Degree Debt Hurts Chances Of A Sports Career

College Loan Debt

Debt can be overwhelming. Debt can be punishing. And debt can close off options to young students entering the work force. Especially the sports industry.

Any higher education degree is going to cost the user money. This is based on the prestige of the school, what the university believes it can get away with charging, and other factors such as living expenses. Sports Administration degrees, especially at the graduate level, have exploded in the last 20 years as demand has grown by young professionals aiming to work in the sports industry. Education of any kind should enable the student access to learn more about their field of study as well as improve their acumen within the industry.

However, some of these master’s degree programs do not take into account the amount of debt service that a young professional will have to incur while earning little to begin their career in the sports industry. That is why it should be a requirement of anyone who seriously is considering working in the sports field, prior to joining a graduate program to understand the risks, evaluate the potential rewards, and decide for themselves whether it is worth earning a master’s degree in order to work in sports.

Graduate Degrees Don’t Allow For Steps To Be Skipped

Gaining a graduate degree in Sports Administration does not necessarily earn anything for the user except some more information on the field. There are degree programs also taught by instructors who do not have sports industry experience or have only performed an internship while earning their doctorate in the study. This is not to suggest that all instructors are of that ilk, some have served many years within the sports field, but the student needs to do their research prior to joining a program.

Consider the amount of investment that a young professional will be making into their education compared to the amount of return on that investment from their first salary in sports. Regardless of if the user has a graduate degree or not, professional sports teams average about $19k base salary plus a commission that typically can earn the employee $25-29k annually. That’s the reality of what an entry-level person will earn while working in sports. This is a sales industry beyond all else, that’s why commissions are tied to salary bases and why everyone in professional sports ends up selling.

Realize Salary Expectations Upon Graduation

University athletic departments are similar but with a few more salary protections. Working in college athletics means that the employee will earn a $30k-$35k salary with no commission structure. It also means that the user is an athletic-exempt employee and may be expected to work up to 60 hours for the same pay, regardless of if they work 40, 50, or even 80 hours in a week.

The reason that it’s important to calculate what an employee will earn within their entry level sports job is that it relates to the amount of debt service that will be incurred by that employee exactly one year after graduating with a master’s degree in sports administration. To the student loan debt collectors, it does not matter what you earn, it matters what they believe a graduate with a master’s degree will earn out in the workforce. Society often is shocked to learn how little an entry level person earns in sports administration, but it is a high demand field. There are hundreds of thousands of candidates waiting to replace those who want higher pay. This suppresses sports executive salaries overall.

Understand Debt Service Required

If a graduate degree holder owes $40k in debt or more for their education (excluding a bachelor’s degree which could be $70-$80k more in debt), it means that close to $500 to $600 a month will be paid to debt service each month for the next twenty years. It hardly appears manageable to have 50 percent of a pre-tax salary going toward the black hole of student loan debt. This means that the graduate student will have to live off less than $15k (likely less after income taxes in most states take anywhere from 10-15 percent of $30k overall salary).

This is a huge decision for prospective graduate students who want to work in the sports industry. They may decide upon graduating and a year into the debt service that they cannot afford to work in the industry for very long.

I’m not against the experience of education. I’ve worked on university campuses for over 10 years. However, it is necessary for each prospective student to examine what they are getting out of the curriculum and whether it will broaden their acumen enough to supplant the debt service requirements placed on their salary later.

There Are Risks, Rewards To More Education

As a holder of a graduate degree, I understood the risks and have made them more than manageable. I kept my debt service as low as possible by not withdrawing everything that was offered to me by the student loan office and have paid back a large chunk of the debt prior to interest compounding exponentially.

However, I’m seeing way too many young professionals solicit my advice on obtaining a graduate degree in sports administration as an alternative to going into the industry. The idea is that with a master’s degree, they may be able to avoid sales. Nothing could be further from the truth. When a young professional with a master’s degree enters into the franchise’s front office they will be sat in sales training like everyone else and placed on the phones in the same manner.

Graduate degrees are a nice asset to move a resume to the top of a separate pile in front of a hiring manager, but it does nothing for the degree holder if the person cannot or will not sell.

troy kirby

Troy Kirby is the creator of the Sports Sales Boot Camp. He will host the 2016 Sports Sales Boot Camp at ALSD in Pittsburgh.

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