Tom Brady, Lebron James, Serena Williams, Simone Biles — the best-known names in sports are the star athletes. The Super Bowls, championships, tournaments, and Olympics they play draw millions of spectators. But behind every star, every event is an army of managers, agents, and administrators that make it all happen.
Sports management involves planning, organizing, managing, budgeting, and marketing for the various areas of the sports industry. While athletes and coaches focus on the game, sports managers handle the business side. This might mean running the budget of a large arena or forging personal connections with high-profile players and executives. It could also mean being an agent for one of these players or becoming a talent scout for the next generation.
If you’re a big sports fan and want to go into business, studying sports management in college is the perfect way to combine your passions into a career that can be very lucrative. In this article, we’ll highlight the main draws of 10 baccalaureate sports management programs in the U.S. These programs range from business to marketing to physiology, with opportunities to intern at big-name sports conglomerates or study abroad for a global perspective.
The following programs stand out because they provide professional training as well as basic knowledge of kinesiology and business theory. They’re especially good at connecting students to post-grad work opportunities.
So without further ado, here are 10 of the best colleges for sports management.
Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
FSU’s undergrad sports management program lays the foundation for how the sports industry works. After taking core classes in management, students can take electives that focus on a particular area of interest within the sports industry, including collegiate athletics, the broader sports industry, its sociocultural issues, and more.
Students can also participate in a practicum, where they apply what they’ve learned to real-life sports events. These experiences can be part-time or full-time, volunteer or paid. Often this means traveling to other parts of the country and networking with established professionals in the industry.
In 2019, FSU students traveled to Tampa, Florida for the NCAA Women’s Final Four. They got to meet and work with representatives from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL), Tampa Bay Rays (MLB), and Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL).
Indiana University (Bloomington, IN)
At IU, students pursue a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology (BSK) with a major in Sports Marketing and Management. It’s a competitive, internationally renowned program that provides a basic foundation in law, marketing, communication, management, psychology, and finance. Students will develop practical skills in media relations, public relations, event planning, computers, and business organization.
The degree focuses both on the physical body and the business of sports. Students then apply this knowledge to a required practicum or internship at IU’s own athletic department or Indianapolis, home to the Colts (NFL), Pacers (NBA), Fever (WNBA), Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and more. Indeed, IU is one of the best places to study sports management because of the sheer variety of sports opportunities in the surrounding community.
Perhaps the most famous IU alum in sports management is billionaire investor Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
Ohio State University (Columbus, OH)
Majoring in Sport Industry at OSU results in a B.S. and gives students an interdisciplinary education. Courses include sports history and development, ethics, and sports’ relationship to business, mass media, public policy, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class.
The major prepares students for athletic administration, coaching, fitness training, community recreation, youth sport, sport communications, sports marketing, and sports franchises and facilities. The B.S. program also prepares students for competitive master’s programs that will take them deeper into the field.
OSU students can also study abroad in Germany to learn the European model of sports management or Japan to learn about the country’s culture through sports.
Ohio State men’s basketball coach Bob Knight graduated from the school in 1962.
Temple University (Philadelphia, PA)
Located in the fan-centric city of Philadelphia, Temple University has a dedicated school for sport, tourism, and hospitality management. In addition to regular coursework, students are required to complete two internships in order to earn a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Recreation Management. The program prepares students for a plethora of professional areas: sales and promotions, account management, fitness director, public relations, sports analytics, event and venue management, and so on.
Alternatively, Temple offers a minor in sport management that students can use to enhance their job prospects if they plan on entering a sports-related field.
There are also many undergraduate professional organizations at Temple, such as the Event Planning Association, Society of Minorities in Sport, and Sport and Governance Association.
Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY)
Syracuse University’s sports management program boasts specialized courses, professional electives, and liberal arts requirements that prepare students for a dynamic role in the sports industry. Graduates will learn how to negotiate employment and endorsement contracts for athletes and teams, plan games, tournaments, and fundraisers; oversee major sporting venues; and manage day-to-day team operations.
Course offerings cover important topics like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, psycho-social issues in sport, and an immersion in Los Angeles, which is an in-person educational and networking event that introduces students to the sports industry on the west coast.
Syracuse students also have the unique opportunity to complete a hands-on senior capstone experience in sales, marketing, finance, event management, law, or other field. Past capstone placements have included Comcast-Spectacor, ESPN, Madison Square Garden, Major League Soccer (MLS), National Hockey League (NHL), Under Armour, and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Rice University (Houston, TX)
Niche.com, which bases school rankings on data from the U.S. Department of Education and student/alumni reviews, names Rice the #1 school in the country to learn sports management, kinesiology, and physical therapy.
Rice’s Department of Sport Management offers three different concentrations: sports analytics, sports law, and sports leadership.
Rice graduates and faculty have held impressive positions within the sports industry, and their achievement is honored through various undergraduate awards at the university. The Jesse Tsu Sport Management Academic Achievement Award is given to the graduating senior with the highest GPA and is named after Jesse Tsu ‘11, who now works as a director at Nike’s Tokyo office.
The Patrick K. Thornton Memorial Award is named after Professor Thornton, an authority on sports law and former faculty member. This award is bestowed on students with the highest grade in the concentration.
University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL)
Miami’s Sport Administration major leads to a Bachelor of Science in Education (B.S.Ed.) and requires students to minor in another field. Common complements to the major include business, sports medicine, or exercise physiology.
Coursework focuses particularly on sports organization, ethics, marketing, leadership, and law. Miami’s program is notable for its field placements in the collegiate, professional, recreational, and fitness industries, where students get to apply their skills and knowledge to real work environments.
Miami students also benefit from the university’s active athletic department. Prominent sports admin alumni include Skip Bertman — former athletic director at Louisiana State University and member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame — and Alex Cora, manager of the Boston Red Sox.
Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX)
At SMU, Sports Management is a concentration of the Applied Physiology and Sport Management B.S. It lays the groundwork of human health and fitness, introduces the business principles and skills needed to build bridges within the sports industry, and provides the legal and ethical frameworks of the field. Along the way, students participate in practical internships that prepare them for their careers.
For those who would like to continue learning, SMU also offers a master’s degree in sport management that is led by industry professionals with decades of executive experience in professional leagues and teams, media, broadcasting, marketing, sponsorship, facilities, equipment and apparel.
Athletics are a huge part of student life at SMU, which has also been named to Conde Nast Traveler’s list of “The 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America.”
University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)
The University of Michigan excels in lots of undergraduate and postgraduate fields. It comes as no surprise that Niche.com ranks it the #1 public university in America.
Michigan’s sports management program branches into two concentrations: Sport Marketing & Management or Sport Policy & Analysis. Both tracks include professional internship experiences, which make Michigan students especially attractive to prospective employers. In fact, recent grads reportedly have a 95% job placement rate.
Not only do they secure full-time employment, but they also work in the most competitive areas of the sports industry, such as minor league sports and entertainment. High-profile employers of Michigan grads include the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS, Detroit Red Wings, New York Mets, Milwaukee Bucks, Wasserman, ESPN, NCAA, and The New York Times.
Many famous names in sports and sports admin come from U-M: Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, former Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson, and American Basketball Association (ABA) co-founder Richard P. Tinkham.
University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)
As an indicator of its competitiveness, the Sport Management major at UT Austin is capped at 150 students.
The program comprises a diverse selection of classes, including Women and Sport, Race and Sport in African American Life, and Physiological Basis of Conditioning.
Like many other schools on this list, UT Austin offers exceptional study abroad opportunities for sports management students. One of them is the Sport, Society, and International Olympic Movement program in Copenhagen, Denmark. Led by UT faculty, the program explores the international political aspects of the Olympics through the Danish Olympic Agency.
UT Austin has educated star athletes and leaders in sports management. NBA MVP Kevin Durant, Masters Tournament winner Jordan Spieth, and Olympic medalists Ian Crocker and Sanya Richards-Ross found their start at UT Austin. Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry and Cowboys co-founder Bedford Wynne also attended.