Several Factors in Spelman Athletics Cuts

With changes in its NCAA conference and student-health issues, the reasons to ditch sports were clear.

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Spelman College's cross-country team huddles before a tournament. (Courtesy of Spelman Athletics)

(The Root) -- When Spelman College basketball player Amber Banks first learned that the school planned to drop its intercollegiate sports program after this school year, she admits that thoughts of transferring to another institution crossed her mind.

"I initially was hurt about it," the 19-year-old sophomore told The Root. "But I like where I am, so I don't think I'll be transferring now. A lot of girls are thinking about it."

Last week, the Atlanta-based, historically black women's college officially announced that it would end its competitive sports program to focus more on its wellness initiative. The move has been touted as bold and innovative by many higher education experts, but student athletes like Banks are wondering if the competitive sports program had to be a casualty.

Banks' frustration is understandable, but school administrators see a bigger risk at stake: the health and wellness of the entire student body. While finances were considered in Spelman's decision to eliminate the athletic program, the primary reason was the desire to free up funds to help students improve and maintain their overall fitness, says Spelman President Beverly Daniel Tatum.

"It's really about increasing the benefit. The money we were spending [on intercollegiate sports] was benefiting 80 students. The money we will spend in the future will benefit 2,100. Rather than increase the spending for a small number of people, we decided to reallocate those dollars," Tatum told The Root. Of the 80 student athletes, 20 or so of its athletes graduated last May, while another 20 will graduate in May 2013, when the athletic program will end.

"The number of disappointed students is those in the class of 2014 and 2015," Tatum said. "Those are about 40 students."

On the other hand, Spelman's wellness program draws more student participation. The wellness program is a free resource for students created more than three years ago, where students can meet privately with the wellness coordinator, set up a personal fitness program and take classes. "Yet the wellness program was suffering because there was limited space," she said. "You know you can't use the gym when the athletes are practicing, you can't use the weight room when the athletes are training."

To help solve that issue, along with ditching competitive sports, funds are being raised to renovate Read Hall, the campus gym that was built in the 1950s when the student population was around 500. Though still in the planning stages, the updated Read Hall would have an expand locker room, weight room and cardio room for exercise machines, and possibly an indoor track and 24-hour access, according to Tatum. The renovation will begin next year and is expected to be completed in 2014.

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"Think bigger and more space so those who choose to work out will have access to that," Tatum said. The hope is that the expanded wellness program will address some of the health problems that plague black women -- including some of Spelman's students. 

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