Originally Published: April 16, 2014 6 a.m.
Colleges and universities prepare students for a variety of professions, including a number of careers in the entertainment field. Degrees are offered in music, dancing, singing and acting. But we don't offer a degree in one of the most popular forms of entertainment in this country: Sports. It's time that oversight is remedied.
This is not a novel proposal. The concept of a degree in athletic performance has been bandied about for a decade or more by some of the top academics in the country. But so far, no university has been able - perhaps willing is a better word - to embrace the idea. It can't be because such a degree would somehow impugn the academic integrity of an institution. Far too many universities steer athletes to easy courses - "clustering" is the technical phrase - lacking academic rigor. Others award degrees in "University Studies" which is of specious value in preparing athletes for life beyond their playing careers.
The main goal of enrolling in an acting or singing program is to prepare oneself for a professional career. Yet not all students who earn such a degree will earn a living on stage or in the movies. The same can be said for students who earn a sports degree. Some graduates will go on to play professional sports, but the majority of them will not. In the same way failed actors with a degree in theater can instruct others, athletes who earn a sports degree will at least be prepared to inform wannabe athletes what to expect as an athlete in college or the pros. That's more than can be said for the ability of many of today's student-athletes.
Cobbling together the 120 credits normally required for a degree shouldn't be that difficult. The total can come from a combination of existing courses and new course offerings designed specifically for the degree. The curriculum could include general education requirements, such as history, writing and social sciences, just like other students on campus must complete. We should also include courses on media and oral presentation skills, the history of sports, courses on the NCAA and professional sports, personal financial management, along with sport-specific courses on how to play an athlete's chosen sport, such as football, basketball or golf. Throw in a few electives and voila, you have a new degree.
The degree would be open to all athletes, some of whom will be on scholarship, some not. Athletes could receive credit for performing in their sport just as drama students earn credit for acting in a play or musicians receive credit for performing in a concert. Course instructors should be hired and evaluated similar to other faculty on campus. The university would maintain oversight of the degree program as it does for other programs on campus (the NCAA does not maintain academic oversight of its members). In time, an accrediting body specific for this degree program will arise as has been the case for other degree programs.
There are currently a number of sports related degrees, such as sports management, kinesiology, coaching and parks and recreation, available to student-athletes at a variety of institutions. But none of those options are similar to a sports degree in athletic performance. Sports management is about the business of sports. Kinesiology relates to the movement of the human body. Coaching prepares students to coach sports. Parks and recreation will prepare a student for a career in outdoor activities or recreation. None of those programs are specific to athletic performance.
The potential benefits of an athletic performance degree are many. It recognizes the reality that many young people aspire to play sports as a career. Such a program may also serve as a recruiting tool for universities. Furthermore, it may encourage athletes to stay in school long enough to earn a degree, one that is not only related to their career aspirations but would be of benefit to them after graduation. Anything that counters the one-and-done rule of college basketball has to be a good thing. The same cannot be said of what currently passes for "academics" for many student athletes.
The only difference between a degree in acting or music and a degree in sports is that the former currently exists and the latter doesn't. It's high time we remedy that oversight.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.