UW–Madison launching online Master of Science in Sports Leadership

The link between educational leadership and the world of sports isn’t always obvious.

But chat for a bit with UW–Madison’s Peter Miller, and it quickly becomes clear why the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA) is launching a new Master of Science in Sports Leadership (MSL) program.

“At UW–Madison, we’re uniquely positioned to draw from the university’s world-class academic and athletic resources to prepare dynamic sports leaders,” says Miller, the faculty director of the new program who is both a professor with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, and chair of UW’s Athletic Board.

Camp Randall Stadium on a Badgers football game day.

Like most faculty members, Miller spent thousands of hours during his young adult life in a classroom, first earning an undergraduate degree in sociology at the University Notre Dame. He followed that work by receiving a master’s in teaching at the University of Portland, and a PhD in educational leadership and policy from the University of Utah in 2005.

It was time Miller spent outside the traditional classroom, however, that he highlights as being the most influential in his life.

“Being a student-athlete at Notre Dame was undoubtedly my signature learning experience of my entire education career,” says Miller, who played men’s basketball for the Fighting Irish for four seasons, co-captaining the 1996-97 team. “My coach, John MacLeod, was this font of wisdom who approached coaching as a way to prepare us for life.”

To further underscore the value of quality leaders in sports, Miller notes how high school and college students typically move around to numerous classes each day, often changing teachers and professors at the end of a semester.

Peter Miller
Professor Peter Miller is the faculty director of the new Master of Science in Sports Leadership program. A former student-athlete himself, Miller is a faculty member with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, and chair of the UW Athletic Board.

“But with a coach, you often build a longitudinal relationship with that person, often over four years,” he says. “That can have a significant influence on a student — good or bad. The MSL is designed to produce effective sports leaders who can help to ensure that more people will have great and impactful experiences.”

The new program is flexible and fully online to accommodate students with busy lives throughout Wisconsin and across the nation. It was approved by the UW System’s Board of Regents at its June 2021 meeting and is currently accepting applications for students looking to enroll in the summer of 2022.

Among the many benefits of the program is that it’s housed on a campus that’s home to a perennially successful UW Athletic Department, with a range of highly regarded Badgers sports teams, coaches, and administrators. Similarly, the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis is housed within the UW–Madison School of Education, which has been consistently ranked among the very best in the nation for the past two decades.

“There are a good number of sports management programs across the country, but what sets our program apart is its focus on sports leadership,” says Sara Jimenez Soffa, the MSL program specialist. “The knowledge and guidance and mentorship that is available through the ELPA faculty members and their expertise in this realm is invaluable.”

The new program will give students important insight into a variety of sports leadership areas, such as: athletic administration; coaching; justice in sport; legal and financial issues; and sports psychology, to name a few. Graduates of the program will be prepared for leadership positions within sports programs across levels — spanning K-12 and youth programs, to colleges and universities, and professional organizations.

The program is comprised of 30 credits, which include nine required courses. Required coursework is: ELPA 700 — Field Experience in Educational Leadership; ELPA 710 — Introduction to Intercollegiate Athletics Administration; ELPA 750 — Coaching Athletics 1: Everyday Practices of Top Leaders; ELPA 751 — Leadership and Justice in Sports; ELPA 752 —Coach as Teacher: Mastering Instructional Practice On and Off the Field; ELPA 753 — Psychology and Coaching in Sports; ELPA 754 — Running a Championship System: The Badger Sports Leadership; ELPA 755     — Coaching Athletics 2: A Bell Cow Way; and ELPA 777 — Higher and Post-Secondary Education Capstone Seminar. Students will also have the option to take an elective course in kinesiology or a related field.

“We think the MSL is unique in that it leverages both the practical and scholarly insights about leadership in athletics,” says Miller, who also serves as UW–Madison’s faculty representative to the Big Ten Conference and to the NCAA, college sports’ governing body. “It provides an avenue to develop and transmit academic knowledge about sports leadership and permits students to explore multiple careers associated with sports leadership.”

Although the MSL program is just launching, ELPA has a long history of helping to prepare leaders across the sports world, including: UW Athletic Director Chris McIntosh (MS, 2019); Northern Illinois University Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Sean Frazier (MS, 2015 and currently working toward a PhD); the Chicago Bears’ Vice President of Player Engagement LaMar “Soup” Campbell (MS, 2016); and UW–Platteville Director of Athletics and Assistant Chancellor Kristina Navarro  (PhD, 2012).

“Sports leadership is a growing aspect in the field of educational leadership,” says Miller, whose first job after graduating from Notre Dame was as a teacher and basketball coach in Montgomery, Alabama. “We have many students in our teacher education programs and graduate-level students across the School of Education who are already working in the schools and involved with sports in some way. I think this program will help people interested in sports leadership in any range of ways — whether one wants to go into athletic administration, leadership in professional sports, the coaching profession, serve on the local Little League board, or better understand how sports and academics can work together to positively shape young people’s lives.”