A new minor offered by the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, seeks to provide students with a foundation to work in a variety of athletic settings, including at the intercollegiate level.
The education school’s athletic leadership minor will launch this fall and is a first for UC Riverside and the larger UC system, said Associate Professor of Higher Education Eddie Comeaux, who led the committee to establish the new program. Until now, no UC has offered an athletics-based academic program for undergraduates.
Comeaux described the program as long overdue. College sports in the U.S. generate more than $12 billion per year, with profits sometimes rivaling those of professional leagues.
But all too often, college athletes become part of an exploitative structural arrangement, Comeaux said. Perhaps most notably, athletes are not fairly compensated for their athletic labor, despite schools profiting handsomely off the increasing commercialization of sport.
A former Division I college athlete himself, Comeaux was drafted by the Texas Rangers while playing baseball at UC Berkeley and spent four years playing professionally before earning his master’s degree and doctorate from UCLA.
Through his own experiences, he said he’s been struck by the need for equity-minded athletics leaders with more specialized training to navigate the various ethical, financial, and legal gray areas now accompanying intercollegiate athletics.
With those areas in mind, the athletic leadership minor will prepare students for future careers in intercollegiate athletics, namely as athletics directors, compliance officers, business and financial officers, public relations officers, coaches, academic advisors, counselors, and tutors.
Among other topics, students will learn about the myriad approaches universities take to athletics; the organizational structure and functions of the NCAA; and the foundations and intersections of higher education, sport, and student affairs. Additionally, they’ll explore in depth many of the contemporary issues affecting college athletes, with an emphasis on race, gender, and intersectionality.
“When we talk about issues around race, racism, and gender equity, in particular, athletics is rife with structural impediments that make it difficult for us to level the playing field, especially for people from vulnerable communities,” Comeaux said. “In higher education, you can’t talk about equity without talking about college athletics.”
In addition to intercollegiate roles, students who complete the minor program will be better equipped to handle positions in community and youth sports administration, coaching, fitness clubs and wellness organizations, and parks and recreation departments.
Comeaux noted the undergraduate program could also be a stepping-stone to a graduate program in higher education administration, such as the one offered by UCR, or a more specialized program in athletics administration or sport management.
Overall, he hopes the athletic leadership minor will encourage students to view issues around equity, fairness, and justice — topics explored extensively through other Graduate School of Education programs — through new lenses.
“The main question is: How do we implement more equitable, fair treatment of athletes and others involved in this arrangement?” Comeaux said. “It’s difficult to be a champion for change if you don’t understand the issues.
“Part of the motivation for this program is to identify those issues as well as what it means to be a leader — a champion for change, someone who wants to engage in new, fresh ways of seeing the world that impact others,” he added. “We need to build a pipeline of leaders who are thinking about these important issues.”
A total of 20 units are required for the minor. One lower-division course will provide foundational knowledge in the main content areas of the program, while a minimum of four upper-division courses will cover theories of student development, critical pedagogy, diversity issues, policies, moral and ethical issues, and leadership in athletics.
Courses completed prior to official enrollment in the minor may be applied toward satisfying the program requirements. Students may also complete an optional capstone project with their faculty advisor, exploring an athletics-related question or problem of their choice.