The importance of sport means there's a need for proper training, says Andy Sharman

Enter Staffordshire University. This September, the institution, which has campuses at Stoke, Stafford and Lichfield, launched a new Masters degree in sports broadcast journalism, an addition to the existing Bachelors degree of the same name, to produce the Gary Linekers of the future.

"Media Studies is a soft target," concedes Mitch Pryce, overseer of the fledgling course. "But it's increasingly popular and, in particular, sports journalism has hit the roof. If there is the enthusiasm we're starting to see at Staffordshire, why shouldn't universities be providing that opportunity?" This demand led to a call from the Broadcast Journalism Training Council for graduates with sharper skills - and so begat what Pryce calls "a kind of finishing school".

Pryce, an award-winning TV producer, is joined at the helm by Lawrie Madden, former professional footballer and contributor to The Daily Telegraph, the News of the World, Sky Sports and GMTV. And the credentials of the tutors are matched by the facilities available to the students.

Last April, with the help of the former BBC director general Greg Dyke, Staffordshire University unveiled its cutting-edge newsroom, including an open-plan TV studio and gallery and suite of sound-proofed radio studios. All this provides ample opportunity for those taking the course to become acquainted with the equipment widely used in the industry. Students will also enjoy regular visits from professional news broadcasters, as both speakers and guest editors of the practice bulletins.

"We're marrying the practical with the theory," Madden says. "If you come up to Stoke, you'll see our technical equipment is second to none. We have training days when we run a live sports room. It's a credit to the university's investment. The amount of resources reflects how serious the university is about the course."

And all applicants must, in turn, reflect this commitment, Pryce says. "We would only put someone on the course if we felt that they were capable of reaching industry professional standards. You have to live and breathe sport. Sport is like a foreign language - it's my second language after English. Unless someone has that, I wouldn't even consider them. You have to be passionate about the course: it can't just be a passing whim."

Such sentiments would undoubtedly be echoed by Mike Ward, the head of journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, where sports journalism is taught as a Bachelors degree. Last month, Ward appeared on Radio 4's weekly media show The Message and presented a polished case for his trade.

"We felt that sports journalism had evolved into a field of study that embraces such a broad area," he said. "Sport [is] something that has worked its way into the psyche of the nation, the economic and social fabric - you've only got to see the reaction to the Ashes. If you're trying to interpret that, it requires a skill set and a range of knowledge that are distinctive."

Yet, however strong a case Ward puts forward, several further questions must be asked of the Staffordshire degree because it is, first, postgraduate study, and second, vocational. Is it a credible and necessary qualification? And will it yield concrete results in the job market?

Sean Taylor graduated from Staffordshire University in 2004 with a BA in journalism and has since gone on to be published by noted sports publications such as FourFourTwo, the official Manchester United magazine and the Union of European Football Associations (Uefa) website. He has now secured a job at the Press Association.

"It's not until you leave university and try to make your way in the world of journalism that you realise just how good the course is and just how much it has prepared you for the industry," Taylor says. "The skills you develop and learn are exactly what you will use when you get a job, and being a student on the course is actually like being a real journalist.

"I don't think it's necessary to be trained at Masters level to get a career in journalism. But, again, it just depends how hard you are willing to try and how hard you are willing to work and how much you want it.

"I wouldn't change what I have done, but if I'd had the option of doing an MA when I graduated last year, I would probably have done it," Taylor says.