The forthcoming closure of the Exercise & Sports Studies Dept. has spurned a wave of outcry from the student body, particularly the 5,000 undergraduates presently seeking a minor in the program. But lost in the current dilemma between budget cuts and the popular ESS minors are the voices of students that have come and gone through the program.
Since the inception of the sport management minor in 1996, classes of students interested in the field have taken the knowledge gained through the department and went on to have great success both in and out of the sporting arena. As aspiring sport managers of today fight for the future of the program — and the future of their occupational welfare in the process — departed ESS graduates are speaking out against the closure of a program that has so deeply impacted their careers.
“What I liked about [the sport management minor] was that it was more practical than other areas of study,” Miami Dolphins Pro Scout Nate Sullivan said. “It teaches life lessons, how you break into the business and the different avenues you can take.”
Sullivan, a graduate of the first class of sport management minors, entered UCSB as a philosophy major with a love for sport, but assumed there was no way he could break into the field.
“I figured if you didn’t play sports, there was really no way to go about [entering the field],” Sullivan said. “I always wanted to do something with sports, but I had no idea how.”
The newly instated minor did away with his initial uncertainties, as the networking aspect of the field — a topic of study covered in breadth — led Sullivan to his dream job. With the recommendations of sport management lecturer and advisor Al Ferrer, the young NFL authority created a strategic career path.
“I applied to Saint Thomas University for graduate school in sport management, knowing the [Miami] Dolphins streamlined a bunch of students through there,” Sullivan said. “I ended up getting a shot and worked my way up.”
Learning how to network has paid dividends for countless students through the years, including Tyler Geivett, a 2007 sport management graduate that utilized his connections as a public relations assistant with the Oakland A’s to become a sports information director at Loyola Marymount.
“Figuring out how networking is involved in all jobs is something that the program does especially well,” Geivett said. “I know for a fact that I got my job [at LMU] through people that I met through the A’s.”
Nick Mazzella, a 2006 sport management graduate and current public relations director for the Los Angeles Lakers, echoed Geivett’s praise while noting the lack of comparable outreach in his major area of study.
“A lot of the [ESS] teachers like [Jim] Romeo and [Jon] Spaventa do a great job of informing students about the importance of internships, and even help [students] get them directly,” said Mazzella. “My economics professors never did that.”
A driving force behind the career guidance lies in the open-door policy of the lecturers in the program.
“The teachers are always there, always available for their students … some of them even became my friends,” Mazzella said.
The friendship of ESS professors has not been limited to sport management minors. At the turn of the century, Ferrer, lecturer for the sport management and sport administration classes, led business-economics major Dan Mock to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity even though he had no official attachment to the program. The job — interpreter to former New York Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang.
“[Ferrer] was instrumental in getting my career started,” Mock said. “Aside from being a mentor, he’s one of my best friends in the industry.”
While the ESS department led Mock into the job market of professional athletics, it has also aided countless students with life lessons in jobs not of the sporting variety.
“In a class with [Pete] Schroeder, I learned about working through conflict and rewarding through criticism,” said Lino Marko Rangelov, 2006 sport management graduate and legal recruiter for global law firm Morrison & Foerster. “Bringing his ‘sandwich approach’ to an office setting has worked miracles with managers and co-workers.”
Adam Zelin, a 2007 sport management graduate and marketing director for The Gersh Agency of professional talent, has also found purpose in the minor’s communicative instruction.
“Meeting and speaking with others in a professional setting was first introduced to me through the [sport management] minor,” Zelin said. “It opened my eyes to dealing with management in a new capacity.”
While lessons in social interaction benefited Rangelov and Zelin in endeavors separate of sport, other sport management graduates have used comparable means for lateral movement in and out of the industry.
Sean O’Keefe — a 2002 graduate that went from Oakland A’s business developer to current vice president of sales for an office solutions company — can testify to this fact.
“I was actually recruited by one of my customers with the A’s in landing the sales VP position,” O’Keefe said. “The ESS department was the only [department] that taught life skills to go along with a textbook oriented curriculum.”
Though its application to practical situations has helped so many in today’s workforce, it may be the unorthodox academia that O’Keefe alluded to that has the ESS department on the brink of shutdown.
“We are a unique academic program on campus, based in lecturing rather than research, and I believe the decision [to close the department] has a lot to do with that reasoning,” said Exercise & Sports Studies Director Jon Spaventa.
With a lack of research to draw in funds like other notable programs on campus, it would appear that money is the key issue at hand with the array of impending budget cuts. But does eliminating the ESS department effectively bridge the economic deficit?
“We brought in about $3.5 million from the state through last year’s courses of instruction with a budget of less than $900,000,” Spaventa said. “The campus stands to lose money when things straighten out economically.”
In a written letter to Chancellor Henry T. Yang, Geivett also voiced his disapproval.
“There are other ways for the campus to save money than cutting what is arguably the top minor program in the school,” Geivett said. “[The sport management minor] is a necessary pipeline to a master’s degree in the field.”
The pipeline mentioned by Geivett worked to perfection in landing Colin Preston, a 2006 sport management graduate, a position as the assistant athletic director of operations at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco following graduate school at the University of San Francisco.
“The ESS program was a stepping stone to my master’s program at USF,” Preston said. “[USF] thinks highly of prospective grad students from UCSB because of its sport management program.”
In the case of Sullivan, the courses were key in understanding the business of sports — exposure that in his opinion outweighs any monetary constraints.
“I understand the economy and the need to retain programs that are more academically standard, but you need a program like this to break into the business,” Sullivan said.
In addition to the financial pitfalls identified by an academic review of the department, Spaventa pointed out unseen benefits that are also of significance.
“Of the 12,000 students that our program services annually, 6,000 enroll in our half-unit classes for exercise that are proactive to a balanced mental health. Additionally, the jobs that have been fostered by our program in the community are not being factored into the equation,” Spaventa said.
If the university ultimately decides to cut the ESS department, approximately 500 current third-year students will be unable to complete a minor in which they have already fulfilled upper-division credits. An excess of 1,000 current first and second-year students will also have to look elsewhere in spite of the belief that sport management, only one of the four ESS minors which also include exercise & health science, athletic coaching, and fitness instruction, would be available.
In closing the storied department, the Chancellor is allowing the university’s economic conflict to impact a program that leads students into a field that has thrived in the face of the depression — a field that should continue to advance provided it has a new generation of educated employees.
“It’s definitely an emerging industry with the diversification of sport,” said Marty Gorsich, 1997 sport management graduate and director of corporate partnership for the San Diego Padres. “Thirteen years ago there were only the big four [sports], but in today’s sporting world, a program like this has more and more value.”