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Do You Need A Graduate Degree To Work In Sports?

Are you on the fence about going for a graduate degree? This article is for you!

We here at Sports Networker thought it would be interesting to debate the idea if receiving a masters degree or higher is essential to acquiring and maintaining a high ranking position in sports. We brought in two of our own authors, Mike Rudd and Evan Stancil, to make their cases on both sides of the fence.

Read the thoughts of our two experts and make your decision. You can add your opinion in the comments section below or send out a tweet to us @Sportsnetworker. Let the debate begin!

Click the links below to read the argument from both sides:

Click here -> Graduate Degree: Not needed in the sports business world

Click here -> Say YES to a Graduate Degree to Land that High-End Sports Job

Graduate Degree: Not needed in the sports business world

Written by Mike Rudd

I will begin my side of the debate by saying two things:

  1. It is absolutely not necessary to have an MBA to excel in the sports business world.
  2. If you do have one it was not a waste of your time, nor if you choose to pursue it.

I am stating that you don’t need it but I also want to be clear that I am not laying waste to the idea of MBA and Graduate Programs that work diligently every day to provide a high end education to those who enroll.  I commend everyone who has ever gotten one, working on one, or someone who works in the department at one.

My thoughts and reasons are simple and come with three main core components.

Argument A:  The End of Business as Usual

Brian Solis’s video for his recent book the End of Business as Usual sums it up pretty good; take a quick view below before continuing.

The business model for which the MBA and Graduate Programs are based on is one of these businesses and cycles that are continuing to disappear every day.  The list of businesses in this video did not adapt and continued their methods.  Traditional business used to include climbing the ladder at a company, the more knowledge you gained and the harder you worked the more you moved up that ladder.  A graduate program was a great addition to your reputation at that company after a few years in.  You gained more respect and experience at the company and by your peers and it paid off.

Business is different.  The sports business world has changed.  Our future is even more uncertain but one thing that it doesn’t include is working for the same company for decades and gaining the respect, exposure, and accolades that involve moving into a corner office.  You are now expected to perform immediately, quickly, and swiftly.  If you don’t perform you will be out the door.  We must re adopt the power to the people and with what we see out in the world every day.  This can’t be done by spending an extra 2-3 years learning more and more about case studies, former examples of good business, and in many instances out to date text books in graduate programs.

That leads to my second argument.

Argument B: There is nothing finer than real world experience

I have had the two single greatest years of my sports marketing career the past two years at my company.  I plan on 2013 being even bigger.  If I had an advanced degree, MBA, or graduate program degree in my current job it would mean NOTHING.  There is no advancement that can be gained in what I have done through obtaining this degree.  My friends who have done this over the years while I continued my real world experience have two things over me: A certification that they haven’t used to justify the time or money spent on what they got and MOUNDS OF STUDENT DEBT.

I have learned through real world experience and I have taken and will continue to take my bumps and bruises along the way.  But I learn, I get better from it, and I live to fight another day and the takeaways from my real world experience push me harder and higher than I could have ever gotten by taking an extra two years and getting an MBA.

If I had gone back to school at night to get an MBA in sports business I wouldn’t have been able to write a book on marketing, coach a basketball team, do consulting for my clients, write for SportsNetworker, build my personal brand, learn Spanish, train for half marathons and mini triathlons, or meet thousands of new people at Networking events and on social media that I have been able to trade ideas and stories with to help further my career.

I believe this real world path to knowledge is much more valuable than any experience I could have gained by being in the classroom and in front of textbooks over four nights a week over the past few years.

The sports marketing company I work at represents one of the biggest iconic brands in sports (Ohio State Football/Basketball) has ESPN’s Mike and Mike on it, is in a top 20 market in the country (Columbus Ohio) and was recently voted the #3 Sports Talk Station in the Country at 97.1 The Fan. The graduate degree would not be able to propel me higher to a bigger market, better lifestyle, or a more desirable position at this time.

Argument C: Never Stop Learning

My first two arguments are completely debunked though if you stop learning when you finish your undergraduate degree.  If you can’t force yourself to keep learning and growing on your own then you should probably go get your MBA and be forced by a University to keep getting smarter.
If you can go out and do it on your own here’s a great guideline from world renowned best-selling author and a man who is about to finish visiting EVERY country in the world Chris Guillebeau on how to spend a year or two getting the equivalent to an MBA or advanced degree to further what you are already doing in your life, and spend $10k or less doing it.  Check it out HERE!

I also spoke with Mitch Joel, best-selling author and owner of a digital marketing agency in Toronto who gave his words of support for my stance on this by saying “I surely hope you win the debate!” and had published this recent article for the stance against degree’s in social media and marketing under the same viewpoint.  That viewpoint is degrees are only meaningful if you apply them to better yourself.  But in the ever changing digital era you can often teach yourself if you are keen to your goals, work your butt off, and stay the course.  You can find Mitch’s recent article HERE.

To sum up: no way is the wrong way.

Learning is the most important step.  Knowledge is what you need. But I believe you can gain that knowledge now without the advanced degree in the sports business world. Thanks to Evan Stancil for taking the YES side so we could make this article happen!

Email me at, tweet us at @sportsnetworker, or leave your comments below!  Happy New Year to all!

Say YES to a Graduate Degree to Land that High-End Sports Job

Written by Evan Stancil

I will first establish my bias that as a current MBA student, I believe that obtaining a masters degree is instrumental in landing a high-end sports job and propelling you through the ranks in the sports industry. Obviously, an MBA or Masters in Sports Management or Communications are not necessary but it definitely gives employees and candidates an edge as a differentiator in advancement potential to landing a highly coveted career in your desired sports-related field.

Nothing can replace work experience as it applies to any career and the same applies to jobs in sports. From all the job descriptions on the job boards out there, the constant remains that years of experience is at the top, specific to a particular area of work. That experience is invaluable so let’s not kid ourselves that my academic status is going to get me that gig as a talent scout for the Baltimore Orioles, Marketing Director with the Washington Huskies or the writer/editor job with Sports Illustrated or ESPN.  As much as I would love to dream that a graduate degree is weighed heavily in the hiring process, that’s just not the truth. What is important is: passion, networking, building credibility and experience. These three aspects can be taught, tested and created through a graduate degree, which can definitely help you land that high-end sports job and advance towards the high-level job path.


For any career to be successful it’s important that there is some passion or underlying motivation to succeed. Whether you are money-motivated or altruistic there is a reason that you get up every day and go to work to do what you do. For those in the sports industry it’s typically not the money, at least not off the bat. Usually an internship is the way to break into the field and using your connections and social/professional networks to facilitate that process are where most graduates are able to get their foot in the door. Graduate school will either drive you towards your passion or it will veer you towards other passions. Personally, my intent when applying to graduate school programs was to challenge myself and give myself an opportunity to pursue a career that I actually look forward to getting out of bed for everyday. My intent was not specific to sports, but it certainly helped carve my ambition towards pursuing sports management as a path for me.

Fact:  Graduate school will help you discover your passion and will provide those tools for pursuing it with the knowledge and work ethic you are forced to endure throughout your program. So even if you fight it, you ultimately will have a clearer picture coming out of it. I can attest as I enter my final semester, thankfully.

Build Your Network

Coming out of college at the undergraduate level I felt like I had a pretty solid network. Facebook and social media started booming and I felt pretty tapped into the business world. Well, although being a member of a fraternity and having friends on the baseball team didn’t hurt it also did not make me well-networked by any stretch. What graduate school does is combine students who have similar interests and career objectives and allows them the opportunity to interact with one another for a significant period of time. Specifically, these interactions include: group projects, guest speakers, engaging lectures, university career services and occasional field trips to network and gain insight into your career. As a student this summer in a graduate sports communication class at George Washington we were fortunate to meet some of the Washington Nationals front office, to include the VP of Marketing, Ticket Sales and Communications Director to get a feel for a day in their shoes. These opportunities and connections I have built have been extremely valuable. I have doubled my Linked-In contacts to over 1,000 in a span of less than 2 years and grown my social presence immensely since being in graduate school.

Here’s a good video to watch if you have any doubt of its importance:

In addition to my increased social media exposure that spans a recent Twitter account creation (@E_Stancil), my networking tree has grown insurmountably. I’ve never felt like an outlier on the networking grid, but my network was more specialized and lacked depth. Through a concerted effort to build and share my connections by learning fundamental strategies in my marketing and leadership courses, I have been able to identify “kingpins” in respective arenas of the sports industry to help open doors for me. A couple examples as a direct result of this networking via graduate school are with Ripken Baseball and The Washington Post. So there is definitely truth to this.

Gaining Credibility & Experience

The best way to gain credibility is one’s prior history or reviewing their period of performance. This is typically why experience is so heavily valued by employers when reviewing applicants’ resumes. Certainly MBA and masters degrees are a nice to have for hiring managers. The higher education shows the work ethic and time that have been put forth to excel in such programs and the determination to complete them. In addition to instant academic credibility that is given to these students, it’s assumed that the candidate has a solid enough head on their shoulders to muscle through that amount of extensive schooling.

Opportunities available at universities are important and instrumental in helping land that job with your ideal sports company or franchise.  I should mention that an accredited business school or institution is equally important to note here. While using your network as an undergraduate and building work experience is also important, the ability to further that network with the resources at your graduate program will enable you to get specific training, internships and possibility of job placement thus increases upon graduating.

Sports programs at the professional and collegiate levels are big business. Therefore, these organizations would prefer candidates with MBAs and graduate level degrees that would be useful in their marketing, advertising, public relations, sales, operations and facility management departments amongst others. MBAs and sports specific graduate degrees could certainly aid candidates who are seeking to enter this growing industry that is already a $200 billion dollar powerhouse. Landing an internship with one of your targeted companies becomes more of a reality with that advanced degree as opposed to using the networking method and being at the right place/right time to get you into the sports industry. I could reference the experiences of many of my contacts in baseball, who can fully attest to this lifestyle and means of changing jobs and teams that has spanned both the east and west coast as they try to work up the corporate ladder.

There is no science to landing that ideal job in sports, or path to getting to that high-level career.  An MBA or sports related graduate degree certainly cannot hurt and with the economy stagnant as it’s been, it’s safe to say graduate school is a great option. I recommend it, although it is no guarantee.  I continue to network and apply to internship opportunities that will hopefully put me on the path to landing one of my dream jobs after I graduate in the Spring. I hope to be proof of my graduate school advocacy and that my recent internship with Ripken Baseball, current contributions to SportsNetworker and writing for has helped start my journey while pursuing my MBA.

Thanks to Michael Rudd for taking the NO side to make this article interesting.

Happy New Year and best wishes to everyone for success in 2013!

Please email me at , tweet @E_Stancil or leave comments below.

Do you have an opinion on this topic?  Perhaps you are living proof that you either do or don’t need a graduate degree to work in sports? Let us know what you think in the comments below? Make sure to follow Sports Networker on twitter @SportsNetworker and send us a tweet with your thoughts on this debate

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11 Responses to Do You Need A Graduate Degree To Work In Sports?

  1. Bruno Favretto March 4, 2013 at 12:28 am #

    I am currently a Sport Management MBA student. I decided for this MBA as I wanted to shift my career towards the sport industry. So I am learning new concepts that were not part of my current experience.
    I can say I am really enjoying and believe studying is a great way to improve your knowledge and your career. Sometimes if we focus only at work experience, we close our eyes to new concepts and new ways of doing our job. University is also a time to reflect on our job/career and go back with new ideas/up to day knowledge that can revolutionize your work.

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