinion based on my personal experiences working as an administrator in college athletics. I’m sure there will be more posts along these lines in the future.
A few of the common themes of student meetings included
Theme #1 – I’m not sure college athletics is 100% for me, how will I really know?
My Thoughts – You won’t know until you try it and you’ll probably have to try a few different areas in college sports before figuring where the best fit is. Not only are there a variety of areas within institutions, but there are also conference offices, national offices, and agency work (i.e. ISP). The other thing to realize is that volunteering/interning is very different from the responsibility you will have as a full-time employee. A lot of people drawn to working in sport are confident, passionate, and like to be in charge. So, just because an internship (where you did not have much autonomy) was not a good fit does not necessarily mean that as a full-time employee you would feel the same way. Just as in any life decision, a lot of it comes down to your “gut”.
Theme #2 – What is the best career path to being an A.D.?
My Thoughts- The current school of thought is that development is a great route to being an A.D. because of the financial challenges A.D.’s are facing today. However, there have always been financial challenges and many of the great A.D.’s in college sports right now did not begin in development. So, if you are someone who is interested in development, that is great – GO FOR IT! However, if you are not a development person, don’t worry because you can still be an A.D. Every job in college athletics is what you make it. If you are an academic advisor and never go to games, don’t reach out to the coaches, and don’t initiate new programs and ideas then you probably will be an academic advisor for a long time. That is fantastic if that is where you want to be. But, if you have aspirations of being an Asst. A.D. for academics or even moving to a different area of administration and eventually to an A.D. position, it is up to you to prove you can do it. Figure out a way to get noticed and build a strong network of coaches, administrators, boosters, and student-athletes. If you are an academic advisor, take it upon yourself to set up a career development program for student-athletes by reaching out to alumni and setting up a career fair or mentor ship program. You need to prove that you can do the job of being an A.D. which means that you get budget experience (even if it is only related to small areas of operations), you can excite the alumni and booster base, you can hire well, and you understand the rules. To move up in college sports it is common that you have to be willing to move. So, deciding wheere stand with respect to moving to climb the ladder is also important.
Theme #3 – I want to work directly with student-athletes, but I also want to be a high level administrator. Can those two objectives co-exist?
My Thoughts- YES. See above. It is up to you to make it work. There are A.D.’s who know the names of all 300-400 of their student-athletes and there are others who barely know their star student-athletes. Some A.D.’s make it a priority to attend practices and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Meetings while others barely know what the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is. Neither is right or wrong, it is about your personal and institutional priorities. As much as we would all like to be all things to all people, there is a limit to how much can be done in 24-hrs so you need your own personal philosophy on management. This is something that will develop throughout your career, but now is a great time to start to determine the type of work environment and priorities that might be a good fit for you. Then, finding an institution that is a good match with your philosophy is the next step.
As a sidenote, check out a day in the life of Todd Turner, the former Athletic Director at the University of Washington for an examle of the daily life of an athletic director at a big school.
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