The administrators at the School of Continuing Studies had been kicking around the idea for a master's in sports administration for years when Simon Greenwold (G96, 01) joined the school's leadership team. He knew right away that the program, a sort of MBA for sports, would be a natural for SCS.
"The idea was that Northwestern is a top-quality academic institution with Big Ten athletics connections. It's a great match," says Greenwold, now associate dean of the Graduate School. "This is a program that sells itself and fits perfectly with the mission of Continuing Studies."
However, the program needed a sponsor. "There was no single academic home for it because it really involves all aspects of business that apply to the sports industry," says Linda Salchenberger, associate dean of academics at SCS. "It's a true interdisciplinary program. And in many ways the program served as a stimulus for us to ask the question, 'Could we offer our own master's degrees?'"
When word came that SCS did have such autonomy and authority, the master's of sports administration degree took flight in fall 2005.
The degree, the model for subsequent professional degrees offered by SCS, highlights the school's ability to identify a market, respond with flexibility and innovation and develop rigorous academic offerings that might not fit elsewhere within the University.
Now in its third year, the program has nearly 100 students, including 15 who enrolled last spring. It provides a high-caliber academic experience with Chicago sports industry experts who share their knowledge and help students break into the business. Northwestern calls on some of Chicago sports' heavy hitters — executives from the Cubs and Bulls, for example — to serve on the faculty and advisory board.
The program's home field advantage sealed the deal for Annette Parker, a former University of North Carolina track athlete who came to Chicago to immerse herself in the region's growing sports market.
"I get to meet people who are making decisions in big companies in Chicago," says Parker, who spent her summer in North Chicago as an intern with the First Tee, a nonprofit that introduces children to the game of golf. "They get you in the right doors for your career."
The MSA network paid instant dividends for Mike LaMargo (KSM98), who came to the program after more than 20 years in technology sales. He was working as an account executive with Xerox when he got the sports industry itch.
He enrolled in his first class last fall and hit it off with the teaching assistant, A.J. Maestas. A few months later Maestas e-mailed LaMargo with a job opportunity. Within a matter of days LaMargo joined Killerspin, a Chicago-based premium table tennis supplier and entertainment company, as director of sales and marketing.
"I would never have gotten this job if it was not for the network of the master's program," says LaMargo.
"It's a real launching point," says Salchenberger of the program. "It attracts a lot of interest from people who are already in the industry, but because there are very few degree programs, it's a nice opportunity for individuals in the industry to get a credential that helps professionalize their work."
Greenwold says he's not surprised by the program's instant success, a victory that SCS has translated into other professional programs including the new master's in medical informatics.
"It really allowed and catalyzed the growth of the institution," he says. — S.H.