Spelman: Why Drop NCAA Athletics?

The occasional Facebook post and comment on articles about Spelman’s decision raise the question: Why not get rid of all NCAA athletics that don’t generate appreciable funds for the university? However, for multiple reasons, a strategy that will work well for a school like Spelman won’t necessarily work for a school like UCSD. For one, there’s the issue of school size and athletic visibility. Spelman, with its 2,100 undergraduates, only has 80 student athletes. A cut to the athletics program, which wasn’t a high-performing one in the first place, wouldn’t affect many students and wouldn’t disappoint that many alumni.

The student athletes are understandably disappointed, as NPR’s Kathy Lohr states in her article, “To Trim Down, Spelman Trades Sports for Fitness.” But given the lowered enrollment levels and subsequent money problems that many historically black colleges and universities are struggling with, it makes sense to cut programs that use up resources without helping a large number of students.

The same is not true for UCSD. With its hundreds of student athletes in its high-performing Division-II program, cutting out the sports teams would affect many more students and alumni, who have most recently shown their support for and continued involvement in UCSD athletics through funding a new video scoreboard in Triton Stadium.

The yearly excitement and attendance at Spirit Night also shows the visibility and support the athletics program enjoys at UCSD. Although the support could be stronger, cutting out the sports program would have an effect on not only student athletes, but also students and alumni outside the athletics program.

There’s also the issue of demographics and how they play into campus goals. Spelman, which is a women’s college that caters specifically to women of African descent, has responsibilities to the community from which it gets its students. That community has certain needs that can be better addressed through a campuswide fitness program than a competitive athletics program.

According to Lohr’s article, four out of five women of African descent are overweight or obese, and black women are twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.

Geography also comes into play here — by 2030, more than 50 percent of all Georgia residents are projected to be obese, according to Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan.

Because Spelman serves a community whose health would be improved by more fitness, it’s completely understandable that the administration would want to address those issues directly.

UCSD, on the other hand, serves a community that is entrenched in a culture in which fitness already plays a significant role. The multitude of fitness-related clubs and organizations — like SD Board Club, Strides Running Club and Dancesport — show the importance of physical activity in campus culture.

We have one of the best dance programs in the nation, surf trips are a daily occurrence, and there are constant pick-up basketball games on campus courts (if the sound of dribbling at 3 a.m. coming from the Revelle College basketball courts is any indicator).

If a UCSD student wants to get involved in something physical, it’s exceedingly easy to find an intramural team, a rec class or just a group of friends to get involved with and get active.

Because fitness is a part of campus culture at UCSD, non-athletes have plenty of opportunities to get involved in fitness here — but this was not the case at Spelman. I think that Spelman’s administration made the right decision in replacing its NCAA program with a fitness program. But that doesn’t mean that it’s necessary here at UCSD.