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Sport management college programs move into a new era of accreditation.

For a number of years, sport management programs in colleges and universities were very dissimilar in terms of their curriculums, course offerings, content of courses, etc. Many college sport management programs in the 1970s and 1980s were located in Departments of Physical Education or Divisions of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. Some sport management programs had a heavy business orientation (e.g., courses in marketing, finance, economics, personnel management, business law, ...) while other programs provided a heavy physical education and/or exercise science orientation (e.g., courses in kinesiology, biomechanics, motor learning, .) with a few business courses added to round out the curriculum offerings. Some sport management programs offered a fairly equal mixture of both sport business and sport science coursework.

As college sport management programs continued to expand and grow in numbers during the 1980s, a need to develop some consistency in terms of curriculum content and program requirements was realized. An effort was made to ensure some type of quality control. Some employers were starting to complain that sport management graduates were under prepared and did not have the necessary coursework and skills to prepare them for a career in sport management. In a number of instances, high school graduates could enter one college and major in sport management while taking a series of courses that were very different from a college across town that also offered a major in sport management.

American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), in a general way, and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) in a specific way realized this need for developing program standards and consistency. Several of the NASPE members, at the time, were teaching in sport management programs. When the North American Society for Sport Management was officially organized in the mid-1980s, additional emphasis was placed on developing sport management program review standards. Research and competency studies on curriculum standards in selected fields of sport management continued to be published and they often recommended that curricular changes were needed (Case, 1986; Case, 2003; Case & Branch, 2003).

In 1989, the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) and NASPE formed a committee to develop curriculum content standards in sport management. This committee eventually evolved into the Sport Management Program Review Council (SMPRC) that established a program review and approval process (NASSM-NASPE, 1993). College programs that offered majors or concentration areas in sport management could apply for program approval by completing an extensive program review process that included examination of the sport management program's curriculum, course content and competencies, internship requirements, admission standards, faculty qualifications, teaching load, number of faculty, etc.

Although the NASSM-NASPE Sport Management Program Review Process was a step forward and forced many changes to take place in college sport management programs, it lacked the necessary "teeth" and legitimacy that a "formal" and "official" accreditation process would provide. For example, although an extensive review of materials was required for the NASSM-NASPE program review process, a formal site visit to the campus of the institution being reviewed was not required. Most "official" accreditation organizations require a site visit. As a result, a number of college administrators did not view the NASSM-NASPE review process as being an "official" accreditation process.

The fact that the NASSM-NASPE program approval process was considered to be simply a "program review" and not an "official" accreditation often slowed down efforts to revise sport management program course offerings and curriculum development, the hiring of additional faculty, and many other administrative decisions that had to be made. As a result, a growing number of sport management faculty from across the country felt that there was a definite need to move sport management to the next level and develop a formal "accreditation" process.

The advantages of a "formal" accreditation process are several in number. One of the more obvious advantages is that it provides evidence that a college sport management program has undergone external scrutiny and it has met certain characteristics or standards of excellence as prescribed by the accrediting organization. It also provides sport management faculty with leverage to move forward with curriculum revisions and requests for additional faculty lines and funding. Sometimes without the backing of accreditation these efforts may prove to be futile. Most college officials and administrators understand what accreditation is and do not want to lose accreditation because they fail to financially support a program. Finally, accreditation does provide a certain level of prestige for a program and this may translate into successful marketing of the program. When students have the option to attend an accredited program over a program that is not accredited - the decision is likely to be in favor of the accredited program if all other decision factors are the same.

In 2008, the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) was officially launched. Its primary purpose was to develop a specialized accrediting body that would promote and recognize excellence in sport management undergraduate and graduate education. Although some similarities existed between the NASSM-NASPE program review process and the COSMA accreditation process, in other ways, they are quite different. For instance, the older NASSM-NASPE review process was focused on prescriptive input standards involving both curriculum and content. The COMSA accreditation process, on the other hand, is rather unique because it focuses on a mission-based and outcomes-driven process (COSMA, 2013).

Similarities do exist between NASSM-NASPE program approval standards or competencies and what COMAS calls common professional competencies. Expectations in both NASSMNASPE and COSMA include student exposure to coursework in sport marketing, sport leadership and administrative theory, legal aspects of sport , fiscal management in sport, sport economics, sport event management, sport governance, social aspects of sport, sport ethics, etc. Although NASSM-NASPE looks more at the input and content areas, COSMA focuses on the learning outcomes associated with each of these coursework areas. In addition, the area of internships or fieldwork experiences are both emphasized by NASSM-NASPE and COSMA.

Again, a major difference with COSMA is that it uses characteristics of excellence, while assessing educational outcomes, as a primary basis for making accreditation decisions. COSMA has developed accreditation principles based on best practices in sport management education and professional preparation. The outcomes assessment process ends with the development of an action plan that involves all of the units within the organization. A benchmarking process is also used in order to determine if a program is achieving its stated mission and goals while interpreting results of the assessment process outcomes. During implementation of the plan, evidence is collected to ensure that goals are accomplished and student learning is taking place. Results of implementing an outcomes assessment plan are reported to COSMA on an annual basis (COSMA, 2013).

Measurement is another major feature of COSMA. Student learning outcomes are not only identified but they are measured on a regular basis through a variety of means. In addition, the COSMA accreditation process emphasizes the development of direct and indirect student learning outcomes and measures. An example of a direct measure might include a comprehensive exam or the development of a student portfolio and an indirect measure of student learning might include an exit interview or an alumni survey. The COSMA accreditation process requires that the sport management program conduct a self-study each year. Within the self study, information is included about the outcomes assessment, strategic planning, curricular offerings, faculty qualifications, faculty work load, admission procedures and standards, facilities, scholarly and professional activities of faculty, financial resources, internal and external relationships of the program and institution, and educational innovation are some of the many items to be included in the self study.

The final phase of the COSMA process includes a site visit to the college or university that is applying for accreditation. The college sport management program must first become an institutional member of COSMA and apply for candidacy status. Then, data collection is initiated in order to support the self study writing efforts. Eventually, a timeline is established for a site visit by the accreditation review team. COSMA will send a two person accreditation review team to conduct a two day site visit. The final accreditation status of the college sport management program will be determined by the COSMA Board of Commissioners.

Over the past forty years, tremendous growth in the number sport management programs has been realized. Reports suggest that there are now over 300 sport management college programs with associate, bachelor, masters, and/or doctoral level degree offerings. Many of the programs now include business and sport business related coursework requirements. The days of sport management students taking a majority of their courses in sport science have ended. In recent years, several sport management programs have moved into Colleges of Business as they are no longer housed in Departments of Physical Education.

The NASSM-NASPE program approval process was extremely helpful in moving sport management programs forward. The process provided leverage to make changes and it provided curriculum standards for all to follow. It is now COSMA's turn to take sport management education and professional preparation to the next level. The future should prove to be exciting.

For more information about COSMA, please go to


Case, R. (1986). Sport arena management as a possible career option for sport management graduates, First Annual Meeting of the North American Society for Sport Management, Kent State University, 1986.

Case, R. (2003). Sport management curriculum development: Issues and concerns. International Journal of Sport Management, 4(3), 224-239.

Case, R., & Branch, J. (2003). A study to examine the job competencies of sport facility managers. International Sports Journal, 7(2), 25-38.

NASSM-NASPE. (1993). Sport Management Program Standards and Review Protocol. Reston, VA: AAHPERD Press.

COSMA. (2013). COSMA Accreditation Process Manual. Reston, VA: AAHPERD Press.

Robert Case, PhD, Old Dominion University, Sport Management Program
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Author:Case, Robert
Publication:VAHPERD Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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