Mason led the way in training sports execs
Published December 24, 2001
James G. Mason, who passed away on Nov. 26, was a pioneer in the management of sport.
Mason, along with Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, developed the idea to prepare students for positions in the administrative side of professional sport. In a letter to Mason, O'Malley asked: "Where would one go to find a person who, by virtue of education, has been trained to administer a stadium ... or a person to fill an executive position at a team or league level?"
Mason first developed the idea for a sports administration curriculum while on the faculty at the University of Miami, but plans to implement a program were delayed as O'Malley and the Dodgers prepared to move to Los Angeles. In the interim, Mason moved to Ohio University as chairman of the graduate program in physical education. It was at Ohio University in 1966 that Mason developed the first degree-granting academic program in sports administration.
The curriculum of the first program blended business, communications and physical education. There were only two required courses for the master's degree in sports administration: Problems of Competitive Athletics and Research in Competitive Athletics. The majority of a student's curriculum was made on an elective basis from courses in physical education, speech, management, personnel management, journalism, business law, labor relations, psychology and sociology.
To Mason, an important part of preparing a student for a position in the administration of sport was the practical component. Students were required to complete a three-month internship, with no academic credit granted, in a sports organization under the direction of the general manager or another qualified individual.
Students completing internships were expected to be paid for their services. They were to receive experiences in areas such as public relations, personnel management, media relations, advertising, ticket sales, promotions, finance, accounting, scheduling and contest management. Mason had no problem arranging initial internship sites; the Ohio University Division of Intercollegiate Athletics and 11 professional sport organizations agreed to sponsor interns in sports administration.
Mason felt the internship was the foundation of his program because the experience helped reduce the learning curve that new administrators faced as they adjusted to their positions. His philosophy regarding the importance of practical experience has influenced almost every sports administration program in existence today, as most programs require some sort of field experience as a part of their undergraduate and/or graduate curriculum.
Prior to the creation of the Sports Administration Program at Ohio University, Mason wrote, "At the present time, the men that become athletic directors in our high schools and colleges and administrators in professional sports have had no specific preparation for the position, but learn on the job by trial and error."
O'Malley added, "Cornell and some other colleges have courses in hotel management and we have many fine schools training people in the field of physical education but I am looking at this more from the standpoint of sports administration. This last item alone is really big business today."
The sport industry has grown to be at least a $200 billion industry, and more than 200 colleges and universities have followed Mason's lead in developing programs to train students in the administration of sports organizations.
Those of us who knew Mason will miss him. All of us working in the sports industry will remember his impact as an industry pioneer.
Matthew T. Brown and Andrew Kreutzer are on the faculty of the Sports Administration and Facility Management Program at Ohio University.