Play Ball: Stepping Up to the Pro Sports Plate

Play Ball: Stepping Up to the Pro Sports Plate

<em>Preparing students for careers in professional sports</em>

SO HERE WE ARE, SAME OLD story, stuck waiting for our NBA and NCAA colleagues to fly in to O'Hare for our planned press conference on a dreary winter afternoon in Chicago.

Kicking back at the newsstand, we eye this week's tabloid revealing the latest expos? facing pro sports, college athletics and the fans who love to watch their favorite teams live and on TV. The headlines spotlight Congress's fascination with performance doping-Who knew what? When? Will Clemens and Bonds make the MLB Hall of Fame or at least, as some have suggested, make the Hall of Fame with asterisks placed next to their names?

Below the fold is another story on Belichick's "Spygate" blues. One wonders more and more what impact these scandals will have on the next generation of sports management students, faculty, and future pro sports leaders.

Paradoxical though it may seem, our baseball background intelligence tells us this latest rash of scandals has had a significant positive impact-stimulating a constructive conversation on campus about public integrity, reputation, and real-life lessons learned by both pro sports teams and college and university sports management programs across the nation.

A new cadre of sports
management students will
debate these ethical pro
sports dilemmas.

For many within the ivory tower, history will record the performance-enhancing drug culture depicted in the Mitchell Report as the Enron of contemporary pro sports ethics. Just as the Enron scandal still reverberates in business school case studies and curricula around the globe, we predict that the steroid scandal will likely influence the way sports management students learn to conduct business in the new world of professional sports and collegiate athletics.

On campus, sports management curricula will place a heavy emphasis on ethical values, corporate behavior, and fiduciary obligations. Carol Barr, past president of the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), suggests, "These real-world examples will no doubt invigorate discussion and enrich the learning possibilities for students' future careers in sport or anywhere." Dramatic changes will not occur overnight, as a new cadre of sports management students will debate these ethical dilemmas and bring their fresh perspectives into the classrooms-while learning the business of sports through internships, seminars, and assigned research projects.

The other upside of the current conversation focuses on the important new role of PSI-you heard correctly, PSI and not CSI-that is, Pro Sports Investigation. Already, the evolving athletic trainer curriculum will contain new didactic and clinical learning experiences in the fields of pharmacology, forensics, and bioinformatics.

Pro sports are witnessing an economic rebirth. As a result, new pro sports career employment and marketing opportunities have grown exponentially. Today, college and university sports management programs are proliferating-and creating more meaningful opportunities for students to engage in all aspects of professional sports management, athletic training, and sports medicine.

Consider the <b>University of Massachusetts Lowell</b>, located in an industrial city on the banks of the Merrimack River and the co-developer of LeLacheur Park, which the Lowell Spinners, a Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, call home. Nearby Tsongas Arena is host to an American Hockey League affiliate, the Lowell Devils.

The institution's love affair with hockey and baseball extends well beyond seats in the stadium. At the UMass Lowell Baseball Research Center, students and faculty are using highly specialized science and engineering technologies to improve baseball bat performance and durability. The center, located within UML's Department of Mechanical Engineering, also serves as a bat testing and certification center for professional and collegiate baseball. In this way, sports and science have found common ground.

UML leaders have convened celebrity discussion panels on the plight of NFL retirees who suffer from the long-term effects of repeated concussions. Not coincidently, a company working to develop a new kind of shock-absorbing football helmet is moving its Boston headquarters to Wannalancit Mills (just a baseball's throw away from LeLacheur Park) because it sees in Lowell-and UML in particular-a valuable partner and product research and development resource. In this case, science and sports will bring jobs to the region.

For example, Marty Meehan, former congressman and chancellor of UML, sees hockey, baseball, and other sports as educational for the students participating but also as vehicles to generate revenue, visibility, and prestige for the university. Successful college and professional teams also provide entertainment and serve as a unifying function for the entire community. Chancellor Meehan believes that hockey games at the Tsongas Arena are "a catalyst for something larger, the coming together of the university and community in a way that helps to create a more vibrant and engaged campus culture."

Beyond these campus-based pro sports partnerships, we see new opportunities for co-branding and co-marketing in connection with the development of a new blend of college towns and pro sports venues, which creates a new sense of community involvement and civic engagement.

Jonathan Reinsdorf, managing partner of Stonegate, a full-service higher education and pro sports consulting firm, put it this way: "Professional sports teams see colleges and universities as a feeder base for their business ranks. They are increasingly getting involved in supporting college curriculum with internships and seminars-to be followed soon by co-branding and program adoption."

The Reinsdorf family owns the Chicago Bulls, and co-owns and co-operates the United Center with the Chicago Blackhawks. On special occasions, the United Center has played host to the NCAA and Big Ten Basketball Tournaments as well as occasional University of Illinois basketball games. The Reinsdorfs also own and run Cellular Field and the Chicago White Sox.

Beyond the glitz and
scandal, there are students
ready to take their place
on the stage of pro sports.

Yet another historic city by the sea, Norfolk, Va., is graced by the presence of the Norfolk Tides baseball club, a triple A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, and the Norfolk Admirals, an American Hockey League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Norfolk is also the home of <b>Old Dominion University</b>, an institution with a genuine affinity for pro sports.

According to Bob Case, ODU's coordinator of sport management programs, many students have gotten internships with the Tides and several have landed full-time jobs with the organization. In fact, Tides President Ken Young has given instructional seminars for ODU sports management students. ODU's informal relationship with the Tides pays off for the community in multiple ways, including a friend-raising and fund-raising game between ODU and the Tides every spring.

In a snowier part of the United States, Rochester, N.Y., <b>St. John Fisher College</b> has capitalized on being located in what has been ranked by <em>SportsBusiness Journal</em> as the number 1 minor league sports market in the country. Among some of its neighbors-<b>Nazareth College of Rochester, Bryant & Stratton College,</b> the <b>University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, Roberts Wesleyan College</b>, and a host of other schools-St. John Fisher stands out in its region with an NASSM-approved bachelor's degree program in sports management. It's no surprise that Rochester's teams-hockey's Americans, baseball's Redwings, basketball's Razor Sharks, soccer's Rhinos, indoor football's Raiders, and lacrosse's Knighthawks (indoor) and Rattlers (outdoor)-provide affordable and accessible sports experiences for everyone in the greater Rochester area, including a treasure-trove of opportunities for sports management students.

Over the past 50 years, Americans have fallen in and out of love with both our pro sports teams and collegiate athletics-with skyrocketing ticket prices, work stoppages, spiraling salary caps, Jerry Maguire-like agents, and club owners fawning over powerhouse pro sports prima donnas.

Refreshingly, schools such as UML, ODU, and St. John Fisher, and teams such as the Spinners, Devils, Tides, Admirals, and Redwings remind fans everywhere that beyond the glitz and scandal of major league sports, there are still athletes competing for the love of the game and the hope of one day making it to the big leagues. And there are still sports management students ready to take their place on the present-day stage of pro sports.

America's infatuation with pro sports is resilient. Think about it. According to Nielsen Media Research, almost 100 million viewers tuned in to watch the Giants stop the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, the second-largest television audience in American history. Now it's up to team owners, players' unions, and collegiate athletic and higher ed leaders to step up to the plate to make these scandals and reforms teachable moments for the next generation of sports management faculty and students.

<em>James Martin is a professor at Mount Ida College (Mass.). James E. Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance. Their book is </em>Presidential Transition in Higher Education: Managing Leadership Change <em>(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).</em>


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