We have frequently discussed whether k-12 schools should maintain competitive sports programs, citing other countries where athletic teams are not fielded by schools but by community groups. The costs of school-based sports programs have become a factor now when every penny counts.
But we have not looked at college sports. The AJC reports that Spelman, a noted black women’s college in Atlanta, announced it would use the nearly $1 million that had been dedicated to its intercollegiate sports program, serving only 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 economics of college athletics vary widely from big-time programs to Division III schools where intercollegiate athletics are little more than another extracurricular activity. At most places, they lose money for the college and typically, schools say that’s fine. They argue there’s educational value in athletics, and they run all sorts of programs to benefit students that aren’t expected to pay for themselves, from jazz bands to the English department. It’s part of the college experience.
But athletics are a part of the experience for only the tiny percentage of students who participate directly. According to the NCAA, there are about 400,000 student-athletes nationwide, but there are 18.6 million undergraduates.
The median Division 1 athletic program, including those without football, is losing about $10 million annually, according to NCAA figures.
At programs like Spelman, the losses are less severe but expenses are rising rapidly. For Division III schools with football programs, expenses from athletics have nearly doubled since 2004 to $2.9 million for the median school. At schools without football, such as Spelman, costs have more than doubled to about $1.4 million annually.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog