Should sport be an academic major?

The idea of creating a major from sport raises many conflicts.

by Andrew Krammer

Talks of conference realignment, paying amateur players and scandal after scandal have left a bad taste in the mouth of the average college sports fan.
But in the ever-changing world of collegiate athletics, a quiet conversation has materialized around a lighter topic âÄî whether or not to include âÄúsportâÄù as an academic major at public universities.
âÄúThere are [those of] us who feel very strongly that, if done right, college athletics could fit nicely in higher education,âÄù Director of the McNamara Academic Center Lynn Holleran said. âÄúThere is an educational value to being an athlete.âÄù
The argument stems from the idea that student-athletes study and practice a craft in the same way theater, music and film majors do.
Just as theater majors practice for a performance for which they may get college credit, student-athletes put in several hours to perfecting their trade âÄî but not toward a University diploma.
âÄúThe possibility of a major in sport would really help student-athletes navigate what it truly means to be a life-long athlete,âÄù Shannon Walsh, an adjunct lecturer in the UniversityâÄôs theater department, said. âÄúAlso, [it will] potentially give them the tools to pursue careers in athletics after theyâÄôre athletes.âÄù
The many aspects surrounding sports could create a course curriculum including, but not limited to: sport law, history of sport, sport ethics, management and marketing.
Even sport sciences like kinesiology and physics could provide further courses.

Is it necessary?
As the state of Minnesota continues to tighten the belt on University funding, it is hard to justify the need for the new major.
âÄúA degree of this nature could create a more specialized class of sports agents, administrators and marketers,âÄù Holleran said. âÄúThere could even be many non-student-athletes who would want to pursue this. Look at the majority of sports management majors âÄî they arenâÄôt student-athletes.âÄù
When sport is compared to majors like theater, music, film and dance, some argue the revenue that collegiate athletics generates should be considered.
Still others question its necessity.
 âÄúIâÄôm not against student-athletes getting credit for what they do,âÄù University theater major Sam Kruger said. âÄúBut in a comparative sense, I feel like the arts of theater and music need academic credit more than a sport does.âÄù

Is it practical?
 âÄúAs a University, we already have many opportunities for student-athletes through courses in kinesiology, sports management and recreation, [and] park and leisure studies,âÄù Director of Football Academic Advising Jacqueline Lienesch said. âÄúEven business marketing and education allows them to focus on sports.âÄù
The majority of these classes do exist, but the issue lies in the lack of a central-themed sport major.
âÄúThese classes are completely divorced from [sports],âÄù Walsh said. âÄúYou can pursue sports history or sports management, but it is not something that is integrated within our collegiate athletics.âÄù
That integration of a sport major and the student-athleteâÄôs respective sport is the main obstacle in turning this suggested major into a reality.
Aside from the in-class credit earned by student-athletes taking this major, questions surround how to create a legitimate system of performance credits.
This theory is difficult to navigate and cannot be compared to any current academic structure.
âÄúTheater and music majors donâÄôt have anything comparable to the NCAA,âÄù Walsh said. âÄúHollywood agents donâÄôt come to college productions to scout out their next blockbuster star.âÄù
The tie between the NCAA and professional sports is unlike that of any other career path, which creates a unique problem for the possibility of an inclusive sport major.
For instance, the first-string quarterback on the Gophers football team could earn credits for a game performance, but how would the third-string quarterback who wishes to pursue the same major be judged?
If performance credits were practice-based, how would coaches and athletic administrators react and handle the changes to the way they hold practices?
âÄúThis would mean a serious rethinking of how sport is integrated into the University environment,âÄù Walsh said. âÄúThings would need to be radically re-imagined.âÄù