WATERVILLE — For years, Thomas College has been trumpeting the quality of its sports management program. Now it has the documentation to back that claim up.

After what administrators call a “grueling, three-year process,” Thomas has become the first college in New England, and one of only 11 in the nation, to receive national accreditation for its sports management program.

Thomas is an early leader in the Northeast; six colleges and universities from Massachusetts also are seeking accreditation from the Commission on Sports Management Accreditation, founded in 2008 to “recognize excellence in sport management education.”

At Thomas, Academic Dean James Libby said the designation means that more students will be attracted to the college, and that employers in the competitive sports management industry will be more likely to hire graduates of the program.

“This is the number one accrediting body of all sports programs,” he said.

Graduates of the program at Thomas have gone on to land administrative positions in professional sport organizations including the Big East Conference and the American Hockey League, as well as college athletic programs and the prestigious Round Hill Golf Club in New York City.

Eric Reddy, 32, who graduated from Thomas in 2004, has gone on to become co-chairman of the Boston 2024 Exploratory Committee, a private group that is seeking to bring the Olympics to Boston in that year.

Reddy said that “every single day,” he uses the skills he learned at Thomas, both in the committee’s work and in his full-time job at Tickets For Charity, which raises charitable contributions through event ticket sales.

“I didn’t realize it when I was in school there, but everything they teach you actually applies in the real world,” he said.

Reddy, who is married to Maren Madore, daughter of former Waterville Mayor Nelson Madore, said the value of the accreditation will be apparent to students after they’ve entered the workforce.

“It gives it a whole new legitimacy,” said Reddy, who has also worked in ticket sales for the National Basketball Association. “An 18-year-old coming in might not understand that, but for a 30-year-old looking for a job, that’s going to take on added importance.”

The course material includes creating sports-marketing campaigns, capital budget plans, athletic Web pages, media guides, sports products and marketing campaigns built around those products.

Some programs that apply for accreditation make the cut and are approved in as little as 12 months, and the average time is between 12 and 18 months, according to the commission.

Libby said that it was difficult for Thomas, which has about 1,200 students, to gain accreditation by going through the same process as much bigger schools, such as the University of Louisville, which also recently received accreditation and which has more than 21,000 students.

In order to qualify, Thomas was forced to rethink many of its practices. The result, Libby said, is a better sports management program.

“It is a rigorous process,” he said. “There were some issues that we had to work on.”

In order to qualify for the recognition, Thomas met requirements by implementing a far more in-depth assessment system than it had in the past. Under the assessment system, not only is student performance measured more accurately, but the entire program is assessed, both by students and by those in the sports management profession. Administrators are able to use that feedback to identify curriculum weaknesses and make adjustments.

For example, Libby said, Bill Ryan, Jr., owner of the Maine Red Claws basketball team, was participating in the assessment process and made the observation that Thomas wasn’t giving enough emphasis on ticket sale strategies. As a result, the curriculum was revised, which will make Thomas graduates more appealing candidates for Ryan and other prospective employers.

Without an organized assessment plan in place to collect and evaluate feedback, Libby said, administrators have a hard time identifying the best way to move the program forward.

“You’re just flying by the seat of your pants otherwise,” he said.

In order to receive accreditation, the college also has begun surveying alumni to track their progress and success in the professional world of sports management.

Libby said students will be encouraged to include the accreditation information on their résumés and cover letters, “and of course, when we get called for references, we’re going to remind them as well,” he said.

Helping place students into the workforce is a particular concern to Thomas, which operates under a guarantee that all of its students will be able to find appropriate careers within six months of their graduation.

“It’s not easy to assure that all students are achieving the jobs they really want to get when they leave Thomas College,” Libby said.

In a prepared statement announcing Thomas’ accreditation, the commission praised the guaranteed job placement program, as well as others signs of growth and achievement on the campus, including a renovated dining center and student commons, two new sports fields, and its solar panel array.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

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