How to Become an Athletic Administrator

Athletic administrators run the business side of a sports program. While they can work at the grade school, high school, local, and state level, an increasing number of athletic administrators work in colleges and universities; the massive popularity of college sports—along with the increased budgets and strict regulations that go with it—requires keen administration skills.

In every case, athletic administrators oversee an athletic department: managing its budgets, developing its talent, organizing its training schedules, and maintaining rules compliance. Furthermore, a school’s athletic administrator needs to ensure that the sports program is integrating with the school’s wider curriculum and contributing to the positive development of the students the school serves.

As college sports continue to grow in popularity, and more people are projected to attend college in the coming years, there’s a correlated need for more athletic administrators. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2023), jobs for postsecondary education administrators (a category that includes athletic administrators) are expected to grow 4 percent between 2022 and 2032, faster than the national average (3 percent).

The average annual wage for postsecondary education administrators is $115,180, with those working for four-year colleges and universities earning slightly more per year ($118,680) than their junior college counterparts ($99,630). These are only a few of the opportunities available for athletic administrators, not to mention the minor and professional leagues across U.S. cities.

If you’re interested in athletic administration, there’s a good chance you thrive on a sense of competition, and being average just isn’t good enough. Check out our step-by-step guide to not only find out how to become an athletic administrator but also how to become one of the best.

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Southern New Hampshire University Online MBA In Sport Management View Full Profile
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St. Thomas University Online MBA - Sports Administration View Full Profile
University of West Alabama MBA - Sports Management View Full Profile

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Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Athletic Administrator

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, aspiring athletic administrators typically need to earn a bachelor’s degree. There are several majors to choose from, but sports administration provides the most linear path. (Please note the difference between “sports administration” and “sports management:” While both are perfectly acceptable major choices for aspiring athletic administrators, sports management includes more topics around brand management and athletic representation.)

Extracurricular athletic involvement at the college level should be strongly considered; participating in collegiate sports as an athlete gives a student critical insight into the way athletics programs are administered.

Admissions requirements for bachelor’s programs will vary from school to school but generally include the following: a competitive GPA (3.0 or greater), SAT or ACT scores, and a personal statement.

University of Louisville

The University of Louisville’s College of Education and Human Development offers a bachelor of science in sports administration that can be completed online and accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA). Leveraging hands-on industry experience, a career-focused curriculum, and faculty expertise, the program helps students develop their understanding of sport management.

Core courses include sports management leadership; sports marketing; sports governance; principles of sports administration; financial principles in sport; career development in sports administration; and legal aspects of sport. Electives explore areas such as athletics in higher education; women and sports; and sports facility management. The program consists of 120 credits.

Graduates will be able to pursue positions in fields such as facility management, athletics administration, fitness & wellness, event management, sports marketing, management & leadership, and ticketing & sales.

  • Location: Louisville, KY
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years
  • Estimated Tuition: $527 per credit

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University has an online bachelor of science in sports management program that’s been preparing students for work in the business of sports for over 25 years. The curriculum is divided into general education, a business core, and degree-specific classes.

The sports management classes include an introduction to sports management; sports marketing; sport, society, and ethics; a practicum in sports management; global sport business; internationalization of sports business; advanced experiential learning for business; and a sport management internship. The program consists of 120 credits. Upon completing 90 credits, students may apply to SNHU’s accelerated BS-to-MS in sport management program.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years
  • Estimated Tuition: $330 per credit

Arkansas State University

Arkansas State University’s online bachelor of science program in sport management provides students with the qualifications and tools for a rewarding role in sport management within any industry, including e-sports; recreation departments; professional, amateur, or high school sports; event management, and fitness centers. As part of the program, students will explore topics such as marketing data; diversity; sports promotion; optimizing ROI; the operation of recreational facilities and athletic centers; legal issues related to the sports, exercise, and fitness industries, and the emergence of e-sports.

This 120-credit program includes courses such as research and statistics in exercise science; foundations of health, physical education, and sports sciences; concepts of fitness; the business of esports; sports promotion and sales management; economic and financial management for sports organizations; legal issues in sport; sports analytics; and diversity in sport and athletics.

  • Location: Jonesboro, AR
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA)
  • Expected Time to Completion: For years
  • Estimated Tuition: $276 per credit

Step Two: Earn a Master’s Degree (Optional, One to Two Years)

While it’s not a requirement for athletic administrators, earning a master’s degree—especially an MBA—puts one on the path to becoming one of the best qualified.

Larger schools have larger budgets, more staff, and bigger responsibilities. Athletics administrators who want to work for such institutions need to have expert-level administration skills to match. Graduate studies for athletic administrators generally fall into two categories: an MBA with an emphasis in sport management or administration, or an MS in sport administration.

Admissions requirements for master’s programs vary from school to school but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater), GMAT or GRE scores, proof of work experience, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University offers an online MBA with an emphasis on sports management. From brand building to business development to event planning, this online MBA provides students with a solid foundation in management and business and a real-world perspective on this multibillion-dollar sports industry.

The curriculum has a strong business core that covers subjects like leading people and organizations; organizational strategy in a global environment; innovation and strategy for high-performance organizations; measuring success in an organization; optimizing brands; and strategic opportunity management.

A suite of sports management courses explores sport and society; the internationalization of sports business; and the management of sports organizations. The program consists of 30 credits.

Notably, Southern New Hampshire University also offers an online master of science program in sports management that comprises 36 credits.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months or more
  • Estimated Tuition: $637 per credit

St. Thomas University

St. Thomas University offers an online MBA with a concentration in sports administration. The program provides students with the knowledge and skills that are needed to ensure that fans, players, coaches, and financial backers coexist peacefully and that sports organizations flourish. Encompassing the elements of accounting, economics, psychology, marketing, communications, and law, the program teaches students how to market sports effectively and ethically and how to plan events by diving into the areas of sports budgeting, administration, and publicity.

This 36 to 45-credit program includes core courses such as management ethics; managerial accounting; policy, planning, and strategy systems; strategic marketing management; international business; and business data analytics. The sports administration concentration includes courses such as sports marketing and promotions; facilities and event management; sports psychology; and legal aspects of sports administration.

  • Location: Miami Gardens, FL
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC);
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $545 per credit

Arkansas State University

Arkansas State University has an online master of science in sports administration program that is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA)—one of only 35 such programs to earn that distinction. Graduates of this program will be able to acquire a combination of networking and internship opportunities and instruction from internationally respected sports management faculty members. They will be prepared for leadership roles in segments such as sales, sports marketing, facility management, and athletics administration.

The curriculum includes the following topics: ethical issues in sports; sports law; sports finance and budgeting; sports governance and operations; and sports in society. The program consists of 36 credits.

  • Location: Jonesboro, AR
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $340 per credit

Step Three: Gain Work Experience (One to Four Years)

Nothing teaches you a sport better than getting out on the field and the same is true for working as an athletic administrator. Early work experience can teach athletic administrators where their natural talent lies and which areas need further development. Furthermore, it can help athletic administrators decide at which level they want to work: elementary, secondary, postsecondary, or for a city’s team.

Step Four: Pursue Professional Development (Optional, Timeline Varies)

An athletic administrator is likely to spend the majority of their life on a school campus or in a stadium, so the idea of continual learning shouldn’t be much of a foreign concept. To get the type of professional development needed later in one’s career, however, an athletic administrator may need to look outside the traditional school campus and toward professional organizations. The benefit of this is that many professional development programs are administered a-la-carte and can be taken while working full-time and gaining professional experience.

Although it’s primarily geared towards the high school level, the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) is a one-stop-shop for athletic administrators to boost their resume and develop their careers. Its Leadership Training Institute (LTI) offers several courses in various elements of athletic administration that can be applied at several different levels: elementary, high school, and even college. Each course requires four hours of seat time.

In conjunction with a bachelor’s degree and the signature of a sponsor (i.e., a fellow athletic administrator or high-ranking member of school leadership), an athletic administrator may apply for certification as a registered athletic administrator (RAA) after completing the following LTI courses in athletic administration: guiding foundations and philosophies; strategies for organization management; and enhancing organization management.

Step Five: Attain Professional Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Professional certification sets an athletic administrator apart and identifies them as a leader in their sport. The strict guidelines set by a professional body (e.g., NIAAA) ensure that certified professionals are working to the highest level of industry standards. Those who earn professional certification not only validate their expertise but also join a small but elite cadre of similarly motivated colleagues and can drastically increase their appeal to employers.

The main certification available to athletic administrators from the NIAAA is as a Certified Athletic Administrator (CAA). Requirements include a bachelor’s degree or higher, two years or more of work experience as an athletic administrator, a signature of a sponsor (athletic administrator or school leadership), and completion of five courses at the Leadership Training Institute (specifically LTC 501, LTC 502, LTC 503, LTC 504, and LTC 506). Some flexibility in those requirements does exist, however, as the NIAAA application weights one’s experience and education levels to make a final determination.

Once initial requirements are met, an applicant must pass a qualifying exam. The 100-question multiple-choice CAA exam covers a lot of ground: athletic policies; budget & fundraising; ethics; legal/legislative; office management; sexual harassment; athletic handbooks; game management; organizational structure; sportsmanship; leadership styles; public relations; NIAAA/NFHS; and booster clubs. The NIAAA provides a free study guide.

Those with the CAA designation who have maintained its educational and professional requirements may apply to become a Certified Master Athletic Administrator (CMAA). Requirements include completing several more LTI courses: LTC 508, LTC 510, and five LTC electives (one from the 600 level, one from the 700 level, and three from any level). Once course requirements are met, applicants complete a practical written or oral exercise—the successful passing of which will lead to official certification as a CMAA.

Helpful Resources for Athletic Administrators

No one does it alone, and athletics administrators understand the power of teamwork better than most. Career help, educational resources, professional awards, and conferencing events for athletic administrators are all out there for those who are both ambitious and curious. If that’s you, check out some of the resources below.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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