One of the benefits of a strong graduate program is learning from professors that can share their vast experiences within a field. In the case of Fisher College of Business’s Business of College Sports graduate course, it might have the most experienced professors possible.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith “team-teaches” the course alongside his wife, Sheila. The athletic program Smith oversees is the largest in the country in terms of number of student-athletes, sports, coaches and spending.
“We both kind of share a passion for this thing called college sports,” Sheila said. “So it’s actually great fun, and it’s also challenging because the students are really smart.”
Sheila handles most of what her husband calls the “heavy lifting” for the class and deals with the administrative and organizational duties of the class. Gene, juggling his duties as athletic director, takes time out of his schedule to conduct lectures twice a week during Autumn Quarter.
“Probably one of the best classes I’ve had. I actually learned a lot and it was fun to go to,” said former OSU football player Scott Sika, who is earning his graduate degree in sports management. “(It had) a lot of guest speakers, which is good because you got all the aspects of the athletic department. Gene and Sheila did a good job of getting a variety of people.”
Gene said he uses his clout to get some of the best guest speakers possible, including football coach Jim Tressel. The class takes a tour of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, culminating in a talk with Tressel about “our mission of creating an environment for student-athletes to be successful,” Gene said. The class also takes a tour of Ohio Stadium when it studies facility and event management.
The curriculum covers all aspects of collegiate sports administration, including topics from compliance to marketing. According to the syllabus, the class looks at “the often delicate balance between its educational and business missions.”
The Smiths said they work hard to keep the issues discussed in the class current.
Sika said some of his favorite portions of the class were discussions involving the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, for which Gene is committee chair. Those lectures included the financial and marketing aspects of the tournament along with the possibility of expansion.
“He explained what goes on and everything and it was pretty cool to hear what he thought,” Sika said.
The goal of the course is to provide students with the ability to create business solutions facing collegiate athletics administrations.
“Our goal in the class is students move from out of the student section where they enjoy the fun of college athletics and try to learn the perspective of college athletics sitting in the athletic director’s chair,” Sheila said.
The Smiths discussed their affinity for their students’ feedback and contributions to the course.
“When they see the business side of college sports and what goes on behind the scenes, the feedback we get is that they find it really interesting,” Sheila said.
Gene said students can ask any question during the last 20 minutes of each class. He said students have had some intriguing ideas on how to improve OSU’s sports programs, which included the genesis of moving students’ seats for men’s basketball games to the sidelines behind the bench in the Schottenstein Center.
“It is wonderfully stimulating. The students are brilliant and we enjoy it thoroughly. We have taught at every university that we’ve worked at,” Sheila said. “It’s a way for us to keep in touch with the academic part of the campus and to really be directly in touch with students.”
Aside from the usual required readings and discussions, the workload in the course requires student groups of seven to create a 45-minute presentation on a topic of their choosing and compile a 25-page paper to accompany the presentation.
Few couples have the opportunity to teach a graduate-level class together, but it’s one that the Smiths attribute partly to the strength of their relationship.
“I just do what she tells me to do. We’re good friends,” Gene said. “We have great open and honest communication. We have the same goals in life. Teaching is something we both enjoy and have always enjoyed. So it works extremely well.”
Gene, OSU’s first African-American athletic director, has been running university athletic programs for almost 27 years. A former football player and coach at Notre Dame, Gene has also worked at Arizona State, Iowa State and Eastern Michigan as athletic director before taking the job at OSU in March 2005.
Sheila also comes from background in athletics and earned a doctorate degree in higher education administration. Before becoming the associate athletic director of University of Nevada Las Vegas, she was a member of Canada’s 1976 Olympic basketball team where she played center. She’s now a dual citizen.
The couple met at an athletic administrative conference 20 years ago and has been married for 15 years with four children: Matt, Nicole, Lindsey and Summer.