Over the past few years, whether or not students should major in sport management in college has become a hot topic in the sports business industry. This is partially due to the explosion of colleges offering such programs – according to the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), nearly 400 US colleges and universities now offer sport management degree tracks for undergraduates

[1].

In a recent blog, Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban suggested that college students interested in working in sports business study sales, saying competition among sport management students for sports jobs is too steep to justify hope for a good return. “Why do the schools and kids think that across the tens of thousands of graduates from these programs there is going to be a job that even comes close to paying off their student loans[?]” asks Cuban. “Do the math [2].” He goes on to say a degree in sport management “improve[s students] chances of getting a job at Fridays [2].”

I think Cuban’s take is a bit harsh – in my opinion, there’s definitely a role for sport management programs in today’s higher education system. However, it is important that participants have a realistic understanding of the benefits and detriments of such programs before they devote four years of time, energy and money into earning that degree. Here are a few questions to think about if you are considering an undergraduate course of study in sport management.

Does your program come with a built-in network?

Perhaps the most significant benefit of being part of a college sport management program is the inherent professional networks made available to those programs’ students. Understand, though, that not all schools’ networks are created equally.

When considering a particular school’s sport management program, look at how long that program has been in existence (the longer, the better), how many high-level sports business execs it counts as alums (and what areas those execs specialize in – pro sports, college, brand-side sponsorship, etc.), and what systems it has in place to connect alumni with students.

Also, consider the size of the program. A small graduate program may offer significantly more opportunities to make meaningful connections with guest lecturers and visiting alums than, say, a thousand-person undergraduate program, in which competition for each alum’s attention will be fierce.

What do you envision for your professional (and economic) future?

Anyone looking to get in to sport management must be realistic about his or her future. Even considering everything from property-side work to agency jobs to high school athletics posts, entry level sport management positions are few and far between. Competition for these jobs is truly fierce, even though nearly all require long hours in exchange for minimal pay. Working 55 hours a week for an annual salary of $28K for a few years is an option you may be lucky to come across; if that’s not acceptable for you, you should probably consider a different major.

How will you stand out?

Another thing to think about when considering a sport management major is how you might differentiate yourself from your peers over the next few years. If you graduate as one sport management major in a class of, say, 500, what will help you stand out from your classmates (not to mention graduates from the other ~400 sport management programs hitting the job market by your side)?

Clubs, volunteering, and internships are all great (and, essentially, mandatory); however, you may also want to think about a functional double major that arms with you with true secondary skill (marketing, business, statistics, etc.).
Another alternative is to consider attending a sport management graduate program after earning a more “functional” undergrad degree (or vice versa). A candidate hitting the job market with a BS in Economics and a MS in Sport Management – or a BS in Sport Management and an MBA – is likely going to have a leg up on the thousands of sport management undergraduates whose education stops after they obtain that first degree.

What’s your chosen school/program’s reputation?

Much like not all schools’ networks are created equally, neither are all schools’ programs of study, faculty and reputations. You’ll have a better shot at a post-graduate job if the person you’re applying to recognizes your alma mater’s program, knows a few alums (or is one him/herself), and admires your professors’ industry reputations.

Where do you want to end up?

It probably goes without saying that sport management grads should be prepared to relocate when it’s time to hit the job market. With competition for entry-level sport management jobs as fierce as it is, graduates should be prepared to go to the job, and not restrict themselves by only searching for positions within, say, 50 miles of home/school/etc.

However, keep your ultimate location goals in mind when researching sports management programs. If you ultimately want to end up on the East Coast, it probably makes sense to go to an East Coast school (which will be more likely to organize networking trips to East Coast franchises and companies, attract East Coast-based guest speakers, etc.). It will be easier for you to build a network where you’re based, which may prove helpful in the long run.

* Full disclosure: the author of this post is a happy graduate of both Boston University, where she earned a BS in Journalism, and UMass Amherst, where she earned her MS in Sport Management.

[1] http://www.nassm.com/InfoAbout/SportMgmtPrograms/United_States
[2] http://blogmaverick.com/2014/02/23/my-2-cents-on-sports-marketing-and-what-i-learned-from-smu-basketball-this-week/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogmaverick%2FtyiP+%28blog+maverick%29