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USF Sport MBA Building Reputation for Job Placement Focus

By Alyssa Clementi

Four years ago, William Sutton made the drive back to Orlando from Tampa. He had been invited to discuss the possibility of starting up a Sport and Entertainment graduate program at the University of South Florida, being the first of its kind at the school. Although he already had a prestigious academic job at the University of Central Florida in the Sports Management program, Sutton knew he could not pass on the opportunity to build something from the ground up.

After meeting with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik and University of South Florida leadership, Sutton knew he wanted to make this program one of, if not the best, in the country. Now, with three graduated classes, the goal of having the nation's best Sport and Entertainment Management program is close to being reached.

"We've had 98 percent employment after three years and we're very close to a perfect score," said Sutton, referencing one of the program statistics that he is proud of. "We have two graduates left and if these two get jobs we'll be at 100 percent job placement after graduation since the program began."

Students are landing jobs well beyond Tampa Bay: alumni are in locations such as New York City, California, and even Europe. This past year, the program celebrated its first international job, with a graduate going to work for Fox Italy, which is also broadcast on Sky Sports in Europe.

"Nobody else does that. That's our point of differentiation," said Sutton.

Since its launch in 2012, the Sport and Entertainment Management program's success can be credited to its hands-on curriculum, a residency experience requirement, exceptional faculty, and its Tampa Bay location. Sutton believes the Sport and Entertainment Management program excelled as fast as it has by partnering with the Tampa Bay Lightning and having the support of many other community partners.

"If you're going to have a program in a place like Tampa, you need to capitalize on being in Tampa. And that's what this program is able to do," said Sutton. "We're able to do all the different things that are part of Tampa and make it part of our curriculum, make it part of our program and provide these opportunities for our students."

One of these opportunities is a one-year residency program with a local business to obtain experience before graduation. The residencies provide students with hands-on learning and opportunities to bolster their networking skills. Making connections during the residency period is crucial for students as almost all of these residencies lead to a job offer after graduation.

"Having the residency program is so important. Our students all have part time jobs in year one and they all have this residency in year two. So when they leave here they have two years of experience, plus the class projects we do," said Sutton.

Students in the program agree that the residency program sets them apart from other schools, and gives them an edge when it comes to the job search process after graduation.

"In two years at USF you can build a massive web of connections and a portfolio of relevant experiences," said Luke Mohamed, an alumni of the program. "All of this puts our students and alumni in the best possible position for immediate and long-term success."

Sutton has held previous academic appointments at multiple universities, including the Ohio State University and the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He is considered a powerhouse in the field of Sports and Entertainment Management, and is past president of both the North American Society for Sport Management and the Sport Marketing Association. He had previously served as the vice president of team marketing and business operations for the National Basketball Association, and is founder of Bill Sutton & Associates.

Currently, Sutton writes a monthly column in Sports Business Journal and teaches one of the residency courses, as well as the sports marketing class. He is just as in involved in the classroom as he is out, holding events to get to know each student on a more personal level.

"We have a program called "Supper with the Suttons" where my wife and I host five graduate students in the fall, each week until we cover the whole class," said Sutton. "We're getting ready to start that, and that's a good way of informally getting to know the students and talk about what's important to them."

The students have taken notice of the extra mile Sutton goes for the Sports and Entertainment Management program.

"Working with Dr. Sutton has been an absolute blessing. He supplies us with a wealth of knowledge, advice, and direction," said Samantha Greiner, a Sport and Entertainment Management candidate. "He truly cares about each and every one of his students. He brings out the best in his students, continually raising the bar and helping us grow as individuals and professionals."

It is essential that Sutton knows all of the students in his program, so that he may better help them find a fitting job once they graduate. Sutton, who has been in the sports management field for almost his entire career, has many working relationships around the country which could help his students after graduation.

"I can't pick up the phone and ask someone to hire a student if I don't know them. I've got to know what they're capable of, what they like, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and what their preferences are," said Sutton.

With a 98 percent job placement out of graduation, it is evident that the program is only getting better with each graduating class. In Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal, USF was voted fourth best Sports Management program in the U.S, right after the Ohio University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the University of Oregon. Of these schools, USF is the youngest program by 8 years – but is 44 years younger than the first program, which was first established at Ohio University in 1966.

"In five years, we are hopefully recognized as one of the best programs in the world," said Sutton. "I want to continue broadening ourselves in terms of placement throughout the U.S and throughout Europe."

Then, he says, he will set a new goal: best in the world.