Should Colleges Eliminate All Athletics?

With 2,100 students, Spelman College is a small school. But the historically black college in Atlanta has made a decision that is making it stand out in a big and bold way.Last year, Spelman’s board of trustees approved a plan to eliminate its athletic department and use both the funds and the facilities for a fitness and wellness program.

Spelman College Scraps Its Sports Programs

When Beverly Tatum, the college’s president, made the announcement to athletes, coaches and administrators, the result was a “rough day” and gasps of incredulity, a sign of how deeply sports are intertwined not only in student athletes’ lives, but in a school’s identity. The scandal surrounding the conviction of former coach Jerry Sandusky for sexually abusing children tarnished not only Penn State University’s vaunted football program, but has had ramifications for the university as a whole.

Spelman was not nationally known for its athletes, but these occupied “an integral, if muted, role at Spelman since its establishment 132 years ago in a church basement,” says the New York Times. Softball, basketball, volleyball and soccer teams are no more and their facilities — fields and courts — are quiet. Only the tennis team is left; it is scheduled to compete in the Great South Athletic Conference tournament at the end of April and will then be disbanded.

Finances were a reason: Spelman had about 80 athletes and the athletics department received about $900,000 in funding, out of a budget of about $100 million. The configuration of the athletic conference Spelman belonged to, the Great South, was changed after a number of other schools left to join other conferences. For Spelman to do so would have meant devoting more resources to its athletics programs, to pay for higher travel costs, improvements to its athletic sites and adding teams in additional sports.

Aware of data linking poor diet and no exercise to heart disease and other medical problems in young black women, Tatum has emphasized that the main factor to eliminate sports teams was a desire to teach students about fitness and health, and cultivate these for their lifetimes. She was also motivated on seeing candles “being lighted on campus at 10-year reunions in memory of alumnae who had died.”

No one less than Germaine McAuley, Spelman’s athletic director and the chairwoman of the physical education department, said she thought the decision “truly makes sense.” Student athletes had far more mixed feelings, noting that they felt “kind of devastating and sad.” Provided other students actually take advantage of the increased options for activities (zumba, kickboxing and a five-kilometer walk on the campus), students seem to be assenting that, while disappointing, the decision is sound.

Along with the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn, Spelman is only the second college to decide to leave the NCAA in the past ten years. A community college, Texarkana College, decided to eliminate athletic programs last year, saving more than $170,000 as a result.

College Athletics: Pros and Cons

While only a percentage of students are athletes, college and university athletics programs do often have a good chunk of a school’s budget allocated to them. You could argue that the disproportionate funding per student evens out, as sports programs are thought to attract prospective students and alumni dollars and (should a school’s teams perform well), the chance for national recognition at events such as the NCAA basketball tournament.

Sports are also simply a reason that some students attend college at all, thanks to scholarships — though, based on the student athletes I’ve taught, there can be quite a trade-off. Being on a sports team can be like working at a full-time job while being a full-time student. Athletes of course have to attend regular practices and compete, often at far-off venues, all while (often) maintaining a certain GPA. Fearful of losing a scholarship, students often cannot but go along with whatever a coach requires. There are benefits, though: the athletes at the small university I teach at receive far more academic advising and tutoring than most students and quite a few do graduate.

Along with the criminal conviction of Sandusky, college and university athletic programs have not been stranger to scandals. Just a few weeks ago, Mike Rice, the basketball coach af New Jersey’s state university, Rutgers, was fired after videos revealed that he had called his players gay slurs and physically abused them by throwing basketballs at them. Reports about student athletes taking “gut” courses and even having others do their academic work for them have not been uncommon.

College sports programs were created with the idea of nurturing both the minds and bodies of students, with the goal of making them well-rounded individuals. Given the routine reports about rates of diabetes, obesity and other health problems in Americans, should other colleges and universities say good-bye to athletics programs to foster life-long wellness in all their students?

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JOSE Honr4 years ago

Scrap athletics is college.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago


Tammy Baxter
Tammy B4 years ago

while athletics is definitely a good thing to have in any school, the priority should always be the academics

Karen H.
Karen H4 years ago

Athletes need to get more than just “book learning”. When I was in college, I saw a distinct line drawn between “the jocks” and “the rest”. Professors treated athletes differently. They were allowed to skip class, and in many cases grades were “adjusted” to keep a prized athlete from flunking out. Yes, there were athletes who weren’t “dumb jocks”, which was nice, but quite a few thought they were better than “the rest” and deserved more perks because their efforts brought money to the school.
Any class distinctions that place one group above another are wrong. All students should be treated with the same respect and courtesy. And all should receive the same praise or punishment as it is deserved. No favoritism. If there is, it hurts the entire college/university. Who wants to go to a school that is trying to cover up a scandal?

Matt Straw
Matt Straw4 years ago

"Use the funds" elsewhere? What funds? Football alone brings millions into each major university from fans, TV contracts, endorsements, t-shirts, mugs, banners, hats, etc. Enough to fund all womens sports in those schools. Decidedly, big college sports are out of hand, and education should come first. But how can you write an article on this subject without discussing the massive income being made by universities from football and basketball? If NYCCT actually made money by dropping athletics, they must have been in the cellar of every major sport. One of the great controversies today among sports nuts is: Should universities be paying athletes to play? I think not, but the real question isn't even raised, here: If universities are making that much money from sports, how can it best be used to better our communities and our nation?

Dianne McGonigle
Dianne McGonigle4 years ago

athletics should be secondary to academics

Mary L.
Mary L4 years ago

It's academics not football/basketball etc minor leagues. Good for Spellman!

Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago

sometimes people gain scholarships through sports so I'm unsure it should be banned but I think education should come first and people should stop worshipping these college/professional athletes.

Beth M.
Beth M4 years ago

Believe that athletics is a good thing, but you need the coaches and college decision makers to understand that athletics is secondary to academics. And colleges need to make sure that athletes are not treated any differently than anyone else on campus. Break the rules, you are no longer an athlete.

Helen K.
Helen K4 years ago

Absolutely, education is the number one reason for a student to go to university. When athletic prowess is SO important you end up with stupid people occupying precious places that serious, more studious and very intelligent young people could be enjoying. When my daughter was at high school she took an AP class at Stanford and sat next to one of these big dummies. She helped him get through a chemistry class. She used to come home laughing her head off saying that it was like baby sitting a gorilla! And he had a place at Stanford just because he was a good football player. Disgusting.