“Higher Education is Stagnant,” Why a Sports Management Program Director Created a Microsimulation Surrounding a Baseball Doping Scandal

We’ve seen it before. Sports teams grappling with sign-stealing scandals, steroid allegations, or point shaving. The costs are immeasurable: losing the loyalty of your biggest supporters. Many times, the cleanup job is messy—too little, too late. 

Sports scandals are everywhere. Maybe these historical instances come to mind:

Spygate, 2007

The Patriots were found guilty of illegally videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive signals during a 2007 game. Head coach Bill Belichick was fined $500K, on top of $250K to the franchise, and lost a 2008 first-round draft pick.

Deflategate, 2015

The Patriots struck again with deflating footballs (which makes them easier to catch.) Since each team uses its own balls, the league didn’t catch on until later. The NFL stripped the Patriots of two draft picks and fined them $1 million, on top of star QB Tom Brady’s suspension for four games.

Sign Stealing, 2019

The Astros used an outfield camera and a TV in the locker room tunnel to read the opposing teams’ signals at home plate. Once the Astros identified the signal, they would bang on a garbage can to tip off the batter.

Cameras contain the evidence. There’s no denying it. And the damage is done.

Then comes the messy part: some teams comply with investigations, others don’t. Regardless, what some teams dismiss as an innocent occurrence turns out to be a debacle. Lifelong fans are left in despair. How could this be? The ramifications are painful. Trust is destroyed. 

As long as there have been sports, there have been scandals. With money and gambling involved, high-stakes means a high reward: the ultimate recipe for cheating.

Unfortunately, that’s the way it always has been. And it’s hard to imagine the future any other way.

Many students pursue sports management degrees to learn the business, management, and marketing side of professional sports combined with the industry’s latest trends and technologies. While classes allow students to understand the industry’s business and legal aspects, how do you prepare them for crises like those previously mentioned? 

More specifically, how can educators effectively prepare learners for a real-world crisis without giving them direct experiences?

Batter Up: Dr. Zack Damon

Sports Management Graduate Program Director and Assistant Professor at the University of Central Arkansas

Dr. Damon couldn’t find an existing solution in the market that exposes students to the immense pressure of dealing with a sports scandal. So he created one. His answer hit it out of the park. 

In the fall of 2018. Dr. Damon attended Capsim’s Symposium to learn more about simulation-based learning. Little did he know that upon seeing Capsim’s new microsimulation platform, CapsimInbox, he’d use his expertise to author his very own version. After the symposium, Capsim sent an email looking for contributing authors. 

Dr. Damon had a lightbulb moment, and thought to himself, “this is the answer.” Previous tools were fairly cut and dry. “There was something missing,” Dr. Damon said. 

He had been looking for a tool to expose students to ethical decision-making, problem-solving, and communication: skills needed in the sports industry, but lacking in the classroom. As the Sport Management Graduate Program Director, he was searching for more in-depth resources than PowerPoints, video lectures, case studies, and discussion boards.

He first experienced Capsim as a Georgia Southern University graduate student in an MBA course in the spring of 2012. His professor adopted Capstone 2.0, opening his eyes up to communication with others in problem-solving skills. 

Years down the line, as a professor himself, Dr. Damon felt simulation building was the way forward. “Higher education is stagnant,” he said. 

He wanted to pass along his learning experiences and passion to his students. Baseball was his first choice: he had played all throughout high school, and aspired to walk-on at Georgia Southern University. He took his passion for coaching the sport, and realized it could be leveraged as a teaching tool for his students. 

Dr. Damon realized it was possible to create a realistic and engaging experience for both students and practitioners to grow from. He was able to turn a crisis into a playable and engaging learning experience within the email simulation. By bridging the gap between theory and practice, he realized there was a unique opportunity to combine the enticing nature of sports with already-established business undertones. 

“We hit the ground running, and it’s been a great experience since,” Damon said. 

CapsimInbox Sports Management helps students gain skills and learning opportunities by simulating high-leverage career moments. We want learning experiences to be as realistic as possible, where everything is real-world except for the impact.

What CapsimInbox Sports Management Tackles

In CapsimInbox Sports Management, students enter a day-in-the-life as a General Manager of a baseball team. There’s a potential scandal brewing in the air, and students must leverage practical skills like ethical decision-making, problem-solving, and communication, to handle an escalating situation. 

The best news? If they strike out in the simulation, there’s time to develop students and strengthen skills so they can be ready for when it matters.

A Use Case Extending Beyond the Classroom

Dr. Damon envisions CapsimInbox Sports Management leveraged in sports management classes and as a training tool for sports organizations to develop interns, new employees, and PR personnel.

Professional communication is vital in a quick, cut-throat industry and an escalating situation. Truth and transparency can be powerful in the middle of an investigation, especially when fans aren’t entirely sure how bad the truth is. There’s plenty of pressure to win and perform, and ultimately, Dr. Damon looks to train learners to make the best and most ethical decision, given the circumstances. 

Building Your Training Tool

Are you ready to build your Inbox? Check out our CapsimInbox Authoring Platform

Four years ago, when Zack finished grad school, if you would’ve told him he would build an experiential learning tool, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“It’s easy to get bogged down on classwork and research. To see something like this that has that practical component to it, that’s something that we in sports management try to bridge the gap between theory and practice, theory and practice,” Dr. Damon said. “Well, here it is. Here’s part of that bridge. And to be a part of that is really exciting.” 

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