Interview with Dr. David Kelley
John from SportsDegreesOnline.org spoke with Dr. David Kelley. They touched on Dr. Kelley’s rise to become the Graduate Coordinator of the MS Online Sports Administration Program. He was ahead of his time in promoting online learning, and has really interesting insights on the future of sports and education.
About Dr. David Kelley
Dr. David J. Kelley is an Associate Professor in the Sport Administration Program within the University of Cincinnati’s School of Human Services and currently serves as the Online Master’s in Sport Administration (MSSA) Program Coordinator. Dr. Kelley spent over a decade as a teacher, coach and athletic administrator in the Vinton County Local Schools in McArthur, Ohio and holds a Ph.D. from Ohio University. Dr. Kelley is also a Certified Athletic Administrator with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) and has presented multiple workshop presentations on revenue generation strategies relative to grant writing, corporate sponsorships, as well as the merits of licensed merchandise at the National Athletic Director’s Conference held annually in December.
John: Can you tell us a little bit about the trajectory of your career and how you became a professor of sports administration?
Dr. Kelley: Sure. So I’m originally from Upstate New York. I was a student athlete and really enjoyed all the sports I participated in at Pittsford Sutherland High School in Pittsford, New York. I excelled in basketball and once my playing days ended, I made my way to Syracuse where I served as the graduate assistant to Coach Boeheim in the early 90’s. It was there that I had an experience with the director of athletics at the time, Jake Crouthamel. This is when the Big East was very much growing. It was through conversations with Jake where I learned about the educational opportunities of working in sport. Eventually I landed at Ohio University where I met my mentor Dr. Andy Kreutzer, who ultimately helped me in my higher education pursuits. I worked with him on my PHD, which involved how to best train individuals in sports administration, specifically those in interscholastic or high school athletics. I came up with the dissertation idea because I was one of those people who was teaching, coaching, directing athletics and working on my PHD at night. I would have to physically go in and take the classes at night after long days teaching and coaching. So my dissertation idea was, how can we do this online? Ohio University was one of the very first institutions to utilize my idea for educating those with an advanced degree that have a passion for interscholastic athletics, combined with a certification opportunity with the NIAAA (National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association). Eventually, I moved to Cincinnati and implemented my idea and we launched the Online Master’s in Sport Administration at the University of Cincinnati in 2017. I could bend your ear for hours, but that essentially encapsulates it. It was through my own experience that I found the path of how to best prepare individuals for the realities and challenges within the sports industry in general. It’s been a great journey.
John: Do you remember at what year you published your dissertation?
Dr. Kelley: That was published in 2002 and was titled: “An analysis of differences between gender, experience and school size regarding the responsibilities of interscholastic athletic directors”.
John: Of course, it just seems pretty far ahead of the curve. Even in 2020 there were so many schools scrambling. So almost twenty years ago, you were pushing that idea forward.
Dr. Kelley: There were a lot of people that were critical of it. I had other classmates while I was working on my PHD saying, “why high school?” I thought, if you think about it, most undergraduate and graduate programs at that particular time, back in the late 1990’s/ early 2000’s, they were primarily focused in the professional sports industry and sometimes the collegiate. High school athletics had no space, and yet it’s amazing it wasn’t considered as a significant part of the industry even though it’s the largest segment of the sport industry. There are over 18,000 high schools across the United States. If you combine professional and college sports, you still don’t create the same number of job opportunities as there are in the high school space.
John: How do you see the landscape of education changing whether it’s related to Covid or advancements in technology? How do you see this trend with technology and education going?
Dr. Kelley: I think it’s great. It resonates with some of the projects I’m doing within my specific courses. It has provided opportunities to learn, grow and collaborate in a more robust and profound way. As a most recent example, when I created my “applied financial strategies in athletics” course, instead of doing the proverbial paper where after two or three years nobody cares, instead I put students through the grant writing process. As a result, we partner with institutions to accomplish that. A lot of my former students are actively directing athletics at these institutions and we partner with them because they have budgetary and financial obligations that we can work with. It fills a need. Athletic directors are already tasked with so many things that they don’t have the time to do any sort of grant writing. That’s where our students come in. We had one former student who successfully received the “Good Sports Grant” for equipment. There was another institution that was awarded the NFL’s “Grassroots Grant.” I also have online students who live in the Massachusetts area where there is an old historic stadium called Crocker Field. They were looking to replace the lighting and found a grant through Musco. They went through the process and are now waiting to hear about the status of that particular grant. At the end of the day, I want my students to come out with a skill set, not necessarily regurgitate facts or things of that nature. Overall, I want them to come away with a valued skill set. It’s proven very valuable because the sorts of things they are doing, such as grant writing, they are able to put that significant skill set on their resumes.
John: That sounds so good. Talk about killing two birds with one stone, helping out these schools and communities as well as giving your students something to talk about at an interview.
Dr. Kelley: That was sort of the method behind the madness and what we pride ourselves on. I’m not sure if you knew this but the University of Cincinnati is the innovator of Co-Op education, in other words the birthplace of the “university internship”. We’ve taken that to the next level, whether it’s a graduate or undergraduate student coming to our campus. They know going into freshman year that they will be taking practicum experiences. We focus on getting them out of the classroom and into the field, seeing what it’s like working for the ‘Flying Pig Marathon’, a major USTA tennis event in Mason, Ohio or what is it like being an event manager at the high school level. Cincinnati provides a lot of opportunities. It’s a very passionate sports town of course. The Cincinnati Reds are the first recognized Major League Baseball team ever. Sports and Cincinnati go hand and hand.
We focus on getting them out of the classroom and into the field, seeing what it’s like working for the ‘Flying Pig Marathon’, a major USTA tennis event in Mason, Ohio or what is it like being an event manager at the high school level.
John: The Co-Op opportunities are great. It can make the university experience more inclusive and attainable for people. You have been based in Ohio for quite some time– are there any opportunities in Ohio that are especially exciting for a recent graduate?
Dr. Kelly: Cincinnati is such a growing area. I don’t know if you follow FC Cincinnati but within five short years they went from an expansion USL team to now being an expansion franchise in the MLS. Right now they are putting on the finishing touches to the West End Stadium. Again, it’s a great area to live and between the Reds, the Bengals, FC Cincinnati and such a robust high school sports scene, it has a thriving sports culture. I could go on and on and tell you about legendary coaches that got their start here, like Urban Meyer. Other notable Cincinnati locals include the Larkin brothers, Ken Griffey Jr. and Roger Staubach. I could go on and on with all the excellent people and athletes who came out of Cincinnati. There was a Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper report which ranked the importance of the sports scene in Cincinnati. Obviously the Reds were number one, the Bengals were number two and high school sports ranked number three, way ahead of the University of Cincinnati and Xavier. It just goes to show you that the high school sports scene is very robust and it’s the perfect area for me to be in.
John: It seems you’ve really carved out a nice niche for yourself. So my fourth question for you. When students are choosing an undergraduate or master’s program, what sorts of things should they keep in mind?
Dr. Kelley: The first thing is the outstanding amount of resources coupled with the financial aid packages at the undergraduate level. Like I was telling you about earlier, we put them through the paces with the practical experiences that lead them all the way up to their senior year capstone internship. We also take into account each student’s personality types and try to align their experiences up with that. We also do resume writing workshops, mock interviewing, student led groups, annual symposium events with speakers and organizations, networking sessions and job fairs. So if a student is choosing an undergraduate program, they should keep those things in mind. At the graduate level we have graduate assistantships. We partnered with our own University of Cincinnati athletics department. In our master’s program we have some students working in student athlete services, marketing department, compliance, facilities and events and other areas. We also have partner institutions at the high school level as well, including graduate assistantship with the Cincinnati public schools as well as Roger Bacon High School.
John: You talked a little bit about high school sports administration jobs, but are there any lesser known jobs that one could secure with a master’s in sport administration?
Dr. Kelley: Sure. Some of the lesser known ones might be a PR director, marketing coordinator, corporate sponsorships manager or development/ fundraising type officer. One of the things I tell my students, “clearly the higher up you go, the more specialized the job functions get.” Within an athletic department at the professional sports level, you will have someone involved with ticketing whether that be group or individual sales and that’s what they do. Whereas if you’re a high school athletic director, you’re more a one person band, wearing all those hats.
John: That makes sense. In terms of your specific program, what sets apart the University of Cincinnati’s sport administration program?
Dr. Kelley: Our faculty has over forty years of sports industry experience. We’ve designed the curriculum based on that reality. All of the projects we do are all designed to address real world problems. As I said before, UC is the birthplace of Co-Op education so I think the way in which we approach it is by far one of the more robust opportunities for anyone that really wants to engage and pursue their goals. We have great resources and partners and that sets us apart. We don’t just teach it, we live it and have lived it. I also think being situated in an urban environment with great access, has its advantages, as opposed to one that is situated in a rural, more isolated area. Another key event we recently hosted was the Minority Athletic Directors Association of Cincinnati. They provided workshops, Q&A sessions and the whole nine yards. Things like that really set us apart and show our commitment to addressing real world issues.
John: What sorts of skills do you see as a common thread of successful athletic directors and administrators?
Dr. Kelley: I sort of come at it based on my own experience. I teach more of the finance based courses which I’ve written a book about but at the end of the day we all want students to come away with understanding how we can utilize research methods to address problems and opportunities. So we really try to address those best practices approaches. Therefore that’s the common thread. We want to have our students to display those leadership behaviors that are consistent with being a well-educated, ethical, socially conscious and competent sports management professional. We want them to integrate diverse perspectives into that decision making process. That I think really speaks to that common thread and much of the feedback that I receive from our partners and institutions has been quite positive. It’s been very positive in terms of how we’ve prepared them.
John: What advice would you give a young person looking to get into the field of sport administration?
Dr. Kelley: I think they need to do their due diligence and research. Sort of what I was talking about, at least with our program, we really have the resources and tools for students to learn more about themselves. As I mentioned before, they do a personality test to learn about their strengths and weaknesses. We then try to accentuate those strengths and minimize those weaknesses and look at what they need to work on. I don’t think the majority of institutions do that, but at the same time you hear that old adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” To me that’s a little incomplete. It’s a matter of combining what you know and who knows you. Therefore, instead of being reactionary, I tell my students to be proactive. They need to get themselves known. If they want to work for the Reds, FC Cincinnati, Bengals or in high school or within university athletic department, they’re the ones that have to be proactive and seek those opportunities. And we provide them with all the resources and the framework to be successful in that endeavor.
John: That makes a lot of sense. Final question here, are there any good books, podcasts, or other resources you would recommend to someone who wants to learn more about this field?
Dr. Kelley: Books, there are so many. I come at it from a financial economic lens so I would look there and plug my own book, Sports Fundraising. There is also The Economics of Sports by Leeds and Von Allmen which I think is a really good text. Again, I look at all the segments of the industry from an economic lens but I’m sure there are other resources that cover other angles. I’ve also got a good friend and colleague by the name of Jake Von Scherrer who is the president of the Florida Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. He has a podcast called the Educational AD Podcast. It talks about the best practices for ADs and coaches and I think that’s a really good resource.
John: That’s all the questions I have. Thanks again for your time.