Sport Without ManagementJournal of Sport Management



Joshua I. Newman is the Department of Sport Management,

College of Education, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

Address author correspondence to him at

Journal of Sport Management, 2014, 28, 603-615 © 2014 Human Kinetics, Inc.

Sport Without Management

Joshua I. Newman

Florida State University

This article seeks to unsettle the taken-for-granted epistemological and ontological foundations upon which many curricular and research-based activities in contemporary sport management are grounded. With an emphasis on that academic field’s development in the United States in particular, the author problematizes the underlying assumptions that guide many of sport management’s concomitant scientific and industrial projects.

The article concludes with a brief discussion on how we might reenvisage both the study and praxis of sport management in ways that are not just economically generative, but in ways that might also bring about cultural and social transformation.

Keywords: ontology, epistemology, neoliberalism, cultural body, jouissance


In this article I reflect on the contextual, epistemological, and ontological underpinnings of the major research and teaching trends within the contemporary sport management discipline. I consider each with respect to the expansion of sport management as an academic field—a field that in the United States (as elsewhere) has come to incorporate, replace, or sometimes subordinate many related (sub)disciplines within the higher education dispositif. Here I am namely referring to physical education, sport sociology, sport philosophy, sport history, or sport studies. In the same moment that we have witnessed the contraction of undergraduate (and to a large extent graduate) academic programs in sport history, sociology of sport, and sport studies, for example, we have seen a proliferation of sport management programs—with more than 350 separate programs in the United States alone.

Moreover, per NASSM/NASPE and COSMA accreditation standards, many of the research and teaching content areas once reserved for these outmoded disciplines have been folded into the increasingly crystallized discipline of sport management.

While this new disciplinary arrangement has created and will continue to create a number of important and generative pathways for scholars focusing on both the business and sociocultural aspects of sport, here I want to explore the metaphysical disjunctures this more integrative sport management project might create as the field moves forward. In short, I look at the consolidation of an academic field.

Hence, my use of the term sport management—in reference to the academic field and the industrial application of its pedagogical tenets—here and elsewhere is meant to refer not to the management-focused elements of the broader sport studies field, but the opposite: the collapse of sport studies’ multifarious epistemological and axiological fractures into the programmatic development of the field of sport management (as codified in NASSM/NASPE and COSMA formulaics). I look at this construction of sport management with the intent to explore the metaphysical chasm between more “conservative” visions of this consolidation (see Shaw, Wolfe, & Frisby, 2011) and recently developed critical sport management approaches (Amis & Silk, 2005; Frisby, 2005; Zakus, Malloy, & Edwards, 2007; Zeigler, 1994, 1995). As has been discussed at length elsewhere (see also Bowers, Green, & Seifried, 2014), this turn toward sport management as the overarching instructional and institutional frame for sport-related inquiry, pedagogy, and practice has been accompanied by, if not brought about, new axioms in both our teaching and our research.

Here I want to discuss two such interrelated points of emphasis: (1) an intensified focus on the commercial and managerial aspects of sport and (2) a turn toward privileging deductive, nomothetic, and marketable forms of sporting inquiry.

My aim is to move beyond an explanation that assumes that the absorption of pluralistic forms of sport-based inquiry into the aegis of sport management is merely a result of changing market forces—in both the research and sport labor markets. It starts instead with the principal contention that the study of sport in the academy—as operationalized in a bourgeoning sport management discipline (among disappearing alternatives)—is not merely a product of the sport market or

Official Journal of NASSM

ARTICLE 604 Newman the marketplace of ideas. Rather, as sport management scholars we are part of a dialectic relationship; we have made and continue to make the sport industry (and the study of that industry) just as it makes our pedagogical and intellectual work. As such, this paper challenges a number of assumptions: assumptions that the ascent of sport management is a natural or organic phenomenon; assumptions that sport, in its myriad formations, exists principally as a commercial activity—and that its pedagogues, students, and practitioners should concentrate their efforts on regulating athletic and sport-based organizational (consumer and participant) behaviors in ways that will maximize efficiency and profitability.

In some ways, then, this paper is a response to the work that has sought to answer the call set out in Weese’s (1995) Journal of Sport Management article titled, “If we’re not serving practitioners, then we’re not serving sport management.” Following Weese’s rationale, many scholars have subsequently given their research and teaching over to assumptions and promulgations of sport as industry, the athlete as commodity, the team as brand, the fan as consumer, and the sport facilitator as “manager.” Through a series of six interrelated theses, I hope to provoke a discussion around the ways in which, to gain institutional and industrial legitimacy, sport management scholars over the past three decades have tended to align their work with the prevailing systems of capital, science, and managerialism.