The words “college” and “athletics” may seem to be inseparable, but for one school that’s about to change.
Spelman College will be ending its intercollegiate athletics department at the end of this school year and replacing it with more fitness options for all of its 2,100 students.
After the departure last year of three schools from the NCAA-affiliated Great South Conference, the small women’s college was confronted with the cost of joining a new conference—and of the entire athletics program.
The college had 80 athletes spread across seven sports, but the athletic budget was roughly $900,000 for the 2012-13 academic year—from an overall operating budget of roughly $100 million.
“I was startled,” Spelman’s president, Beverly Tatum, said. “It seemed like a lot of money for 80 students.”
Tatum and the board of trustees concluded that using the money to create a wellness program at this historically black college would be a way to combat the high rate of exercise- and nutrition-related ailments common among young black women, she told the Times.
According to its website, “Spelman is moving away from intercollegiate athletics to fitness/wellness/intramural programs, emphasizing those activities that career women are likely to maintain for a lifetime—tennis, golf, swimming, yoga, Pilates, running and walking, for example.”
While at first the announcement got a predictably chilly response, now even Spelman’s athletic director, Germaine McAuley, agrees that the decision “truly makes sense.” (She is also chair of the physical education department.)
At a time when college costs are soaring and NCAA affiliation can put schools at risk of damaging headlines, other small institutions may start doing the same math. Both Tatum and McAuley reported supportive remarks from their counterparts at similarly sized schools.
As for Spelman, there will be less “rah rah” and more Zumba.