The Charger Blog

Sport Management Professors Receive Prestigious NCAA Grant for Project Supporting Student-Athletes

Bo Yu, Ph.D., and Ceyda Mumcu, Ph.D., are part of one of only four research teams in the country to earn an NCAA Innovations Grant. Their multidisciplinary project will support the mental wellness and personal-branding education of student-athletes.

May 9, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

A bird’s-eye view of the University of New Haven’s athletic facilities.
A bird’s-eye view of the University of New Haven’s athletic facilities.

Bo Yu, Ph.D., has long been interested in athlete branding, and it is has been a primary topic of his research. He’s also noticed how mental wellness has increasingly become a critical issue for student-athletes – in particular, since the pandemic. He has recently received an important grant that will enable him to educate student-athletes and support their mental wellness.

Bo Yu, Ph.D.
Bo Yu, Ph.D.

Dr. Yu recently received an NCAA Innovations Grant that will support his work with Ceyda Mumcu, Ph.D., chair of the University’s Sport Management Department, and Yiran Su, Ph.D., a sport management professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Dr. Yu is looking forward to the opportunities the grant will create for them to offer support to student-athletes.

“I am thrilled to have secured this grant, as it marks my first successful attempt at securing external funding in my career,” said Dr. Yu, a sport management professor. “It is very important for my academic career because this is one of the largest grants available in the sport management field, and we got fully supported. I am excited about the positive impact this project can have on our University community.”

‘Set a good example’

While already managing the stress of the pandemic, student-athletes have been presented a curveball, of sorts: the NCAA’s new Name Image, Likeness (NIL) policy, the researchers say. The policy, which was approved in 2021, allows NCAA student-athletes to be compensated for their NIL. While it offers new opportunities, many students – and institutions – are still navigating these changes. Many student-athletes are learning how to manage their personal brands while balancing academics and training, and many, the researchers say, lack awareness about personal branding and how to maximize it.

Ceyda Mumcu, Ph.D.
Ceyda Mumcu, Ph.D.

“While NIL opens new doors to the student-athletes, it also brings some challenges and requires new skills,” said Dr. Mumcu. “With this grant, we hope to improve student-athletes’ skills in personal branding and provide them with the necessary tools. My priority as a scholar has always been making an impact on the sport industry. With this grant, we will support student-athletes’ personal growth.”

Ultimately, Dr. Yu’s goal is to educate student-athletes about the support systems available to them, extending from personal branding to mental wellness. To do this, the researchers have proposed what they call the “ACE” program, which incorporates an App, a Certification, and an Ecosystem and fosters collaboration between Division I and Division II institutions. It would offer education through immersive game-based learning – a critical part of Dr. Yu’s teaching philosophy.

“By participating in this program, I hope our students can learn the importance of personal branding for their career development and transition,” said Dr. Yu. “Being an NCAA member, the University can set a good example for Division II and Division III institutions. This project will also contribute to our development of an athlete branding certificate under the Sport Management Department.”

The concept map for the project.
The concept map for the project.
‘Interdisciplinary collaboration is important’

The multidisciplinary project will deepen the relationship between the University’s Sport Management Department and Charger Athletics. Dr. Yu and his colleagues will introduce student-athletes to a game-based app that will educate them about personal branding and mental wellness. Dr. Yu also plans to develop an athlete-branding certificate program and to host workshops to help student-athletes with personal development and career transition.

The researchers were one of just four teams to receive funding through the NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant Program for the 2023-2024 academic year. The University of New Haven-UMass team joined recipients from Cornell, Western Illinois, and a collaboration between Alabama and Michigan State in receiving the competitive grants supporting projects designed to enhance student-athletes' psychosocial well-being and mental health.

"It's encouraging to continue to see such a high level of interest in this grant program,” said Panel chair Eric Laudano, external review panel chair and senior associate athletics director for high performance at Saint Joseph's. “This year, 80 proposals were submitted, and with so many strong projects and compelling collaborations, it was challenging for the panel to identify 15 finalists and then select the four recipients. We're confident that these projects will benefit the student-athletes on the receiving campuses in the coming year. Further, we believe the membership will have much to gain as these grant teams share their findings and make their resources widely available in 2024."

The University of New Haven has long been committed to supporting student-athletes and promoting their mental health. It was the focus of a recent Courageous Conversation that brought together the Dean of Students Office, Counseling and Psychological Services, and the Department of Athletics. Dr. Yu hopes to continue that conversation – and to ensure that student-athletes continue to receive the support that will enable them to excel.

“The interdisciplinary collaboration is important because it is an effective allocation of internal resources that will offer support to student-athletes,” said Dr. Yu. “At the same time, student-athletes need cross-disciplinary skills, such as marketing, entrepreneurship, finance, and communication, to succeed. We want to help ensure they build those skills.”