Naming rights are commonplace in academia to the point where institutions of higher learning from the Maricopa Community Colleges to the University of Virginia publish criteria for their administration in their policy manuals. Such deals typically involve facilities, but most universities' policies make note both of facilities and of "academic entities" in their delineation of authority over naming rights, general guidelines, due diligence, duration and "changing circumstances" that could lead to a renaming, un-naming or addition of a second name.

The place you could go to learn about all the nuances of naming-rights deals? One of the 349 sport management programs at universities located all over the United States (the North American Society for Sport Management lists just 62 elsewhere in the world). And yet, amazingly, until Jan. 22 of this year not one of those 349 programs had ever sold their own naming rights. On Tuesday, Maryville University announced a deal with Rawlings Sporting Goods that created the Rawlings Sport Business Management Program, ushering in (perhaps) a new era.

Prior to the Rawlings deal, some of the largest and most influential sport management programs sold their naming rights, but to individuals rather than corporate entities. For example, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst's program, the nation's second oldest (it was founded in 1972), has been the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management since the family of the late founder of IMG International, the world's largest sport management firm, donated his entire archival collection to the university. Sports agent David Falk's $5 million donation to Syracuse University in 2008 launched the David B. Falk Center for Sport Management, which is now housed (after an additional $15 million pledge by Falk and his wife in 2011) under the umbrella of the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics - formerly the College of Human Ecology. (Falk and his wife are graduates of Syracuse, whereas McCormack did not attend UMass.)

As part of the Rawlings deal, the St. Louis, Mo.-based sporting goods firm will supply uniforms, apparel and equipment to Maryville's athletics programs, provide scholarships, a graduate assistantship, internships and volunteer opportunities for Maryville students, and use interns and volunteers to conduct market research and to staff special events. Identified Rawlings employees will have opportunities to pursue an MBA at Maryville using tuition discounts, and Rawlings employees will have access to Maryville's fitness center. Students will work with Rawlings executives on a variety of projects, and that access will "enhance student learning through real-world projects that Maryville will integrate into its curriculum," according to a university press release.

Whether the deal represents the start of something big - whether there is enough corporate money and interest out there to rename the sport management programs at institutions as far-flung as Northcentral and East Stroudsburg universities - remains to be seen. As with Rawlings and Maryville, the experience of secondary schools that have been more active in selling their academic programs' naming rights suggests that the interest will largely come from corporations, like Rawlings, that boast local ties to the schools.

Beginning four years ago, for example, Metropolitan Nashville (Tenn.) Public Schools restructured its high schools into what are called "career academies," working with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to steer students toward high-demand career tracks like information technology. Soon after the effort began, the district offered naming rights to its academic programs and one, Antioch High School, immediately sold the rights to its academy of business and finance to the Tennessee Credit Union for $150,000 over two years. The district inked its fifth naming sponsor last June, when Country Music Television Inc. agreed to provide $100,000 worth of in-kind contributions in the 2012-13 school year (and $50,000 worth of contributions afterward) to the academy of digital design and communication at McGavock High School.

Associate superintendent Jay Steele characterized the district's naming-rights policies at the time in The Tennessean of Nashville as "tight guidelines that would align a targeted industry with a theme." Jason Williams, assistant dean of Maryville's Simon School of Business, the director of the Rawlings Sport Business Management Program and the initiator of the agreement, is clearly on the same page. "We know students and parents value a program that teaches practical industry skills," he said Tuesday. "Our agreement with Rawlings will give our sport business management graduates those practical skills, setting them apart in a highly competitive industry."