Compare and Contrast: Master’s Degree in Athletic Administration vs. Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership

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Successful interscholastic athletic administrators need skills that go beyond the specifics of sports. A variety of post-bachelor’s educational options can help current or aspiring athletic directors (ADs) develop the managerial and leadership abilities they need for a career in sports leadership.

Two of the more popular options are a master’s in athletic administration (MAA) online and a master’s in educational leadership. Both offer a foundation in organizational, problem-solving, and decision-making skills useful for a career in athletic management.

The master’s in educational leadership (MEL) takes a broad-based approach to essential leadership skills. A master’s degree in athletic administration, on the other hand, focuses on more targeted areas of study such as sports marketing, ethics in sports, facility management, and human resource management in sports organizations.

Two students relax on a sports field

What Does a Master’s in Educational Leadership Entail?

A master’s degree in educational leadership can prepare graduates for teaching and executive positions at public and private schools, explains in “What Can You Do with a Master’s in Educational Leadership?”

As administrators, those who hold MEL degrees may manage school operations, support and train teachers, and work to create a safe, positive learning environment for all students. Opportunities include positions at elementary, middle, and high schools as well as colleges and universities. It should be noted that public school teachers and administrators need to be licensed by the state and should plan to keep their licensure current for the duration of their careers.

Graduates with a degree in educational leadership may also qualify for positions as assistant principals, district administrators, instructional coordinators, directors or supervisors, deans of students or faculty, college provosts, and university registrars.

Curriculum for an MEL degree tends to focus on the administrative, financial, and human resources demands of school or college operation, according to “Online Educational Leadership Degree: An Overview.,” in U.S. News & World Report.

“Students pursuing a master’s degree in education administration online learn how to measure student performance, evaluate teachers and support staff, assess standard curricula, create school budgets, and work with other education professionals to ensure schools are safe, supportive places for students to learn,” the article notes.

A degree in educational leadership can provide a foundation for someone interested in a position as an AD. The basic principles in the curriculum apply to athletics as well as other school management functions and could benefit those in sports administration who might have wider career interests. Most potential ADs, however, might find that a sports-related master’s degree better meets their needs.

What Does a Master’s in Athletic Administration Entail?

Athletic departments in many school districts have grown, encompassing traditional sports such as football, basketball, and baseball as well as a number of non-core sports programs such as lacrosse and volleyball. The size of the today’s sports departments and the work involved in keeping programs running smoothly and safely make a specialized education in athletic administration especially valuable.

While a master’s in educational leadership prepares students for general leadership duties and responsibilities typically seen in a number of different roles, a master’s in athletic administration is geared toward those who desire to work as an administrator in an athletic department. Some athletic administrators might also work as directors of marketing, facilities, or media relations in larger athletic organizations, according to “Jobs in Sports Administration: How to Land Your Dream Job in Sports” on

Master’s programs in athletic administration “train prospective athletic administrators to oversee coaches, secure funding, and plan marketing strategies in schools as well as recreational and professional industries,” notes.

MAA programs focus on such athletic leadership skills as program management, athlete assessment, decision-making, and ethics in sports, the article notes. Students also gain insight into budgeting and financial management as well as marketing, advertising, and fundraising strategies for sports events and programs. Legal issues, including compliance with a variety of regulations, round out the curriculum.

The business side of running an athletic department differs significantly from the overall operation of a school, and specialized budgeting concerns are crucial. Sports programs require particular attention to uniforms, equipment, travel expenses, and facility upkeep, all in accordance with the rules and regulations governing interscholastic (or collegiate) sports programs. Fundraising might involve team sponsorships and user fees.

At the high school level, ADs are typically the administrators who provide hands-on leadership for the sports program. “They prepare a budget and allocate spending on items like coaches’ salaries, team travel, equipment purchases, and facility upkeep,” Frank Angst writes in “Learn What Athletic Directors Do” on 

“Athletic directors also coordinate with coaches about the scheduling of games and practices. They collaborate with conferences and leagues about scheduling issues as well. They also speak with league officials about subjects such as postseason play. Within an athletic program, directors may have to decide how to allocate time for a field, court, or weight room.”

A master’s degree in athletic administration online or one in educational leadership can be an investment in one’s career. Before deciding, prospective students should consider whether they prefer to manage a sports program or an entire school. Other factors include whether they enjoy the idea of marketing and securing team sponsorships, or whether they prefer to promote students’ intellectual growth or their athletic development and ability to work on a team.

In the end, the decision comes down to personal preferences, career goals, and the impact one wants to have on the lives of young people.

Learn More About Ohio University’s Online Master’s in Athletic Administration

Ohio University houses one of the first academic programs in the nation to offer post-graduate educational options in sports administration. Since its inception, OHIO’s Master’s in Athletic Administration online program (MAA) has consistently graduated skilled athletic directors who understand the intricacies of sports management.

Ohio University’s MAA program is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) and prepares students for National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification. For more information, visit Ohio University’s MAA page.

Recommended Reading:

An Athletic Director’s Responsibilities and Career Outlook

7 Essential Traits of a Successful Athletic Director

A Guide to Networking for Athletic Directors



What Can You Do with a Master’s in Educational Leadership? –

Online Educational Leadership Degree –

Jobs in Sports Administration –

Aspiring Athletic Directors –

Learn What Athletic Directors Do –