Sport Management Field Experiences: The Impact of the Federal Labor Standards Act on Internships


This paper examines the importance of the internship experience in sport management curriculums and how field experiences are affected by the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The academic discipline of sport management relies heavily on internships to assist students with the application of classroom theory in professional environments, and these internships are unpaid. The FLSA does not speak specifically to unpaid internships. A review of court cases dealing with professional sport organizations suggests that adjustments need to be made to the FLSA or to sport management curriculums in order to protect student interns from unfair labor practices.

Sport Management Field Experiences: The Impact of the Federal Labor Standards Act on Internships

Business and education departments in colleges and universities across the globe have embraced the growing presence of professional and recreational sports and have implemented curriculums in the field of sport management. As the field of sport management continues to grow in the business world, the demand for qualified professionals continues to expand. According to Case (2007), over 200 graduate and undergraduate programs exist in the field of sport management, and the number of sport management programs has continued to grow at a rapid pace. In the past 2 years the number of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs in sport management has grown to a total of 309 (Scremin, 2007).

Although a key component of preparing sport management students for the real world is their progression through a sport management–specific curriculum, more research is beginning to focus on the importance of field experiences in the preparatory process (Cunningham & Sagas, 2004). A field experience can also be known as an internship, practicum, or mentorship, depending on the details of the experience and the preferences of the educational program. The field experience serves as an integral part of sport management programs (Ross & Beggs, 2007), providing an opportunity for learning that is not available in the classroom. Challenging internships that allow the student to play an active role in an organization enhance the educational value of the experience to the student (Cunningham, Sagas, Dixon, Kent, & Turner, 2005). Through them, students have the opportunity to acquire new skills while applying theories learned in the classroom. A student’s confidence will also grow when there is a sense of serving the organization in a positive manner.

While the field of sport management offers lucrative positions that may initially interest students in the industry, the reality is that they must start a sport management career at the ground level. Most of the industry positions for sport management interns are unpaid (Case, 2007). Although the primary objective of a field experience is for the student to apply theories learned in the classroom in a professional atmosphere, some educators feel that students are being taken advantage of in non-wage situations (Cunningham & Sagas, 2004). Some professional sport organizations have come under direct fire concerning their overreliance on unpaid interns. However, the labor laws in the United States do not have clear language dealing with unpaid internships.

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the importance of field experiences in the sport management curriculum by evaluating current curricular trends at leading universities within the sport management discipline. Additionally, labor laws associated with unpaid internships and specific court cases dealing with professional sport organizations and interns will be presented.

Sport Management Program Review Council

As the sport management discipline caught hold and the academic community recognized sport management as a viable area of study, education professionals decided that curricular guidelines were needed (SMPRC, 2000). In 1987, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) developed a set of guidelines for sport management programs. Less than 2 years later, NASPE organized a task force including members of both NASPE and the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) to continue to develop curricular guidelines. This task force is known as the Sport Management Curriculum Review Council (SMPRC). The SMPRC created a comprehensive set of guidelines that included required and recommended areas of content. Specific guidelines were made for baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral sport management degree programs. Although the initial guidelines were accepted by the majority of schools offering sport management programs, revisions to the original guidelines were made in 1999. Each SMPRC requirement for degree programs is categorized under standard areas such as “Governance in Sport” or “Marketing” (SMPRC, 2000, pp. 6, 9). For a bachelor’s degree program, the final SMPRC standard is “Field Experience in Sport Management.” The SMPRC (2000) says of the field experience that

An undergraduate student will benefit from culminating in-depth practical experience(s) before entering the sport industry. These experiences help the student bridge the gap between classroom learning and practical application in sport settings. They allow students to explore career options, develop management skills, and gain a greater understanding of the total operation of sports organizations. (p. 9)

The SMPRC requires that sport management programs must have their undergraduate students engage in a field experience.

The SMPRC has similar requirements at both the master’s and doctoral levels (SMPRC, 2000). The premise for the master’s level changes slightly, taking into account that the graduate student may already have experience working in sport management. The required further experience should be geared toward enhancing the student’s network and increasing the likelihood of job placement upon degree completion, according to the SMPRC (2000). The focus changes again at the doctoral level. The SMPRC identifies two focus paths for student internships. One is for those doctoral students who plan to teach at the college level. The internship for such students should focus on gaining experience in an educational setting, with possible tasks including teaching lower level sport management classes, conducting research, or providing supervision to undergraduate interns. The second focus path is for doctoral students who plan on being practitioners of sport management. The internship for these students should include more independent work in the industry than is demanded during undergraduate or master’s degree internships.

Curriculum Approval and Internship Requirements

Even though sport management is a growing discipline in academia, there is still a fundamental inconsistency in the programs across the country. An ongoing debate exists concerning the placement of the sport management program within an academic department. Some sport management programs are found in business departments (Overton, 2004), while others are located in physical education departments. Wherever a sport management program may be housed, its approval by the SMPRC is solely based on whether it meets curricular standards (SMPRC, 2000). Currently, 85 programs are approved by the SMPRC (NASSM, 2007), comprising only 27.5% of sport management programs in the United States. According to a study done by Scremin (2007), 22% of undergraduate sport management programs have received approval (n = 41), 24% of master’s degree programs have received approval (n = 26), and 21 % of doctoral programs have received approval (n = 3). The difference between NASSM’s and Scremin’s results (85 approved, 70 approved) illustrates that 15 additional programs have been approved by the SMPRC since July 2007.

Although the number of approved programs is only a small portion of the total number of programs, this does not seem related to a lack of internships or field experiences within the programs. Nearly 77% of sport management programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels have some type of internship requirement (Scremin, 2007). Scremin reported that 90% of programs at the bachelor’s level require an internship (n = 161), 65% of those at the master’s level require an internship (n = 70), and 43% at the doctoral level require an internship (n = 6). The high percentages at the bachelor’s and master’s levels represent a strong commitment to internships for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Labor Concerns and Federal Regulations

A widely debated aspect of the sport management field experience generally is compensation for student work (Foster & Moorman, 2001). Compensation is typically in the form either of academic credit or monetary wages. In academia, credit hours are usually awarded based on the number of hours required by the internship. The SMPRC requires internships to be at least 400 hours (SMPRC, 2000), for which the student usually receives at least 12 hours of academic credit. Financial compensation for field experiences is of growing concern to both universities and students, however. Most internships available in the sport industry do not offer monetary compensation to the student, although increasing debate surrounds this issue in the sport management field (Foster & Moorman, 2001). A number of professional organizations, specifically professional baseball franchises, rely on interns to be able to operate each season. The majority of these interns are unpaid, yet the franchises would not be able to operate without the interns. The question becomes not only whether such a practice is ethical, but also is it legal according to federal labor regulations?

In 1938, the federal government enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in order to establish a wage floor and protect the general public from the practice of cheap labor (FLSA Overview, 2007). At that time, the United States Congress felt that hourly workers had no protection or bargaining power vis-à-vis their employers. Without bargaining power, workers had no choice but to accept the substandard wages offered by employers, just to survive. The government felt the wages were so low that an acceptable way of living was not possible. Aside from implementing a minimum wage, the FLSA also addressed issues of overtime compensation, employee recordkeeping, and child labor.

The FLSA protects employees who work in both the public and private sectors (FLSA Overview, 2007). Currently, all companies that engage in interstate commerce and surpass $500,000 in annual sales must comply with the FLSA. (The FLSA also governs certain other companies regardless of annual revenue, including medical facilities, schools, colleges and universities, and all government agencies.) Thus most professional sport organizations and franchises are required to comply with the FLSA.

Federal Exemptions

Some sport organizations, however, have been successful in receiving exemptions from the FLSA. Under a provision of the FLSA, “seasonal and recreational establishments” can be granted an exemption upon approval (FLSA Exemption, 2007). In order to receive an exemption, the organization must satisfy half of a two-part test for seasonal or recreational character. The first part of the test requires the organization to demonstrate that it does not operate for more than 7 months in any calendar year. It is difficult for professional sport organizations to meet this requirement. The second part of the test, the seasonal receipts test, requires that an establishment illustrate that its average income for any 6 months of the previous year did not exceed one third of the average receipts for the other 6 months. This is also a difficult standard for any sport organization to meet.

FLSA Employment Classifications

Although some sport organizations do receive exemptions through the seasonal and recreational establishments clause, others who have not been exempted have found advantage in the FLSA’s lack of clarity about internships and other field experiences (FLSA Employment Status, 2007). Section 14(a) of the FLSA, for example, specifies several types of employees not protected under the act and allows lesser compensation in their cases; while interns are not among these specified employee groups, so-called learners, student-learners, and apprentices are specified in Section 14(a). The FLSA defines a learner as

[a] worker who is being trained for an occupation, which is not customarily recognized as an apprenticeable trade, for which skill, dexterity and judgment must be learned and who, when initially employed, produces little or nothing of value. Except in extraordinary circumstances, an employee cannot be considered a “learner” once he/she has acquired a total of 240 hours of job-related and/or vocational training with the same or other employer(s) or training facility(ies) during the past three years. An individual qualifying as a “learner” may only be trained in two qualifying occupations. (¶ 2)

The internship requirements of the SMPRC call for an experience of at least 400 hours (SMPRC, 2000), which exceeds the cutoff of 240 hours for learner status.

Although most sport management students would not fit the learner classification throughout a field experience, the student-learner category might seem potentially applicable (FLSA Employment Status, 2007). The FLSA defines a student-learner as

[a] student who is at least sixteen years of age, or at least eighteen years of age if employed in an occupation which the Secretary has declared to be particularly hazardous, who is receiving instruction in an accredited school, college or university and who is employed on a part-time basis, pursuant to a “bona fide vocational training program” as defined in subpart C of this part. (¶ 3)

However, the SMPRC guidelines (2000) define internships as a “full-time work experience in the sport industry (40 hours/week) that are [sic] offered for academic credit.” Therefore, if a sport management intern is enrolled in a program that has been approved by the SMPRC, that intern cannot be counted a student learner, either. The FLSA itself states that apprenticeships are not regulated by the provisions of the act (FLSA Employment Status, 2007). The FLSA defines an apprentice as

[a] worker, at least sixteen years of age unless a higher minimum age standard is otherwise fixed by law, who is employed to learn a skilled trade through a registered apprenticeship program. Training is provided through structured on-the-job training combined with supplemental related theoretical and technical instruction. This term excludes pre-apprentices, trainees, learners, and student-learners. (¶ 4)

Initially, this definition might seem to approximate the SMPRC’s description of the internship, especially if a program has received the council’s approved. Sport management students should receive on-the-job training that draws on classroom theories and provides technical experience. However, the FLSA goes on to limit apprenticeable occupations to those requiring a minimum of 2,000 hours of on-the-job experience. It is difficult to imagine that the sport management student in a 400-hour internship can legally be considered an apprentice for whom below-minimum wages are permitted—even should part of his or her compensation be academic credit.

Case Law Concerning Internships

While the FLSA does not identify the work arrangements typical of most sport management internships as the kind that can be unpaid or compensated below minimum wage, the courts nevertheless have sided with professional sport organizations in certain instances when such companies have sought exemptions. Professional baseball organizations have done particularly well in cases involving the seasonal or recreational establishment exemption.

The first court case involved the Sarasota White Sox, a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, and Ronald R. Jeffery, a groundskeeper employed by the team (Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 1995). Jeffery had worked for the Sarasota White Sox for a number of years and sought overtime wages for overtime work performed since the beginning of his employment. In light of the team’s schedule, he had put in more than 40 hours weekly on several occasions, receiving the same compensation for those weeks as for others. The team claimed that the FLSA’s seasonal or recreational establishment clause exempted it from overtime wage requirements, and the court ruled in its favor (Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 1995). The Sarasota White Sox passed both tests for the exemption. In the previous 5 seasons of its existence, the team made over 99% of its revenues during the 6-month period March through August. In addition, the club participated in a 6-month season only, surviving the 7-month test also posed by the clause. Therefore, the Sarasota White Sox received the exemption and were not required to pay overtime wages or adhere to any other stipulation of the FLSA.

Two additional cases involving Major League Baseball clubs also centered on the seasonal or recreational establishment exemption in the FLSA. The first case involved Adams, the plaintiff, and the Detroit Tigers, Inc., operating company of the Detroit Tigers. The plaintiff had been a bat boy for the team and was seeking compensation representing overtime pay for his work exceeding 40 hours per week (Adams v. Detroit Tigers, Inc., 1997). The Detroit Tigers responded as the Sarasota White Sox had, claiming exemption from the FLSA. The court recognized that the Detroit Tigers organization operated on a yearly basis, yet it also determined that Tiger Stadium operated on a 7-month schedule only, making the operation of the venue seasonal. The Tigers won the case and their exemption remained intact.

The second case in Major League Baseball was brought by maintenance workers. Robert Bridewell, Stanley McAlpin, Daisy Pearl, Melville Walker, and Eddie Rogers filed a suit seeking overtime compensation from their employer, the Cincinnati Reds, for the 1990–93 seasons (Bridewell et al. v. Cincinnati Reds, 1998). The plaintiffs claimed they were owed overtime wages by ruling of the FLSA. Unlike the Detroit Tigers (or the Sarasota White Sox), the Cincinnati Reds struggled to justify their perceived exemption from the FLSA. Initially, the district court found in favor of the team because its competitive season lasted only 7 months. An appellate court, however, found for the maintenance workers because the Cincinnati Reds employed at least 120 employees throughout each month of the year. According to the higher court, the Cincinnati Reds were not exempted from FLSA regulations; the maintenance workers received overtime wages for the 1990–93 seasons.


In terms of education, field experiences are essential to the preparation of sport management students for successful careers. As research has indicated, students who complete meaningful internship assignments have the opportunity to gain skills while applying the theories they have mastered within their academic curricula. In order to ensure that sport management students continue to enjoy this opportunity, internship supervisors and sport industry professionals need to establish specific guidelines governing field experiences. A possible solution would be for the SMPRC or other governing council to establish a set of regulations concerning student internships. Although some universities have already established guidelines for field experiences, having a set of universal standards may improve the experience for all of those involved.

The biggest problem affecting sport management internships has to be the increasingly high percentage of unpaid internships. Thousands of sport management students work tirelessly for professional sport organizations across the country. The business of sports is booming, but interns’ compensation does not reflect the boom. Since the Federal Labor Standards Act does not address this problem fully, modifications to the current legislation may be in order. Many sport organizations rely on interns to maintain the daily operations of the team. An example is the very common sport industry position of ticket seller. Teams cannot survive without ticket sales, but still today’s FLSA regulations—in particular its seasonal or recreational establishment clause—leaves interns without options. The federal government may want to reassess the tests used to justify the exemption of teams based on their seasonal nature.

The legal cases cited here did not involve sport management interns, but the general themes of the cases illustrate how the Federal Labor Standards Act affects student internships. Currently, most professional sport organizations operate with the exemption in hand, allowing the work of interns and some other employees to be under-compensated. Under the present conditions, then, sport management students need to familiarize themselves well with any position under consideration. They must also grasp the idea that they will very likely work for less than the minimum wage.

As the academic discipline of sport management continues to grow, improvements in curriculum design and field experience programs will certainly occur. In order to ensure that the ultimate goal, education, remains at the forefront of such improvements, students, professors, and sport industry professionals must continue to work together with a single mission. Ultimately, the field experiences required in most sport management programs have a largely positive impact on all of those involved. Changes in some current practices, along with some additions to the Fair Labor Standards Act, will assist the field of sport management as it moves forward.


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Bridewell et al. v. Cincinnati Reds, 155 F.3d 828, 830 (6th Cir. 1998).

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Cunningham. G., Sagas, M., Dixon. M., Kent. A., & Turner, B. (2005). Anticipated career satisfaction, affective occupational commitment, and intention to enter the sport management profession. Journal of Sport Management, 19(1), 43–57.

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Service Learning in Sport Management: A Community Health Project


Service learning is increasingly popular in schools, colleges, and universities. Service learning is a form of experiential learning and is an ideal pedagogical strategy to teach students about sport management. Students engaged in service learning typically become involved in specific community-based projects that are a part of their class requirements. These projects usually meet a real community need and link classroom content with community projects and reflection. Students can benefit tremendously from an educational experience that combines service learning and sport management. They can reap benefits in the areas of academic learning, civic responsibility, personal and social development, and opportunities for career exploration. A well-planned and well-executed service learning project can expand the student’s sport management experience well beyond events, contests, and classroom lectures. It can bridge the gap between the school and the community by providing a way for students and community organizations to come together for a worthy cause, making learning more meaningful. The purpose of this article is to examine how sport management classes can be designed and implemented as service learning projects that address critical community health challenges. Specifically, this article addresses service learning design that could be applied to any community health problem. The example used here is fund raising for malaria mitigation projects distributing bed nets as a low-cost means of prevention. The article describes the actual service project and discusses ways to encourage students to deepen their civic engagement to meet critical community and global needs.

Service Learning in Sport Management: A Community Health Project

Sport management has become an increasingly popular academic discipline in colleges and universities. Sports have become a major industry, resulting in both increased need for professionals and more opportunities to train students effectively for sport careers by providing them with the kinds of learning environments that produce critical thinkers and problem solvers.
How to go about creating learning environments that enhance student learning about sport organizations is a challenge faced by most professors. While the sport management curriculum is rife with opportunities to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, all too often the learning environment best suits a passive style of learning. This traditional academic style of teaching and learning involves students listening to lectures, reading, taking test and quizzes, writing research papers, and watching films or video (Parkhouse, 2005). The strength of this method is its strong theoretical underpinning; its weakness is its failure to engage students in the pedagogical value of real-world experiences in sport organizations. Service learning is a method of teaching and learning that can make up what is missing from more traditional approaches to learning. Sport management courses can be designed and implemented as service learning, featuring projects addressing, for example, community health challenges. Though the curricular design presented here could be applied to address any community problem, it was used by the researchers in a fund raising project benefiting a malaria mitigation effort in which bed nets were distributed as a low-cost means of prevention. It is a requirement, however, that service learning be based on recognized community and humanitarian needs.

Service learning is an experiential pedagogical approach that goes beyond mere classroom instruction. Service learning involves the blending of service activities and classroom instruction with the purpose of meeting real community needs as students learn through active engagement and reflection (Geleta & Gilliam, 2003; Mumford & Kane, 2006). One benefit of service learning is that it connects hands-on learning to classroom knowledge. This connection of practical application to theory enhances the academic curriculum and also provides a structure helping students to reflect on their service experience (Prentice & Garcia, 2000). Service learning provides meaningful experiences that enable students to learn by doing rather than only reading, talking, and writing about doing (Parkhouse, 2005). It is a pedagogy that fosters critical-thinking and problem-solving skills as it supplements traditional curricula and classroom activities. In addition, service learning fosters civic responsibility, personal and social development, and opportunities for career exploration (Prentice & Garcia, 2000).

Malaria Mitigation Is a Recognized Need

Fighting deadly malaria is clearly a recognized need. Malaria is one of the world’s most dire public health concerns, causing over a million deaths and up to 500 million clinical cases each year. It is particularly devastating in Africa, where there are some 3,000 deaths from malaria every day and 10 new cases every second. Malaria is the leading cause of death for Africa’s children under age five. More than a third of the world’s total population now lives where the disease is endemic, so it takes a high toll on households and also on health care systems, impeding development. It is estimated that malaria reduces growth of gross domestic product by approximately one percentage point per year (World Economic Forum, 2006). It is the poor who are most affected by malaria. They have less access to information, services, and protective measures, and less power to avoid living or working in malaria-affected areas. A vaccine is not on the immediate horizon, and resistance on the part of the disease-causing parasite to affordable anti-malarial drugs like chloroquine is on the rise. Effective antimalarials remain available, but at a significantly higher cost. In terms of cost-effectiveness, one of the best ways to fight malaria today is to provide those at risk with insecticide-treated bed nets. This and other existing preventive and treatment strategies could reduce the burden of malaria significantly (World Health Organization, 2005).

Malaria is caused by a blood parasite of the genus Plasmodium transmitted by the bite of female anopheline mosquitoes. Its deadliest strain, Plasmodium falciparum, is found in Africa, where the lack of infrastructure and resources to fight either the mosquitoes or the disease compounds the problem (World Economic Forum, 2006). In Africa, malaria accounts for up to half of all hospital admissions and outpatient visits and costs over $12 billion a year. Its effects permeate almost every sector, increasing school absenteeism, decreasing tourism, inhibiting foreign investment, and even constraining food crops that are grown (World Economic Forum, 2006).

And yet malaria is a preventable disease. Despite the magnitude of the problem, there is a simple solution: the $10 bed net. Treated with insecticide, bed nets can be purchased and delivered to at-risk families cost-effectively, with each net lasting up to four years. Bed nets work by creating a protective barrier against mosquitoes at night, when the vast majority of transmission occurs. An entire family can sleep under a bed net, safe from malaria. The benefit of the nets, however, extends beyond the family. Malaria is a self-perpetuating scourge, in that the parasites can be spread from human to mosquito, as well as vice versa. When enough nets are used in an area, the deterrent insecticide on the nets makes entire communities safer from mosquitoes—even members who do not use nets (De La Cruz et al., 2006).

The sport management class enters the preventive effort when it plans, organizes, implements, and directs a project that not only teaches them, but saves lives: for instance by raising money to buy bed nets. The need is real and is becoming popularly known. As Sports Illustrated columnist and bed-net fund raiser Rick Reilly has urged (2006), “We need nets. Not hoop nets, soccer nets or lacrosse nets. Not New Jersey Nets or dot-nets or clarinets. Mosquito nets” (pg. 78).

Service Learning Model

Based on the Pate model (see, service learning involves seven components: need, participants, learning, service, publicity, evaluation, and reflection. The structure of a service learning project should integrate these components over three phases: (a) project preparation, (b) action, and (c) evaluation. Reflection is central to each phase of service learning (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Reflection’s central role in the preparation, action, and evaluation phases of a service learning project.

Project Preparation Phase

Need Component

The first step in preparing a service learning project is the identification of the issue, need, or problem the project would address. Early on, the community with which the sport management class is to collaborate must be specified. Most decisions made in the course of planning the service learning project and managing logistical matters should be the students’ decisions. The professor should, however, provide guidance as the community in need and the focus of the service are determined.

A good starting point is with an organization or organizations having a history of addressing the issue, need, or problem that the students are considering taking up. In this case, organizations familiar with the fight against malaria included the United Nations (specifically the U. N. Foundation’s Malaria Prevention Program) and UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Malaria Foundation, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, and the Gates Foundation’s Malaria Initiative. These groups demonstrated the existence of a need: to lower morbidity and mortality associated with malaria. Several projects dovetailing with the groups’ identified need and strategies were already under way and involved members of the sports community, for example the work of SurfAid International, of Lance Laifer’s Dunk Malaria initiative, and of the World Swim for Malaria Foundation. A service learning project undertaken by sport management students could further the goals of these sports groups and the larger groups.

The sport management students noted how particularly fitting it was for participants in water sports to take up the cause of malaria mitigation, mosquitoes of course breeding in standing water. As Reilly’s column demonstrated, the sports world could also be linked to the fight against malaria by the common use of nets (though different nets, certainly). One innovative project had been launched by the U. N. Foundation and saw soccer players in Tanzania working to raise awareness of malaria mitigation at their games.

As they researched the activities of potential partnering organizations, the sport management students gave thought to what the scope of their project might be; they also read in the research literature on malaria. Having educated themselves about the current state of the malaria mitigation effort overall, they were able to begin devising a project to meet three sets of needs: a suffering community’s, partnering organizations’, and their own educational needs. They decided that soliciting donations to bring bed nets to needy families (and train families to use them) was an appropriate means to their end. Once the project was outlined, the students needed to agree on specific, measurable goals for their work.

Participants Component

The second preparatory step was determining the participants in the service learning project and outlining their roles in its development and implementation. Students in the sport management class need to be responsible for planning and implementing the service learning project.

Learning Component

The third step in preparation was the detailed specification of those areas of learning that the project promised to cover. For this sport management class, some areas coincided with course objectives (i.e., the development of business management skills); another area was leadership (see Figure 2). The curriculum for the course should, then, present knowledge and skills that will be needed to carry out the service learning project.

Figure 2. Sport management course content areas pertinent to malaria mitigation service project, and phases of project requiring exercise of leadership.

Course Content Leadership Skills
Facility management Planning
Economics and finance Organizing
Sales Evaluating
Marketing Decision making
Sponsorship Relationship building
Fundraising Teamwork
Media relations Personal productivity
Event management Coaching and mentoring
Legal and ethical issues Strategic thinking
Research methods Communication

Action Phase

Service Component

The action phase of the service learning project involved, first, determining the service to provide. The sport management class considered exactly how they might use sport to serve a humanitarian need. With some preparation completed, the students moved on to determining facility needs, staffing and conducting entertainment and other events, managing promotional activities, understanding equipment and supply needs, creating budgets, coordinating volunteers, publicizing efforts, cultivating sponsors, and marketing the project including naming target markets and marketing strategies. A strict timeline for planning and implementing the service project proved helpful, simulating real world constraints.

Publicity Component

Next in the action phase was the determination of when and how to publicize the project. Getting the word out and “generating buzz” are important factors in a service learning project’s success, since knowing about events is a prerequisite to participating in them. Traditional and nontraditional advertising modes proved useful to the sport management students: from press releases, fliers, and brochures, to targeted e-mails, department and college websites, and social networking sites (e.g., MySpace, Facebook).

Evaluation Phase

Students in the sport management class were evaluated by the professor one week after the conclusion of the project, in terms of the contributions each made to the work. Evaluations were based on the specific, measurable goals for the project the students and professor established in the first phase, project planning. Sample goals for similar service learning projects might include collecting a designated amount to donate to a partnering organization; securing sponsors to pay event production costs; collecting a specific number of in-kind donations to be auctioned to raise funds; to achieve a designated attendance at an event(s) or a designated number of participants or teams for an event; and selling a given quantity of event/activity tickets.

Reflection Component

The final step in the service learning project is an ongoing one: reflection. Continually throughout the project, the students reflected on their work and what they had learned from it. For the sport management class, such reflection was assigned at three different points: (a) before the event, while researching the project; (b) immediately after conclusion of the event, when students would see the fruits of their labor; and (c) one week after the event, as each student made a presentation in class concerning the service learning project (i.e., how the student had contributed to, and could continue to contribute to, the solution to a real, human problem and what was learned in the experience). The professor might consider developing a survey to spur students to reflection.

Discussion and Conclusion

A well-designed service learning project can be beneficial to sport management students because it helps bring scholarship to life. It gives them the opportunity to enhance their academic skills and join theory with practice. Through research and active involvement, it also provides students a much deeper understanding and appreciation of critical local and global needs. More importantly, it affords them real world experiences similar to those in sport organizations, activities and events that involve critical thinking and problem solving.

Sport management professionals can use service learning and sport in engaging students in civic activity to help meet community and humanitarian needs. Students can benefit tremendously from an educational experience that combines service learning and sport management. They can reap benefits in the areas of academic learning, civic responsibility, personal and social development, and opportunities for career exploration.


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Contacting the author: Direct all correspondence for this article to Dr. Vincent E. Mumford, Associate Professor, Sport Management, Department of Physcial Education and Sport, The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions, 2240 Health Professions Building, Mount Pleasant, MI 48859, (989)774-1040,