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Sports Management Degree and Certification Guide: What You'll Study

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Getting your sports management degree can initially seem daunting because there are so many program possibilities to consider. Do you want to become a sports agent, a public relations liaison, a sports statistical analyst, or a sports facilities manager? Is sports medicine, which offers career options such as athletic trainer, physical therapist or coach, your strong suit, or would you prefer to delve into sports law?

Read on to learn more about the differences between the degrees you'll need to perform any of these roles.

What sports management degree levels are available?

Associate's Degree Programs

The best way to think of your associate's degree is as a foundation or stepping stone to your future education and career. Associate's degree programs are broad-based programs that cover introductions to, and fundamentals of, such fields as physical education, coaching, management and business ethics and law. The Associate of Business Science degree focuses on the business side of sports management, such as accounting or finance.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

A bachelor's degree is a crucial first step to prepare for a successful career in sports management. Aspiring sports managers are fortunate to have many different options in developing a sports management degree plan. Choices for a bachelor's degree in this field may include areas such as risk management, law, or fitness and wellness.

In your bachelor's program you might expect to take classes in the following subjects:

  • Sports Management
  • Marketing
  • Administration and Organization
  • Sports Law
  • Finance
  • Facility Management
  • Communications and Technology
  • Sports History

Other classes may include such topics as macroeconomics, human resource management, project management, and accounting.

Master's Degree Programs

Course work at the master's level can prepare you for management, administrative and analyst roles within the sports management and sports medicine fields. Generally, students can pursue an MBA or a Master of Science. Here are some of the differences between them:

  • Masters of Business Administration (MBA): An MBA degree with a concentration in finance, marketing or sports management qualifies students for leadership roles in this fiercely competitive industry. Considering the significant amount of money involved in athletes' contract negotiations and product endorsements, an MBA degree is especially crucial for prospective sports agents.
  • Master of Science in Sports Medicine: A master's degree in sports medicine is a two-year intensive program that focuses on health care issues for athletes and teaches the student about the prevention, assessment, management and rehabilitation of injuries. A master's degree-holder can become a valuable asset to a college or professional team or individual athlete.
  • Master of Science in Sports Management: A Master of Science in Sports Management is a multidisciplinary degree that prepares graduates for a career in sports management at all levels, including recreational, juvenile, inter-scholastic, amateur, collegiate and professional. Graduates who earn the degree, which generally takes two years to complete, are prepared to work as a sports administrator, corporate sponsorship director, head coach or general manager.

Doctorate Programs

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Sports Management: A PhD in sports management generally originates in education or sports administration but PhD candidates may also focus their research in areas like interscholastic athletics, sports marketing, sports leadership, sports medicine, risk management or the psychological and sociological aspects of sports.
  • Doctor of Education (EdD) in Sports Management: The Doctor of Education in Sports Management generally offers two areas of emphasis for graduates: sports medicine or Olympism, which studies the structure and issues originated by the Olympic Games and encourages the balanced development of the body, will and mind. Optimally, your EdD program should be approved by the Sport Management Program Review Council, which is highly selective in approving sports management and medicine programs.

What certification will I need?

The two most popular certifications available in sports management are the sports management certificate offered to those students who are pursuing a bachelor's degree, and the graduate certificate in sports management, which allows already practicing sports managers a way to enhance their skills and professional credentials.

Professional associations such as the International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA), who offers an accredited Certified Sport Management Specialist credential, help make becoming certified much more convenient by offering online and distance learning programs.

Other professional agencies offering professional development certifications include:

What will I learn in my courses?

According to the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), students interested in becoming a sports manager must abide by a code of ethics, in companion to completing their college course work. The fundamentals that must be learned and complied with include these principles:

  • Hold paramount the welfare of the individual
  • Perform service only in areas of competence
  • Issue public statements in a truthful and objective manner
  • Act with high standards of personal conduct
  • Remain proficient in professional practice and the performance of professional duties
  • Maintain professional integrity

The Institute of Sports Management cites four objectives that must be met in addition to educational course work completion:

  • Credibility
  • Professionalism
  • Quality of service
  • Confidence

How long will it take?

Depending upon your level of dedication, a sports management major can take the following time to complete:

  • Associate's degree programs, which provide entry-level opportunity, usually take two years
  • A bachelor's degree program takes four years
  • Master's degree programs and MBAs generally require one to two years

Are online programs available?

Online programs for sports managers are available for all degree levels, including associates, bachelors, MBA and Master of Science and doctorate degree programs.

An important part of choosing an online education program is finding an accredited program, as accreditation ensures that sports management courses and professors maintain high quality standards. Students may also be eligible to receive financial aid if their program is accredited.

How much will my education cost?

The cost of bachelor's degree programs varies depending upon the type of institution you attend. According to College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2021, the average annual cost* for a four-year, public institution runs around $10,560 for in-state tuition and $27,020 for out-of-state tuition.

The average annual cost for a four-year private non-profit school is $37,650.

Attending an accredited school may allow you to apply for financial aid, whether the school you select is a traditional classroom or an online program.

*Cost of tuition only. Prices do not reflect other fees, books, room and board

Are there prerequisites?

Undergraduate: SHAPE America recommends high school students who are interested in pursuing a sports management degree take classes in business, marketing, economics, sociology, psychology, sports history, mathematics and statistics. They also recommend playing varsity sports and participating in campus sports organizations and clubs—as well as volunteering at sports events—as highly valued experience in that it shows leadership skills and a strong interest in athletics.

Graduate: A completed, four-year bachelor's degree in sports management or sports medicine will prepare you for graduate school.

GRE and GMAT: The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is not required for admission to degree programs in the U.S. However, you may submit a score for review with your admission materials.

What accreditation is there for my program?

Accreditation shows that an institution or program meets standards of quality set forth by an accrediting agency, and that it is committed not only to meet those standards but to continuously seek ways in which to improve the quality of education and training provided. There are two types of educational accreditation: institutional and specialized.

The main specialized accrediting body for sports management degree programs is the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA). COSMA accreditation replaces program approval formerly granted by the Sport Management Program Review Council (SMPRC).

Other business-related specialized accrediting bodies include the following:

Institutional accreditation is provided by regional and national associations of schools and colleges, such as The Higher Learning Commission. Institutional accreditation is provided by regional and national associations of schools and colleges. There are six regional associations, each named after the region in which it operates (Middle States, New England, North Central, Northwest, Southern, Western). Learn more about accreditation.

What should I expect my student-teacher ratio to be?

As a rule, the further you progress in your education and field of specialty the smaller you should expect the ratio to become. The ideal student-teacher ratio is around 14:1 according to U.S. News & World Report's Best Schools survey.