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.
On Thursday, Spelman College — a historically black women's college in Atlanta with a far-from-big-time NCAA athletics program — announced 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.