UI Sport Business Program Booming
Rachel Warford knew she wanted a career in sports, but not as an athlete.
She played high school basketball and soccer in Des Moines and liked the atmosphere of athletics, the energy and the teamwork. So she enrolled at the University of Iowa with her sights set on becoming an athletic trainer.
But that wasn't her calling.
"I absolutely hated it," Warford said. "The classes I was taking—science and anatomy as well as all the math classes. They were my least favorite subjects all through my schooling.
"I never felt successful or passionate about it," she said.
Next, Warford tried health promotions, but that wasn't a good fit, either. Then she learned about the recreation and sport business program, a new track that UI students majoring in leisure studies could begin pursuing in the fall of 2011. Wartford, a sophomore at the time, joined about 45 other students who enrolled in the program—and she was hooked.
"I felt like this is what I wanted to do," she said.
Warford wasn't alone.
By spring 2012, the program had exploded to 150 to 200 students, and 90 percent chose an emphasis in sports management, said Mike Teague, a professor in UI's Department of Health and Human Services.
That number already has doubled. An estimated 400 students are enrolled in the recreation and sport business program this semester, with the majority focusing on sports management. That number is expected to reach 450 to 500 by fall, Teague said.
"There is no question that sports and recreation management has boomed," he said. "Now we're getting contacts from juniors and seniors in high school asking about the program."
The recreation and sport business track is designed to prepare students to analyze and resolve challenges in the business and culture of sports locally, nationally, and internationally. The track prepares students to work with sport and club teams, intercollegiate and high school athletic programs, international sport organizations, national and international amateur sport organizations, community recreation and firms specializing in sport marketing, sport sponsorship and commercial fitness businesses. Students take courses such as sports business and economics, recreation and sport promotion, and professional sports management.
But students are still graduating with a major in leisure studies, a name Teague and other instructors thought failed to properly describe the programs or align with what was happening nationally. This spring, the Iowa Board of Regents approved dropping leisure studies and creating two new majors within the UI Department of Health and Human Physiology: sport and recreation management and therapeutic recreation.
The change goes into effect this fall.
Teague said UI's Department of Health and Human Physiology has about 2,200 students, making it one of the largest departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The department has two tenured professors, three lecturers, and seven adjunct professors, with plans to add a fourth lecturer in the fall and perhaps another adjunct professor, Teague said.
Sport management "is now located where it needs to be and has the proper title," Teague said. "It's highly supported, has sufficient staff, and is growing leaps and bounds."
Warford, 23, who graduated from the program in 2013, is finishing an internship with Indiana Sports Corp., one of the top regional sports commissions in the nation. The not-for-profit organization in Indianapolis works to bring world-class sporting events to the area, which this spring included the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments. Warford is confident her experience as an events operations intern will help her land a full-time job soon.
"It's kind of crazy that this is where I ended up because I didn't even know this existed when I went to college," she said.
Warford said the best parts of the sport business program were practicums that gave her and other students hands-on experience with professional athletic organizations such as the Indiana Pacers, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the San Diego Padres.
Those experiences convinced Warford a career in sport management was what she wanted.
Andrew Quillin, 22, who graduated from UI in 2012, said his job today as stadium operations manager with the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines is a direct result of his practicum with the organization.
"I'm in my dream job," he said. "I get to be the first person at the ballpark and get paid to do it."
Quillin transferred to UI in 2009 after receiving an associate degree from Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa. While there, he had taken a couple of basic sports marketing courses and thought that was the direction he wanted to go. Once at UI, he began taking similar courses in the Tippie College of Business.
Still, he was looking for something more specialized. When he learned about the new recreation and sport business track, he jumped at the opportunity and changed his major to leisure studies—a name he never thought fit his experience in the program.
"My grandfather gave me a hard time when my diploma said 'Leisure Studies,'" Quillin said. "I'm very excited that the program has changed its name and is growing."