SUU introduces new sports communication undergraduate degree

As of the fall 2023 semester, Southern Utah University’s communication department now offers an emphasis in sports communication for undergraduate students. The program is hands-on and allows students valuable internships with SUU Athletics that most other institutions do not offer.

Why sports?

According to Statista’s yearly statistics on the sports entertainment industry, over $512.14 billion has been made in 2023 so far. This number greatly surpasses the $486.61 billion in 2022, and by 2027, it is expected to reach $623.63 billion. This means that there are a lot of opportunities for students who choose to take the sports route for their career. 

“Sports management degrees are popping up all over the country because of the success students are getting jobs in the field upon graduation,” stated professor Hayden Coombs, one of the program’s founders. “Plus, the sports industry is the most profitable branch of the entertainment industry as a whole.” 

The program has the opportunity to become one of the most sought-after degrees at SUU. Students will be able to work side by side with professionals in college athletics, giving them valuable experience and helping them learn skills that will be beneficial for their resumes. 

“No matter the skill set you have, it can be applied to sports,” said SUU Athletics intern James Wilson. “I think people will see that once this degree starts to take off over the next few years.”

Whether you want to be a writer, video editor, social media manager, sports broadcaster or anything else that you can imagine, the sports world has a place for students who choose this degree path.

What to expect

Classes range from communication management in sports to sports broadcasting, along with a variety of other courses that mark different career paths in the industry. Internships are also geared toward specific industry areas so students get experience in their field before graduation. 

Wilson’s internship, for instance, allows him to cover cross-country and track and field for the department. He also helps with game day operations for every home sporting event. 

These internships are incredibly unique. “As far as I understand, our program is one of the only in the nation that guarantees an internship with a Division I athletic department if students choose to,” said Coombs.

One of the required courses is Writing and Reporting for Sports Media, which Coombs will teach. Before settling in as the sports communication professor at SUU, he worked in sports journalism with BleacherReport, the Sun’s GLeague team and a few others. 

Ryan Steineckert, who is the KSUU Thunder 91.1 radio station manager, will teach the aforementioned broadcasting class. He has a background in sports broadcasting for high school sports in Wyoming and Oregon. Once they take this class, students have the opportunity to call local high school sports games and even some SUU women’s basketball games.  

How it started

Hayden Coombs and professor Art Challis began to build the program in 2016 with then athletic director Jason Butikofer. The idea was that since sports is a booming industry and SUU Athletics needed more hands to operate effectively, could the communication department and athletics work together to help both students and the university.

“Jeff Tukuafu has been instrumental in getting the internship side of things rolling,” stated Coombs. “He was huge early on and helped me establish this pipeline into the department.”

Tukuafu currently serves as the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Internal Operations overseeing several areas including events, facilities, equipment, several software platforms, capital projects, Hall of Fame, and touchdown club. He is the sport supervisor for both football and the men’s and women’s golf programs.

Creating those connections is huge for a project and program like this. Coombs mentioned how incredibly welcoming the SUU Athletics staff has been. Sports information director Regan Hunsaker has been a leader for students who want to be at the game to help with stats, writing, press conferences and much more. Additionally, Maddie Gerhardt and Gabi Brooks, who are both in creative content and new media for athletics, lead a team of intern photographers and videographers to create social media posts or highlight recaps.

What is to come

Eventually, Coombs hopes to see the sports communication emphasis become its own degree here on campus. He believes that, for long-term success, SUU needs a dedicated sports management degree. 

“I’ve been working with David Hatch, who is in charge of interdisciplinary studies, to create a sports management track for the MIS degree,” said Coombs. “Eventually, a master’s degree in sports management or athletic administration would be big for the school because it would allow us to recruit more graduate students for competitive assistantship opportunities.” 

For now, students can look forward to the new undergraduate degree and the opportunities it presents. Students who want to be more involved in sports can also join the Southern Utah Sports Management Society, which meets once per month and gives members the chance to hear from sport managers across the country.


Author: Chevy Blackburn

Photos courtesy of SUU Athletics and Chevy Blackburn

Editor: Chevy Blackburn