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Dr. Robert Epling Associate Professor, Sports Administration

Dr. Robert Epling

Bobcat Quick Hit:

Favorite Author: Larry McMurtry

Favorite Movie: "Lonesome Dove"

Favorite Quote: "Don't let schooling get in the way of an education." – Mark Twain

If you could have a dinner party with two people, living or dead, who would it be? And why? "George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I just love American history."


Dr. Robert Epling entered graduate school at the University of Georgia with the goal of continuing his career as a college coach. After experiencing teaching as a graduate assistant, he called an audible.

"I had several professors I really liked and got to work with them while I was teaching as a graduate assistant," he said. "I just hit it off with them and liked what they did."

When his wife accepted a fellowship at the University of Tennessee, he was offered a graduate assistantship at Tennessee to work on a doctoral degree. It was a win-win.

"I enjoy working with college students," Dr. Epling said. "I love the higher education lifestyle, college campuses and being around college students. … I came to St. Thomas two years ago; I hadn't planned on that. I was a tenured professor and dean at a university in Georgia and didn't plan to leave, but my wife had some health issues and when the STU position was offered, we decided to move down. It's been a great fit."

Dr. Epling, who grew up in the Atlanta area, graduated with a BS in health and physical education from Georgia in 1984, an M.Ed. in physical education pedagogy from Georgia in 1989 and a PhD in cultural foundations of sport from Tennessee in 1994.

"This is my 24th consecutive year as a full-time college professor and my 30th year overall teaching in higher education," he said. "I enjoy watching students complete their degrees, move on with their lives and do good things. I have a lot of students who stay in touch with me. I'll get emails and texts every week from former students telling me what they are doing. You get a lot of internal gratification, but it's always nice to hear from those students."

Before coming to St. Thomas University, Dr. Epling held appointments at Reinhardt University, Berry College, Capital University, and the University of West Georgia. He initiated, designed and implemented the Sport Studies program at Reinhardt, now the largest undergraduate degree at the university.

At STU, Dr. Epling teaches Sports Financial Management, Sports History, Sports Psychology, Sports Facilities and Event Management, Applied Sports Science, and Media Relations and Sports Information.

Q:What will students learn in each course that you teach?

A: In Sports Financial Management, students primarily examine financial issues at all levels of sport, with a focus on intercollegiate sport.

In Sports Psychology, students analyze the effect of sport and exercise on mental and emotional health, and the mirror of that relationship (i.e. the effect of mental and emotional health on sport and exercise participation and performance).

In Applied Sports Science, students examine a broad array of topics associated with exercise science, including the biomechanics of skillful movement. There is also a health component, with an emphasis on both health-related fitness and skill-related fitness.

In Sports History, we focus mainly on 19th- and 20th-century American sports. Students tend to enjoy this course quite a bit because it is not traditional subject matter. We want Sports Administration majors to be exceptionally knowledgeable about sport, not simply about business practices, and the content of this course ensures a broad and deep knowledge base.

Sports Facilities and Events has two components to it. We examine effective functioning of facilities and the events that take place in those facilities. We also analyze effective event management. This course typically incorporates guest speakers and site visits to American Airlines Arena, Hard Rock Stadium and other venues where St. Thomas Sports Administration alumni work.

Q:Have you taught online before now?

A: Absolutely. I have quite a bit of experience with it.

Q:What advice do you have for the online learner?

A: One thing is to manage your time well because these are asynchronous courses for the most part, so while there are deadlines, students have a lot of flexibility. With that flexibility comes responsibility, so one tip would be to manage time wisely.

A second tip would be to stay on top of the work—don't let it linger and think you can submit all the work at the end of a term.

The third tip is to make sure you communicate with the instructor. I can get as close with a distant learner as I can with a face-to-face learner sometimes, if we stay in contact with each other. It's a little bit easier for them to get lost, too, because I am not necessarily going to be seeing them every day or correspond with them every single day.

Q:Can you share an experience where you were able to help an online learner overcome a challenge?

A: I remember we had a high school football coach in Texas. He was taking one of my classes online during football season. At the time, the discussion boards were due every Friday evening. You know what he was doing every Friday evening as a high school football coach—on the field, right. We set up some alternative options for him. He was a really good student and enjoyable to work with. It's an example of how the online format allowed flexibility for him that he might not have had in a face-to-face setting.

Q:How do you make sure you stay connected to your distance learners?

A: We have weekly discussion boards, which is kind of standard. I like to use narrated audio lectures and recorded video messages. … I like recording videos and providing them to students. I post a lot of my lectures on YouTube and Adobe Spark …

Q:Do you think your online learners differ from your face-to-face learners? If so, how?

A: In my face-to-face work, I deal with undergrads and grads. What we deal with online most of the time is graduate students, so they tend to be more mature. They tend to have a better idea of where they are and what they want to do with the degree. With regard to quality work and motivation to do the work, I don't see all that much difference.

Online students might have a little bit more motivation. Sometimes the face-to-face students can draw motivation by being in the class, while sometimes the online students have to produce that themselves. So, online learners may be just a bit different from face-to-face learners. I hate to generalize like that. They tend to be working, so maybe they have a little bit better idea of where they are and what they want to do.

Q:When an adult learner brings professional experience to the classroom, do you think that impacts or changes your teaching? How?

A: It's absolutely great when that happens. As an example, I've had a lot of coaches and athletic directors. I had an NHL referee in a class one time who could give really good, authentic examples when we talked about case studies or experiences. If you've got an NHL official, and you are talking about ethics in a Sports Psych class, he can tell you about players and NHL coaches. It just brings a different perspective. It's such an authentic experience. It allows them to take a leading role in the class, to an extent.

Q:How were you successful in college?

A: I'm very fortunate because I've always loved sports, and I've studied sports or followed sports my entire life. Especially in my doctoral degree, I was just taking history courses and sports-related courses, sports business-type courses. I loved that. I really like the subject matter that I teach, so I think that kind of helped me complete the graduate degrees.

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