Explaining a doubt

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Sports communication students win case study competition

By Phil Terrigno, '12

Keith Strudler was not impressed.

The four Marist College sports communication students that he brought to participate in a case study competition held by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were struggling to successfully rehearse their presentation less than an hour before their scheduled timeslot.

"I thought, 'Wow, we are going to get crushed,'" Strudler said. "Everyone was tired and they had seen it too much. In the hotel room, we kind of bottomed out. They just needed to walk away from it for an hour or so and relax."

Just like in the unpredict­able world of sports that they study, the opposite of the expected happened.

After presenting on the evening of Tuesday, April 19, Brittney Garofolo, '12, Luke Teitelbaum, '12, Jim Urso, '11, and Kaiti Decker, '11, were named the winning group of the undergraduate case study competition the following morning.

"We did not sleep and we wanted to pull our hair out," Decker said. "But it was all totally worth it. I have never been more proud of anything that I have accomplished academically and I'm sure that everyone else would agree."

Marist defeated 13 groups from colleges and universi­ties around the country, including Ithaca, Arkansas and Georgia Southern.

All other schools that participated in the compe­tition featured either sports administration or sports management curriculums —Marist was the only school with a sports com­munication program that focuses on sports culture and media.

"A lot of these other schools are business ori­ented and they have some administrative knowledge," Urso said. "Since we are four communications students, we thought that our writing ability was a little more of an advantage."

The same four Marist students participated in the event in 2010, although that effort did not yield a finish in the top two recognized schools.

"We were very up-an-down our first time participating," Strudler said. "We didn't know how to play the game. We didn't dress right. Our PowerPoints weren't polished enough."

Improved cohesion among the group members, including dividing the assignments and research allowed the four students to get a jump-start on preparing for the competition.

"We studied a lot harder and we started a little earlier than last year," Teitelbaum said. "We tried to focus more on the presentation this year. Last year, we kind of threw it together."

UNC's College Sports Research Institute (CSRI), which supports independent data collection and analysis related to college-sport is­sues, assigned the case study in two phases.

The first part was a 1,000- word written case study analyzing whether or not the athletic departments of Elon University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro made the correct decision by moving to Division I athletics in the 1990s.

Second, the group gave a 10-minute presentation on whether the University of North Alabama (UNA) should maintain its Division-II status or seek reclassification.

Marist submitted its written case study via email to the judges a week before traveling to North Carolina.

A panel of judges observed the student presentations, which were 10-minutes long with an additional five-minute question-and-answer session.

In its presentation, the Marist students recommended that UNA remain in Division II in order to avoid budgetary concerns and also to better support academics on campus.

"The question-and-answer session may have ended up winning the competition for us," Decker said. "The judges didn't have any questions for us so we knew that we were very thorough."

In addition to presenting their case study and listen­ing to panel discussions, the group also attended a Durham Bulls game before flying back to New York on Friday evening.

"The panels had sports agents, journalists, ex-athletes and athletics directors," Urso said. "They were all talking about current issues in sports."

Strudler, who chairs the Communication Department and also founded the College's Sports Communication Program, stumbled upon the case study competition while presenting a paper at UNC in 2009.

"I met some kids who were doing this case study thing, and I thought that it would be really cool," Strudler said. "That launched the idea of finding some seniors and juniors ready to roll."

Strudler plans to continue to bring a group of exceptional undergraduate sports communication students to participate in the event in years to come.

"This and any other academic competition like this where we can have students competing and networking is really good," Strudler said. "The school has been really good about funding this type of stuff. I wish there were competitions like this in journalism and broadcasting."

Currently, no plans are in place for Marist College to host a case study competition of its own.

"Perhaps there might be a time in the future where we could do something like this with a journalism group or a broadcasting group," Strudler said. "Maybe there are ways to create student competition in different areas in sports communication."

Ithaca College, last year's winner, finished in second place. Loras College and Georgia Southern University tied for third place.

"Other schools are sort of looking at us as a model of how to do this," Strudler said. "I think we are pretty well known in the sports communication world. We are producing a lot of students who go out and get jobs. People at ESPN, they know Marist."

Marist has already formed a team to defend its title at this year's competition held in late April at UNC. Two of the four team members, Garofolo and Teitlbaum, return from last year's squad. Sports communication major Sarah Cordeiro, '14, and sports communica­tion minor Patrick Dillon, '12, complete the squad as first-year competitors. This year's case, released in early February, asks teams to evaluate the revenues and expenditures of college athletic departments over the past decade and to make recommendations for future success and solvency.

If Marist does defend its title, it would be the first repeat champion in the four-year history of the competition.