Coach Benton Austin was ready to take sports administration seriously.
Austin was the defensive line coach for Texas A&M-Commerce when they won the NCAA Division II National Championship in 2017. In that role, he also supported recruitment and coaching staff. After earning a bachelor's degree in global studies, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Wanting to keep on with a career in sports, he enrolled in the Arkansas State online Master of Science in Sport Administration program.
"I found Arkansas State through online searches, and comparing them with other schools, nothing stacked up like A-State," he said. "The level of education you get from the quality of their instructors is really a cut above."
While there are many benefits to choosing A-State's Sport Admin program — cost, convenience and COSMA (Commission on Sport Management Accreditation) — one thing in particular stood out to Austin.
"The integrated internship," he said. "A lot of the other programs did not integrate an internship. I knew that with my ability to make connections with people, I'd be able to get a great internship, and it all worked out perfectly."
Austin had the opportunity to intern as the assistant athletic administrator and football coach at Washington University in St. Louis where he gained real-life experience to add to the education he was receiving online.
"It's wonderful for your career development," he said. "People ask me if I have experience in things that most people coming out of college don't. I do have hands-on experience in all sorts of recruiting as well as administrative tasks and facilities management with the athletic directors."
Austin completed his master's degree in August 2019 and stayed on with Washington University until the end of their season. Now, he is contemplating his next move.
"I'm actually talking to Grand Valley State University to go possibly into an offensive coordinator position on the football team," he said. "I found my purpose in athletics and A-State gave me the knowledge to back my tenacity for the subject."
Learning What Insiders Know
While an internship may be important for building key connections, a solid educational background is essential to knowing how much one can contribute in a given role.
Austin found that the program's rigorous and detailed coursework gave him an edge over other coaches competing for the same jobs.
"Having experience in sports law and budgeting and all those things that go along with the degree, it really does make you a step above," he said. "Many of the football coaches I've worked with have no idea how to budget, and I could merge my experience into a cross-trained position."
ESPE 6113: Sport Law and ESPE 6163: Sport Governance & Operations stood out as classes that gave Austin a deeper understanding of his career path.
"A lot of people have no idea about collective bargaining agreements," he said. "Learning about the intricate financial backgrounds of these professional teams and collegiate teams is very interesting to me."
Austin leveraged this interest during his time at Washington University, putting his education to work when meeting with people in the highest offices and when looking for his next move.
"I got to meet with the chancellor of the school, and in sports governance, you go through the entire governance of an athletic department in the college level," he said. "I was speaking with an NFL team at length about a potential position and about the board of governors at the NFL, and I was very knowledgeable."
Between the education and experience he received at A-State, Austin speaks highly of the program for the practical knowledge and confidence boost it gave him.
"It's actual functional learning," he said. "It prepares you for actual work. It doesn't just give you knowledge you don't need before you go into a job where you'll never use it. They give you actual related experience."
Digital Learning With a Personal Touch
While a sense of connection may seem tenuous or even absent in digital learning environments, Austin found the online master's program to be far more personal than a traditional classroom setting.
"The teachers are literally one tap away," he said. "You can call them on the phone. I've spoken to all my teachers at length on the phone, via email and with the connection of GroupMe chat rooms in each class, you can speak to every single student, instructor and teacher's assistant who is working with you in class. It's constant contact."
Overlap of the digital classroom with the job market took Austin by surprise.
"I've actually met a student I went to school with in person in St. Louis," he said. "I saw that he had the same degree as me, and it turns out we graduated at the same time and had spoken to each other in GroupMe multiple times."
Austin sees digital education as a natural progression, and online communication with classmates and professors as an extension of our capacity to network beyond the boundaries of time and space.
"The world is so connected with social media," he said. "Imagine combining your social media with your education. People put so much time and effort into their social media accounts, but now you have your academic social media where people can contact you through nearly any avenue. They have your phone number, your email, your name, everything possible, and you're talking to them 24 hours a day if you need to."
Though Austin has yet to decide his next career move, he knows that his degree from A-State will help him get there. He recommends the Master of Science in Sport Administration program to those aspiring to roles like athletic director, coach, coordinator or academic adviser.
"You will come out on the other side with connections, networking, recommendations from the teachers and just [about] everything you need to succeed in the world of collegiate or professional athletics or recreation management."
Lean more about the A-State online MS in Sport Administration program.