Think about a time when you’ve heard a comment about college athletes not going to school “for school.” Maybe, instead, you know someone who has been disincentivized from continuing athletics in college because they “need to grow up” and “be realistic” about their future. All these phrases and countless others are unfairly thrown at hopeful athletes working hard to turn their dreams into reality. That’s because for decades athletes were split into two camps: those with professional prospects and those without them. Today, however, the realm of amateur athletics and sports business is bustling with opportunity, even for those who lack the skill and athleticism to be a professional athlete. Job openings for regional sports agents, sports economists, sports lawyers and the numerous other opportunities created in this particularly volatile time for the NCAA provide sprawling pathways of career potential for ex-athletes, non-athletes and, especially, student athletes.
In last year’s LSA Student Government election, hundreds of students voted in support of creating a sports management minor, with 75 of those students saying they would enroll in the offering outright. This is significant because students who are not even enrolled in the School of Kinesiology, which has a sports management major and would be the potential minor’s parent school, are willing to sign up in droves. This trend seems destined to continue.
A series of rulings in name, image and likeness (NIL) court cases provided a watershed moment in 2021, where athletes became able to use their own names for business partnerships. From local car dealerships to cryptocurrency auctions, NIL has opened the floodgates for both the financial prospects of college athletes and an explosion of labor demand for those facilitating this new fixture of collegiate athletics.
The University of Michigan, as a true microcosm of the new NCAA landscape, has recently made many sports management classes available to students. These classes often focus both on projects specifically designed for navigating NIL’s effects on marketing and on incentivizing boundless creativity in maximizing NIL benefits to all stakeholders. Even alumni are swiftly organizing NIL offerings for athletes.
Interest in the sports industry has even spilled into LSA undergraduate programs through Sports and Economics, a new upper-level economics elective. With more national media coverage dedicated to NIL deals, additional course offerings outside of the School of Kinesiology will be essential to the subject’s complete study.
It is not all sunshine and roses yet, as the University clearly has a shortage of course offerings compared to the immense student demand for sports-related study. However, our School of Kinesiology was still rated the second-best college for sports management in the country — despite not offering a sports management minor at all.
It’s even easy to show a path for how a sports management minor could easily be organized. The minor could begin with SM 203, an introductory course already offered by the School of Kinesiology, and could continue with any number of the 200-level, 300-level or 400-level courses available to sports management majors. This supplemental program offering would be immensely valuable to anyone, including student athletes, seeking to tailor their studies to their occupational aspirations.
The good news is that the University seems to be making an effort for both its student athletes and sports management-related studies as a whole. Athletic Director Warde Manuel has professed a focus not only on navigating NIL’s effects but also on the need for an inextricably linked advancement of education for student athletes. What is better for helping equip student athletes with professional skills tailored for the sports industry than expanding the course offerings and degree programs available to them? Additionally, with greater investment in sports management studies, non-athletes studying disciplines adjacent to the sports industry (such as economics or business) could increasingly study the effects of NIL, helping the University truly become the face of sports management education around the globe. The University has both the resources and an interested student population sufficient enough to make a sports management minor and ascend beyond to new academic frontiers.
Student athletes who dedicate themselves to their craft can have a future in sports beyond being an athlete. Using their time as students, or even returning to a familiar campus, can mold passion into a tangible set of skills with which to build a lifelong career in the familiar realm of sports.
The numbers are clear regarding sports management. With the financial prospects in the sports industry increasing, especially with the advent of NIL at the college level, it’s no wonder why the interest in its study is growing abundantly; the onus is now on the University to give the people what they want.
Tyler Fioritto is an LSA Senior and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.