SBJ/20100607/This Week's News

Ohio University to offer master’s in sports management online

The granddaddy of sports management schools will be the first of the better-known U.S. programs to offer a master’s degree online.

Ohio University plunges into web-based education in the fall when it welcomes the first entering class to its online Master of Sports Administration (MSA) program, which it is billing as a way for early-career sports industry professionals to earn a master’s without leaving their jobs.

The 21-month program, priced at $12,500 a year, will consist of 11 courses, two applied projects and three on-campus residencies, each built around three-day weekends. Candidates for the 25 slots must have at least three years of experience working in sports, along with three letters of recommendation, two of which must come from Ohio University’s network of more than 1,100 MSA alumni working in sports.

Kahler

“We think this is the next step in the evolution of the Ohio University program,” said Jim Kahler, executive director of the Center for Sports Administration at Ohio, who made the decision after 18 months of discussion with the school’s influential alumni advisory board. “The debate is whether this is brand extension or brand dilution. Where we came out was that if we do it right, it should be brand extension.”

A handful of U.S. institutions offer online master’s degrees in sports administration, but Ohio’s degree will be the first by one of the generally acknowledged elite national programs. Not far behind, the University of Massachusetts plans to launch a blended MSA program in 2011 that will open with six weeks on campus in the summer followed by an academic year of online classes, said Lisa Masteralexis, head of that program. UMass will focus on college athletic administration, where many of the jobs require an advanced degree.

Directors of the programs at Oregon and Central Florida say they, too, have investigated online education but haven’t landed on a direction yet.

“We’ve looked at it, just like other programs have, but it’s a matter of figuring out how it fits into our program,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “Maybe that’s an opportunity to grow our international interests at some point. But turning on a domestic-focused Warsaw Center 101 — that just doesn’t make sense for us.”

The online program at Ohio will be headed by Heather Lawrence, an associate professor who has taught a blended online and face-to-face sports event management class through a university in Madrid, Spain.

Online students will work in tandem with on-campus students on projects, giving students in Athens access to people already working in the field and the online students a pipeline into Ohio’s heralded network of alums.

The initial target for the program is a blend of early-career workers in sports who want their master’s but don’t want to leave their jobs, along with aspiring college administrators who need the degree to advance.

“This is your chance to pave the way for that senior-level position, to deepen your education and your credentials,” Kahler said. “And it’s also a way to get your master’s if you’re one of those people who thinks that one day you might want to teach.”

Kahler and Masteralexis both said they wrestled with the impact an online program might have on their schools’ reputations, but have become more comfortable as online classes have become common at well-regarded universities.

“I’d rather have Ohio and UMass doing it than some that are out there in the market already doing it,” Swangard said. “If this can bring some quality control to the market [for online sports education], I’m all for it.”

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