Georgia college to cut NCAA budget, put funds into anti-obesity programs

College sports tend to dominate the airwaves this time of year. Football teams face off in championship bowl games, and college basketball teams take to the courts to start their run to the Final Four. But one college in Atlanta has decided to completely cut their NCAA competitive sports budget. Instead, officials will use the money to improve the health and wellness of the entire student body.

Spelman College, a historic college for black women, is taking a long, hard look at their NCAA funds. The school’s million-dollar sports budget -- typically used for uniforms, travel and referees -- will now be diverted to pay for a state-of-the-art gym and campus-wide wellness programs intended to help all students on campus. This is the last year Spelman students will be able to participate in NCAA Division III sports.

“I understand this change is disappointing to those students who have been very involved in intercollegiate athletics,” said Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, the president of Spelman College. “We can use those dollars to bring in more instructors -- to focus on wellness in a way that will allow all 2,100 students to really participate.”

College officials envision a yoga room, a spin room, an indoor track and new equipment that would rival any commercial gym. It is as much about a healthy weight as it is a healthy mind and life.

“Our students – most of whom are African-American women -- are twice as likely to become diabetic. They are more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke in their lifetimes. Largely because of the high levels of obesity and overweight within the African-American community,” Tatum said. “This generation of young people is not likely to live as long as its parent generation because of poor diet and lack of exercise. I have been to the funerals of young alumnae – one of the things I say to our students is, we are investing a lot in you.”

Tatum is seeing a lot of support in the academic community. Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice is the dean of Morehouse School of Medicine and she supports the program, especially for women.

“This 18- to 21-year-old group of women -- their body, their image, how they perceive themselves as a person -- their confidence, their ability to articulate and share what their thoughts are, is really important,” Rice said. “So, what we want people to understand is how you look, and how you perceive you look is important. But what is most important is how you feel about yourself. I’m not ever interested in someone being a size 6 or a size 2 – what I’m interested in is someone having the energy and the confidence to change the world.”

Athletes such as sophomore Amber Banks will miss competing at the Division III level – but she understands and supports the decision of her school. For students who want to keep their competitive edge, the college will still offer intramural sports.

“Athletics builds character and it really builds discipline in whatever you do in life, she said. “It will help you to become more confident, you learn leadership – you learn how to speak in front of people. You learn how to work with others and it’s important to learn those things.”