Practice What You Teach
For a few weeks each summer, St. John Fisher College goes from college campus to football mecca with the arrival of the Buffalo Bills Training Camp. With its players and coaches, as well as its hundreds of additional personnel, and thousands of fans, it's a transformation. At the center of it all are Dr. Todd Harrison and Patrick Gordon, two members of the Sport Management Department who serve as conduits between the College and the Bills organization.
“I tell people that everything that takes place from the start of camp until the last person from Buffalo leaves is our responsibility in some form or another,” said Gordon, who serves as the director of experiential learning and outreach for the Sport Management Department.
A part of Camp operations since 2005, Harrison serves as director of the College’s Training Camp team, bringing to the position past experience working with the athletic departments at the University of Florida and The Ohio State University, as well as the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. A 2010 alumnus of the sport management program, Gordon worked with Endicott College’s Athletics Department as he pursued a master’s degree before returning to Fisher in 2016.
In between coordinating to meet the unique needs of Bills personnel (from coaches and players to upper management) and ensuring that the normal operations of the College remain functional, Harrison and Gordon oversee the dozen or so students skilled enough—and lucky enough—to land one of the coveted internship positions at the camp.
“The biggest benefit for the students is that they are involved. They see the planning and thought that goes into the operation,” Harrison said. “We’ll talk with them as the work happens about why we are making certain decisions and what’s being considered, so that if something similar happens later, they know what the broader operation is and how to respond. Our leadership style is to empower students to make decisions on their own and take ownership of certain spaces.”
For Tim Grover ’18, who spent summer 2017 as an intern, a sport law course with Harrison prepared him for the challenges that Training Camp presented.
“In class, Dr. Harrison spoke a lot about being proactive in handling anything that can happen and that helped me during Bills Camp because I knew I needed to know what emergency and crowd management systems were in place,” Grover said.
He added that the knowledge he gained of how a NFL organization functions will offer him an edge as he enters the sports industry.
“The lessons I learned I can take into my first job and they’ll be immediately useful,” he said.
Sophomore Cody Dubiel will join the internship program in summer 2018. He took a marketing and promotions course with Harrison, and appreciated how the professor wove examples from his work with the Training Camp into the curriculum.
“He related the text and what we were reading to real-life situations,” Dubiel explained, noting that one paper required students to consider a promotion that would work for a sponsor of the camp. “We learned a lot about how the Bills promote camp and make it the best experience for fans. I’m a hands-on, visual learner, so this helped me gain an understanding of the concepts.”
This summer, Dubiel looks forward to putting the theories learned in Harrison’s course into action.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the NFL, and this is a great opportunity to get experience in the field,” he said. “Professor Gordon and I talk about my career path—professional versus collegiate sports—and internships and practicums like Bills Camp are good to see what I gravitate to through practice.”
Amid the hustle of camp operations, Harrison and Gordon remain committed to ensuring students have an experience that rivals the fans.
“We want to make sure they do everything we do,” said Gordon. “They interact with front office personnel, staff, fans, College employees...you name it.”
And, that support resonates with the students.
“Dr. Harrison and Professor Gordon are so personable and open to hearing your ideas,” Dubiel said. “They really care about you as people and help guide you on the right path.”