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A Better Athletics Major

Colleges could offer an athletic major for athletes so they can study what interests them.

Calls to let athletes major in sports are nothing new, and make a lot of sense. Artistic majors are nothing new, and the chances of making it as a professional athlete are similar to those of making it as a ballet star, musician, or blockbuster artist. The arguments against athletics majors are just as well known. Let coaches give credit for practices and you’ll end up with sham majors awarding sham degrees.

So the arguments for an athletics performance major laid out by David Pargman cover well worn ground. They do not really come up with a new, compelling argument for athletics majors. And they fail to address many of the concerns about athletics majors (like how to make sure that athletes have the opportunity to not major in their sport). But what he does have is a curriculum. Pargman has at least sat down and thought about what courses would be involved in an athletics major and tried to make it a complete program. Unfortunately, it has a lot of room for improvement.

Here is Pargman’s Proposed Curriculum:

  • Junior year, first semester: anatomy and physiology; educational psychology (introduction to learning theory); laboratory in heavy resistance training; football, basketball, or baseball offensive strategies (scrimmage).
  • Junior year, second semester: introduction to sports psychology; introduction to physiology of exercise; laboratory in aerobic fitness training; elements of contract law; football, basketball, or baseball laboratory (scrimmage); health education.
  • Senior year, first semester: introduction to human nutrition; public speaking; football, basketball, or baseball laboratory (offensive and defensive strategies); introduction to sports coaching.
  • Senior year, second semester: introduction to motor learning; stress and performance; elements of business law; the body in motion (kinesiology).

The bones of a good curriculum are here, but there’s two big issues. First is the sheer volume of credits that athletes get for participating in their sport. In addition to three sport-specific lab courses, there are also two labs in fitness training. Pargman sees this as being on top of what athletes do already. That means a lot of credit for basically additional practice and conditioning.

Second is the fact that Pargman has more or less grafted onto this additional practice a hodgepodge of courses from the kinesiology department, plus a couple business electives. None of the courses here are designed for aspiring professional athletes. “Introduction to Human Nutrition” should be a kinesiology core class for freshmen or sophomores. A senior student-athlete should be taking “Nutrition for Elite Performance” focusing on supplements, a deep dive on different diets, and a look at the differences in how elite athletes process food vs. how “normal” people do.

Essentially what Pargman has created is one reason athletics performance majors meet resistance. It is a lot of extra practice, a lot of introductory courses, and little additional investment in educating athletes. This is the program that schools will use to quickly create an athletics major. It is a good start, and an effective stopgap while a more mature curriculum is developed. But to gain widespread acceptance, athletics majors would need to grow beyond Pargman’s curriculum.

A Proposed Curriculum for Athletics Majors

For a better upper division curriculum, let’s assume that in their first two years, athletes complete their general education and kinesiology core requirements. Math, basic sciences including anatomy/physiology, history, sociology, writing, and comparative lit are all out of the way. In addition, athletes have gone through introductory courses in kinesiology/exercise science, sports marketing, nutrition, and sports psychology/sociology.

  • Junior year, first semester: Intro to Learning Theory; Advanced Weight Training; Advanced Conditioning; Skills in [Insert Sport]; Introduction to Coaching.
  • Junior year, second semester: Nutrition for Elite Athletes; Sports Law; Strategy in [Insert Sport]; Elite Athletes in Society; Psychology of High Performance.
  • Senior year, first semester: Contract Law for Professional Athletes; Personal Finance for Athletes; Biomechanics in Elite Athletics; Personal Marketing.
  • Senior year, second semester: Media Strategies for Professional Athletes; A topics course in kinesiology; History of Collective Bargaining in Sports; Research credit; Internship.

Why is this better? First, it reduce the amount of credits likely to come from simply additional practice and film study. Course design is key, but the conditioning and weight lifting courses are intended to be intensive lecture/lab courses centering around designing workouts and the physiology involved.

Those courses are also front loaded to make it easier for an athletics performance major to support an athletics education or coaching major as well. This curriculum is flexible enough that an athlete could switch from the performance major to the coaching version as late as senior year and still remain eligible and on track to graduate. To make the coaching major, you would replace many of the personal business courses with classes on topics like athletic training and first aid, recreation law, specific courses on teaching sport skills and strategy, as well as more education courses, potentially enough for a teaching certificate.

More of the courses are tailored to the issues professional athletes face. More targeted law courses so athletes understand contracts and what their agent is doing. Marketing and media classes so an athlete can manage their off-field image and brand. And some liberal arts so athletes have a clear picture of the place of professional athletics in society and how the public views athletes. And no kinesiology program is complete without some practical experience.

While many of these courses are targeted at athletes in this major, they are useful to many other students. Anyone interested in becoming an agent should take most of the senior year courses. Physical therapists and athletic trainers have a lot to gain from much of the junior year curriculum. And all of the courses could be elective credit for any number of majors in business, kinesiology, education, psychology, sociology, or pre-law.

This is the type of comprehensive program that allows athletes to pick an education that matches their interests. At the same time, it offers them plenty of experience in areas beyond simply a professional playing career. And it creates a major that has lasting impact on not just college athletes but also youth and professional sports as well by creating better coaches, more professionally trained agents and administrators, and athletes better prepared for their professional careers.

Do you think that the NCAA should offer an athletics major? What classes should the curriculum consist of? Let us know in the comments section below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+!

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