A group of people using fitness equipment.

Degree prepares students for both graduate studies and entry into management, marketing and administrative positions in educational and sport business settings.

Michael Mercier | UAH

The challenges that have accompanied 2020 have not stopped the College of Education (COE) at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, from achieving a significant milestone this year. The COE announced that it had recently graduated its first cohort of BS degree students in Sports and Fitness Management (SFM) this past August. This new degree path represents the culmination of a goal that has been in the works for several years.

"Dr. Jeremy Elliot [assistant professor, Kinesiology] and Dr. David Kyle [lecturer, Kinesiology] developed the program of study, which was approved in 2018," says Dr. Michael Craw, assistant professor of Kinesiology and program chair. "I began my tenure as SFM Program Chair in Aug. 2019. The impetus for the SFM program was to offer a specialized degree program of interdisciplinary applicability, in terms of its emphasis on teamwork, leadership, strategy and franchise management in a sports business context."

Dr. Craw acknowledges that it has been gratifying to see that first cohort of graduates accept their diplomas this year. The first graduates represented in the initial cohort include Trey Lewis, Ryan McRae and Colsten Thompson. A new crop of graduates is slated to attend virtual commencement in December as well.

"Trey and Colsten have already accepted gainful employment in sport," Dr. Craw says. "Ryan is in grad school. SFM believes it offers a program of study that is student-learning outcomes focused, which in the case of our first three graduates has seamlessly assisted them in career and/or future learning pathways."

A degree in Sports and Fitness Management can take a graduate in any number of interesting directions within the field, to everything from working with sports programs, to project administration and event management. This flexibility aims to allow the student to craft their future path to their perceived strengths.

"There's an often-quoted statement that goes as follows: 'sport today is too much of a game to be a business; and too much of a business to be a game,'" Dr. Craw explains. "'Sport' being the all-encompassing word in the UAH SFM program, we engage into inquiry about things like performance-related to community sport activities, interscholastic sport, intercollegiate sport, professional sport and international sport. The 'business' of sport is examined through a strategy and objectives lens, which is contextualized according to local, region, state, national and international levels. SFM Majors take classes in sport business focused classes of Marketing, Law, Finance, Event Management, Sociology and other courses like Facility Management, Ethics and a 200-hour capstone internship experience. Collectively, the knowledge, skills and experience gained contribute to our students being job-ready upon graduation."

Featuring 21 SFM majors at the present time, the COE anticipates the program continuing to grow as more and more students discover this option for a BS degree.

"SFM's goal is to offer a credible and insightful learning narrative that supports students interested in a career in sport and its management," Dr. Craw says. "The foundational learning narrative is underpinned by 'future cone' theory (Hancock & Bezold, 1994, Voros, 2003, Voros, 2017), where students are encouraged to analyze 'the now,' then synthesize accepted theory and practice to reveal probability, plausibility and possibility (for the purpose of the sustainability of sport). SFM seeks students that have an entrepreneurial spirit. Those with a mix of qualities such as creativity, passion, impactful effective communication and are motivated for change through critical inquiry, taking calculated risks to develop confidence to execute plans, are empathetic, and resilient in a sport business context, then a career in SFM may be for you."

Women represent a particular focus for the SFM degree program as well.

"The growth of women in sport is a global mega trend, and there's no sign of this abating," Dr. Craw notes. "Sexism in sport is decreasing, and diversity is increasing. Given this pattern, UAH is astute to leverage its degree-offering opportunities for women in the sport industry. Up till recently, women's sports leagues have been modelled after men's leagues, which has been almost barrier-like in terms of developing all of the business of sport. Now, however, the business of sport recognizes a substantial shift in social, economic and environmental conditions that suggest women's sports has its own unique aspects. When such aspects are embraced, a properly targeted opportunity of women to study SFM may ensue. I believe that the corporate sector and community sector will capitalize on the employment of women in sport business because of emerging platforms of greater media exposure in women's sports, higher fan attendances at women's games and increases in participation ages of girls in sport."

So what does he see the future hold?

"SFM will seek specialized accreditation through the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA)," Dr. Craw says. "The aim is to begin the accreditation inquiry stage process next month with a view to join COSMA in October 2021. The proposed theme for our claim for accreditation will be 'Assurance of Learning.' COSMA reviews sport managements programs and evaluates how thoroughly the program educates students and prepares them for a career in the sport management industry; accreditation is a significant plus for the long-term future of the SFM program and the skill sets of its graduates." The goal is to be accredited by late 2023 or early 2024.

While the finish line may not yet be in sight, the COE Sports and Fitness Management program has definitely charged out of the blocks. Given the popularity of professional and amateur sports, one can only imagine that there will be a corresponding growth and interest in the new degree.

"As the SFM program evolves, so will its reach," Dr. Craw says.