Beyond the Game

Beyond the Game

By Eugene Curtin

Creighton students are studying the sports industry from a variety of disciplines, and preparing for successful careers outside the lines of athletic competition.

A majority of the world’s nations can only dream of achieving a national GDP equal to the value of the global sports industry, which, according to the NDP Group’s 2019 Global Sports Estimate, will surpass $620 billion by 2023.

That figure beats the annual labors of the 38 million people of Poland, as well as the best efforts of such nations as Sweden, Belgium, Austria, Israel and even the teeming and energetic economy of Hong Kong.

Indeed, a listing of global GDPs published by reference website Worldometer shows that the “Kingdom of Sports,” were it a nation, would rank 22nd of 189 nations, nipping at the heels even of oil-rich Saudi Arabia and its 33 million people.

Naturally, given its size, wealth and the fact that it generates almost 25% of global GDP, despite possessing just 4% of the world’s population, the United States is a prime mover in this pillar of the global economy. According to Statista, a German company specializing in market and consumer data, the U.S. sports market was valued at $71.06 billion in 2018, a figure that is expected to climb to $83.1 billion by 2023.

That means a lot of jobs, not just on the playing fields, courts and ice rinks, but also in front offices, physical therapy departments, marketing, wellness, law and collective bargaining on either side of the owner/union table, not to mention all those athletes across so many fields of endeavor who need not just agent representation but also guidance through the thickets of product endorsements and name, image and licensing issues.

Sports is big business, and Creighton University is busily addressing its many facets across many academic disciplines.

Sports Law

David Weber, JD, for example, a professor at the School of Law, inaugurated a concentration in sports law 18 months ago after teaching a class on the subject. Student response, he says, was so robust that he expanded the foundational class into a full, semester-and-a-half, 18-credit-hour concentration that he says will prepare Creighton law grads well should they target a career in amateur or professional sports.

Creighton is well-placed to provide that guidance, he says, not only through academic instruction but also through real-life experience granted by the University’s sporting prominence as a Division I school bearing a national reputation.

“Our students have the opportunity to learn about Division I college athletics working directly with Creighton’s program,” Weber says.

“Upon graduation, we have had students receive offers to work at large universities like Ohio State, and we have a graduate who currently works in athletic compliance at Pepperdine. One of our very recent alums is now working with the NCAA itself in Indianapolis. We have a couple of graduates who are professional agents. These agents are representing athletes in Major League Baseball and in the NBA. Another graduate broke into the field of representing MMA fighters — so there are a lot of different options as students seek to find a career path.”

Certificate for Coaches and Athletic Directors

Of course, sports careers don’t have to revolve around negotiating big-time contracts. There are always coaches — some volunteering anonymously for youth sports on weekends — who wish to advance their leadership skills, or perhaps to take a step toward becoming an athletic director at a high school. In that case, Ann Mausbach, PhD, is developing the playbook.

Mausbach is an associate professor of educational leadership in the College of Arts and Sciences, well-versed in the structure of high schools and how to progress within them. To that end, she helped a faculty team develop a Graduate Certificate in Sports Leadership for K-12 Athletic Directors.

The graduate certificate was originated by Gretchen Oltman, JD, PhD, associate professor with the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, who has long recognized the pervasiveness of sports at Creighton and encouraged its adoption into the academic curriculum. The certificate can be earned as a stand-alone credential or as a major step toward fulfilling the requirements of a full Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership.

The K-12 certificate is earned entirely online, and will not only prepare students to earn their administrative certification but also provide coursework designed to build sports leadership.

“I think taking coursework in sports leadership in an overall educational leadership master’s degree would give anybody a leg up who is hoping to become an athletic director,” Mausbach says. “You do have to have that master’s degree, but it would be very helpful to show expertise in sports leadership.”

The certificate, Mausbach says, is an effort to meet Creighton’s philosophical commitment to cura personalis, or meeting the needs of the whole person, by giving people the tools they need to achieve their goals.

“If you really want to lead an athletic department, then this is what you have to do,” she says. “If you simply want to be a better coach — and there are a lot of club organizations that are super competitive — a person might say, ‘I don’t want a whole master’s degree, but I do want to set myself apart from the other coaches, so I will pursue this graduate certificate.’

“We make this very specific to people’s needs.”

Creighton also offers a graduate certificate in sports leadership, an online 15-hour graduate certificate that is a project of Creighton’s Department of Interdisciplinary Studies and is taught within the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership degree.

The certificate is designed to teach business, health, education, law and aspects of the arts and sciences, all through the prism of sports.

Physical Therapy Sports Specialization

They don’t come any more “sports” than Terry Grindstaff, PhD, associate professor at the Creighton School of Pharmacy and Health Professions.

Grindstaff, whose entire career in physical therapy has revolved around sports, has added a sports specialization track to the University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

“We want to help students prepare to take that next step toward a physical therapy residency program, either in sports or orthopedics,” he says. “We look at it as a career launch. Over the past five years, we have had a lot more of our students express interest in sports physical therapy, and we have been able to help place them into very competitive, highly regarded sports physical therapy residency programs all across the country.”

Grindstaff’s sports track is, so to speak, off and running. Of the 80 students who have joined this year’s Physical Therapy cohort, nine have been selected by competitive application to enroll in the sports physical therapy track.

“We are proud of that,” Grindstaff says, “and we want to continue to make sure that our students who want to specialize are prepared and competitive for positions in the field of sports physical therapy.”

Sport and Spirituality

The importance of sports, not just to professional advancement but also to personal Christian development, was the subject of “Giving the Best of Yourself: A Document on the Christian Perspective on Sports and the Human Person,” published in June 2018. The first Vatican document about sports, the statement included an introduction from Pope Francis, who said sports, practiced with the proper spirit, can develop holiness.

“This pursuit puts us on the path that, with the help of God’s grace, can lead us to the fullness of life that we call holiness,” Francis wrote. “Sport is a very rich source of values and virtues that help us to become better people.”

That theme is developed at Creighton by Max Engel, PhD, and Jay Carney, PhD, who teach a course on “Sport and Spirituality” within Creighton’s Magis Core Curriculum.

Sports, they say, are a profound reflection of human nature, which is itself a reflection of the God in whose image men and women are made. Within sports, they say — as a player or a fan — students experience the full range of human emotion while learning to direct those emotions in positive directions.

“Within sports we encounter questions of meaning, loss, longing, competition, growth, challenges and redemption,” Engel says. “Sports are a summary narrative of the whole human narrative, complete with seasons and ritual and identity. So many of our students come from a faith context, a Christian or a Catholic context, but have never been asked to consider what their religious faiths have to do with sports.

“They’ve gone through Confirmation and all the ritual steps of Catholicism, and have spent countless hours in training and personal coaching, but have never really considered how these sporting and religious experiences are informed by each other.”

For many young people today, Carney says, the sports arena represents their primary encounter with morality as well as behavior, bad and good, which they will inevitably encounter after completing their studies.

“As the Jesuits would say, you find God in all things,” Carney says. “Not only in formal church, or explicitly religious activities. God is present everywhere, and I think we have found with students that often their most profound experiences of the transcendent, even of moral formation, of community and relationship, have come not necessarily in a formal church but through their sports teams.

“And, to be honest, that encompasses some of their worst experiences, including cheating and betrayal. In many ways, sport reflects the full spectrum of the human experience.”

Integrative Health and Wellness

Tom Lenz, BA’92, PharmD’99, MA’17, a professor with the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies who directs the Master of Science in Integrative Health and Wellness program, has long embraced a similar philosophy, insisting that sports, health and wellness are aspects of a total human life.

Given that nothing can be more fundamental to sporting success than health and wellness, Lenz seeks to instill knowledge that will enable Creighton graduates to help athletes develop the behavior, lifestyle habits and life balance essential to success at the highest levels.

“Sports are a microcosm of life itself, and I think that’s where Creighton is going to be able to take things that we’ve probably been teaching people all along and apply them to the life of sports,” he says. “All the underlying concepts are the same — dealing with multiple things, creating a balance of life, being happy and thriving as an individual while also being part of a group. That group can be a sports team, but it can also be your job.”

The principles taught under the umbrella of integrative health and wellness apply to professional and amateur sports, Lenz says, and will help students succeed whether they pursue a career in professional or college sports.

“This idea of behavior modification, which is so much of what health and wellness coaching is, is such a big piece of sports — trying to balance all things in life, trying to adhere to the training and nutrition and study and social life and all that sort of thing,” he says.

“Commitment to those things separates people who perform at the very highest level from those who don’t. There are a lot of people who participate in sports in high school at a high level, and in college at a high level, who seem to me to have the same skill sets as people who didn’t make it. Something differentiated them, and those are the intangible things that allow for excellence.”

Though intangibles may be crucial to sporting success, sport remains a business — a big, tangible business — and that fact has not been missed at Creighton’s Heider College of Business.

Sports Marketing and Economics

Matt Seevers, PhD, professor of marketing and management and associate dean of undergraduate programs at Heider, says elective classes on sports marketing and sports economics can add an additional level of expertise to students interested in pursuing a career in sports.

“When our sports marketing class started many years ago, we offered it once a year,” Seevers says. “We routinely filled it up. So, it turned into an every-semester class and we experienced the same thing. It’s the same thing with the sports economics class. We might normally have about 25 in a class, but right now we have 32 — so that’s also filled to the brim.”

Heider does not yet offer a specific sports concentration, like Weber’s at the law school, but students can tailor their business degrees so that they emerge with specific sports knowledge.

“We have a way for them to pursue a sports marketing internship for credit, which can count toward their program, and we have a fairly long history of students doing that,” Seevers says. “Maybe our most successful pipeline is with Nike. We have had many students who have interned with Nike and then gone on to hold full-time positions with Nike. A number of those students are still there at the headquarters.”

Becoming Impactful Leaders

The last word, perhaps, goes to Oltman, who as program director for the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership, introduced a graduate certificate in sports leadership, designed to help students become “impactful and effective” leaders.

“Sports seems to cross over into many parts of our lives,” she says. “Within the past year, we have seen athletes speak out as activists, we have seen sports as an industry face economic and organizational challenges, and started to see just how wide and interdisciplinary the area of ‘sports’ actually is.

“As an academic institution, we are able to study sports from so many angles — philosophy, theology, science, medicine, law and leadership — that we provide a rich area to understand humanity, how sports have played a role in nearly every society for centuries, and how the field has evolved within many traditional disciplines over time.”