(AP) Sports began on American college campuses as a way for students to blow off steam and be healthy. Over the last century and a half, athletics have transformed into something very different: a handful of elite athletes, showered with resources and coaching, competing against other schools while the rest of the student body cheers from the stands.
Spelman College — a historically Black women’s college in Atlanta with a far-from-big-time NCAA athletics program — announced recently how it plans to return to the old model. The school said it would use the nearly $1 million that had been dedicated to its intercollegiate sports program, serving just 4 percent of students, for a campus-wide health and fitness program benefiting all 2,100.
”When I was looking at the decision, it wasn’t being driven by the cost as much as the benefit. With $1 million, 80 student-athletes are benefiting,” said Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, Spelman’s president. ”Or should we invest in a wellness program that would touch every student’s life?”
Spelman’s decision won’t influence the Georgias and Ohio States of the world _ where sports have become inextricable from the identity of the university. But it could attract notice at a broader band of colleges struggling with budget cuts and agonizing over whether the cost of college athletics is compatible with their missions.
For Tatum, there is also an element of social responsibility. She said a campus analysis found that almost one out of every two students has high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes or is obese.
”I have been to funerals of young alums who were not taking care of themselves, and I believe we can change that pattern not only for them but for the broader community,” Tatum said.
The Division III school has been part of the Great South Athletic Conference in seven sports, including basketball, softball and tennis. Tatum said the school was sending a letter to the NCAA saying the school would be withdrawing from the conference and would no longer have an athletics program. Instead, the school plans to expand wellness programs and renovate fitness facilities.
”We are trying to meet students where they are in terms of their interest, but also helping them understand that the elements of wellness … are the kinds of things that are going to help them avoid the kinds of illnesses that are killing African-American