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By Liz Warren-Pederson

Sports Management students at Cowboys Stadium

Eller Sports Management students at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

Three years after its launch, the Sports Management Program at Eller is now serving 850 UA undergraduates.

Overwhelming student support helped get the program started, but its roots extend back to 2008, when management and organizations department head Stephen Gilliland and associate professor of management and organizations Lehman Benson began developing it in partnership with then-UA athletics director Jim Livengood. Now Benson has been appointed executive director of the program. Lecturer Jim McLean, who has also been involved since the program’s inception, serves as director.

“We’re focused on both professional and intercollegiate athletics,” Benson said. In addition to behind-the-scenes visits to sports venues and internship opportunities, a cornerstone of the sports management experience at Eller is exposure to industry professionals. “We’ve got Bob Elliot coming out to speak to the students this semester,” Benson says. Elliot, an Eller alum and former professional basketball player, is currently chairman of the National Basketball Retired Players Association. In addition, the University of Arizona is honoring Larry Baer, president and CEO of the San Francisco Giants as Executive of the Year in April (learn more about and register for UA Executive of the Year Luncheon, April 19, here).

The program also maintains close ties to UA Intercollegiate Athletics, Benson pointed out. Deputy athletics director Rocky Larose and James Francis, senior associate director of athletics, both teach in the program.

Benson teaches the sports negotiation course. “I bring in a former pro basketball player to talk about his negotiation,” he said. “An attorney, agent, and judge who have handled alternative dispute resolutions address students, as well.”

He also aims to build the program’s research agenda by uniting faculty who already use sports data for their work, such as Lisa Ordóñez, who has used NFL stats in her research into judgment and decision making. Benson’s work is in a parallel area. “I study decision making under time pressure,” he explained. “Some individuals are able to make better decisions under extreme pressure. For instance, why is their approach different in the first half of the game than the second?”