By: Gary Feder  | 

How To Turn a YU Education into a Professional Sports Job

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Are you a huge sports fan? Do you secretly - or not so secretly - want to land a big time coaching position for a sports franchise or have some job within the sports business stratosphere? Do you at least dream about attaining one of these positions in an alternate universe, where this seemingly ludicrous idea isn’t nearly as outrageous just because you are not a professional sports player? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this is the article for you.

For the longest time, the only way to attain the most coveted jobs in the sports industry, from the front office to the media to the coach’s box, was to have played sports professionally. However, times are changing. The world of sports is at its very core a business, and like in any business, leadership is always looking to discover that next edge. More and more recently, that edge has been to hire people for sports jobs who have not necessarily played sports professionally. The sports world is beginning to see many high-level positions go to that guy with a background in business education.

Granted, former professional athletes do still have a stranglehold on one sports position: color commentator. Practically every single major color commentator has played in professional sports. From the NFL, with Cris Collinsworth, Troy Aikman, Phil Simms and Jon Gruden. To the NBA, where Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Reggie Miller have owned the craft. And finally, the MLB, where guys like John Kruk, Curt Schilling, Terry Francona and Bobby Valentine have dominated the position for ESPN over the last half-decade. However, positions such as Team President, General Manager, sports writers, and even Head Coach are being opened up to those with a background in business education. After reading this piece, YU students will know what Sy Syms or even Y.C. major would prepare them best for the top sports jobs to be had.

Position: Head Coach

Ideal YU Major: Management  

Reasoning: Out of all of the sports jobs, this is probably the toughest one to select a major, as well as the toughest one to get and maintain a job in without a professional sports history. Just a couple weeks ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers fired their Head Coach, David Blatt, who had taken the team to the championship the previous year and had the team in first place in the current season. While there were certainly many factors behind Blatt’s firing, one reason that many pundits have suggested is that star player LeBron James and some of the other Cavalier’s players did not like or respect Blatt, and preferred a Head Coach who, unlike Blatt, had played in the NBA. If someone who had been as objectively successful as Blatt could not muster respect from his team, it will certainly be hard for a current or future YU Alum to command that respect.

With that being said, Bill Belichick and Gregg Popovich, the two coaches accepted by most as the best head coaches in the NFL and NBA respectively, did not play professional sports. They were able to make up for that with exceptional leadership skills and knowledge of their respective sports. Popovich majored in history and served in the army for five years, which surely built character and leadership qualities, while Belichick was an economics major, which has undoubtedly helped him in his second role as the Patriot’s General Manager (more on that to come later). If one does not go Popovich’s route of attaining leadership abilities via serving in the army, a management major is a very logical route. There are many classes offered in YU’s management program that relate to leadership, such as the Management & Leadership course and the distinguished Kukin Lecture Series. If a student takes advantage of courses like those, he could improve his leadership skills and be ready to coach sports professionally.

Position: Team President

Ideal YU Major: Business Intelligence and Marketing Analytics (BIMA)

Reasoning: For those who don’t know what the BIMA major is, it in a nutshell teaches the marketing aspects of refining a customer target base, providing an excellent consumer experience, and tracking market trends. These are precisely the skills which correlate to what a Team President is responsible for. A Team President is typically directly in charge of ticket prices and the the fan’s experience, in addition to overseeing the team’s General Manager.

Position: General Manager  

Ideal YU Major: Finance/Economics

Reasoning: Unlike with coaching, playing sports professionally is typically not considered a prerequisite to becoming a General Manager. The majority of general managers begin their career in the scouting department. According to a 2013 Bleacher Report study, 67% of the NFL’s general managers at that time had a college background in scouting. Unfortunately for students, YU has not yet availed them of that department. However, six of the general managers in that study did have a business or law background. Thinking about it, this makes a lot of sense. A general manager’s main responsibility is to be in charge of player personnel by drafting new players and signing/releasing existing ones, all while balancing the team’s budget. While drafting players is largely about scouting, signing/releasing players and the all-important balancing of the budget are a mixture of knowing the game and doing a great job of money management.

One famous example of someone with an economics background making it big in the sports management world is Paul DePodesta, who is currently the Chief Strategy Officer for the Cleveland Browns. Previously, he worked at the executive level for four MLB teams, including the General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. DePodesta is credited by many for starting the revolution of guys with business educations making it as sports executives. His rise to fame came after being portrayed in the book Moneyball as the trusted assistant to the Oakland Athletic’s General Manager, Billy Beane. By relying on a combination of analytics and business savvy, DePodesta propelled the low-budget Athletics to one of the best teams in the game. DePodesta and the before mentioned Belichick show first-hand how economics backgrounds have successfully used their skills to help them achieve sports executive success.

Position: Play by Play Analyst/Sports Writer

Ideal YU Major: English

Reasoning: English was the pretty obvious choice for these positions, as both of them require an ability to express oneself in a way that English teaches best. Whether it be an analyst who needs to speak or a writer who needs to write, majoring in English will give a job-seeker the most opportunities to hone the necessary expression skills to become the next Al Michaels or Adam Schefter. In larger colleges, the major to target would be broadcasting or journalism, but in YU, English is the closest option to either of those.