By: Kaitlyn Kacsuta, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter: @KRKacsuta)
During the fall of 2012, while many female athletes were celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX legislation, Spelman College announced that it would end all of its NCAA Division III sports programs, effective as of the 2013-14 school year. Administrators at the historically black women’s college have instead decided to re-allocate the $1 million intercollegiate sports budget to a health and wellness program for all students. While there are only 80 students participate in its Division III athletic program, this change is aimed at providing life-long assistance to Spelman students – where the school estimated that one out every two students suffers from high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes or obesity.
Spelman is currently a member of the Great South Athletic Conference, a women’s-only Division III conference. Not unlike other Division III programs, Spelman student-athletes are not scholarship athletes, nor are they recruited. Notably however, Spelman is the first college in years to end its NCAA intercollegiate athletics programs. While there are undoubtedly benefits to expanding the health and wellness programs available at colleges, do those benefits outweigh the costs of ending intercollegiate athletics at a school? After all, Title IX was created so that female student-athletes would have an opportunity to compete on an even playing field. Though Title IX will not be at issue in Spelman’s decision – because schools and university that have historically admitted only members of one sex are exempt from Title IX’s requirements, it is intriguing to consider how ending an athletic program for the benefit of an improved university-wide health and wellness program may impact female student- athletes.
The goal of Title IX is to establish an equal playing field and opportunities for women in education and sports. Spelman College claims that ending Division III competition will serve a similar purpose by providing greater opportunities for health and wellness to all students, rather than a few athletes. One of the driving factors behind Spelman’s decision is that its Division III sports teams occupy too many facilities and recourses during practice and games, limiting health and wellness program availability.
Though the hopes for Spelman are to assist its student body in leading a healthy lifestyle and improving the quality of life for black women, athletic competition serves the same purposes. Reportedly, the graduation rate for black female athletes is approximately 74%, while the overall graduation rate for all students is just 46%. It was estimated that during the 2010-11 school year, there were 191,131 female student-athletes that competed in NCAA Division I, II, and III programs. Additionally, according to the 2011-12 NCAA reports, nearly 37% of all female student-athletes in the NCAA compete at the Division III level.
Therefore, with Spelman putting an end to its Division III athletic programs at the close of the semester, it will cause a ripple effect from the athletic department, on campus, throughout the NCAA, and onto young black female athletes. Before Spelman gives up on black female athletes, they ought to give more effort to allowing both programs to continue and expand. It is for the betterment of schools and students that health and wellness programs coexist with intercollegiate athletics.