Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

CON Varsity athletics’ benefits transcend physical gains

What would life be like without intercollegiate athletics?

No training room, no stadiums, free afternoons and a dramatic decrease in the number of red water bottles: it would undoubtedly be different; but different doesn’t have to mean worse.

It’s not to say college athletics are bad: the homepage on my old computer was ESPN’s college basketball site and there’s nothing like spending a warm September afternoon heckling Whitworth’s number 24 for his weak mental game.   But in an age where only 37 percent of college-age Americans (18-24) can identify Iraq on a map, perhaps it’s time the highlights from the UNC-Duke showdown got less air time than the 1.7 million people infected with HIV last year.

We all chose to come to a school where the varsity athletes’ shirts read “strong in body, stronger in mind, strongest in competition”; if we’d wanted to drop acid while reading Kierkegaard we would have gone to athletics-free Reed, and if we’d wanted to eat hotdogs and paint our bodies orange we would have gone to Florida with their $70 million athletics budget.

But maybe we can try something different without falling prey to the other extremes.

For so long we have clung to the idea that sports are necessary for a good college experience, that sports will make us smarter and happier and more balanced, that college isn’t college without sports.   As an academic institution that, according to the college mission statement, encourages students to “develop capacities to analyze, interpret, criticize, communicate and engage,” don’t we owe it to ourselves to objectively analyze not only the works of Kant but the way we spend our money, where our true priorities lie and what we can do to improve the overall college experience?

Schools like the University of Washington have $50 million annual budgets for athletics (and what was their football team’s record last year?) for only 660 varsity athletes.   That’s $75,757.58 per athlete.   While Whitman’s spending per athlete is assumedly quite less, we just completed the $10 million Baker-Ferguson and are set to embark on a $15 million renovation of Sherwood in just a few weeks: and those are just the facilities.   The athletic department declined to release Whitman’s annual budget for varsity athletics, however, athletic director Dean Snider noted that “the college does support athletics at a significant dollar output.”

Obviously, if you have athletic programs, you want to support them, but what if we removed them all together?

If the $25 million spent on athletic facilities went to financial aid, it would almost triple the amount of money Whitman gives out.   That $25 million would cover over 585 students’ tuition, books, room and board for a year.   It would be enough money to add 12 new permanent faculty positions, save 5,802 acres of rainforest or buy over 3.6 million Fire and Spice meals.

Money that goes toward the annual athletics budget could bring more natural light into Olin and Maxey, fund student and faculty research, increase outreach in the local community and dramatically increase the budgets for clubs and events.

But it’s not just about the money.   Eliminating varsity athletics would also be a highly symbolic act.

Without athletics, the college sends the message that it’s serious about academics: which is, after all, what we’re here for.   As a liberal arts college, Whitman is obviously committed to the overall health of their students: in mind, body and spirit.   But a lack of intercollegiate athletics doesn’t mean the school is denying students a chance at a complete college experience.

Back when most academic institutions were founded, varsity athletics were generally the sole form of athletic recreation.

Today, the opportunities for exercise and athletic exertion are more varied, more numerous and more accessible than ever before.   If you don’t want to play varsity soccer or baseball, you can still be on the club ultimate Frisbee or lacrosse teams.   And if team sports have never been your thing, you can kayak or climb or do yoga or swing dance or cycle or ski; not to mention there are always intramurals.

Also, to cut varsity athletics doesn’t mean we’re going to turn into a campus of couch potatoes that holds physical vitality in low regard.   The opportunities for recreation only increase as funds are reallocated to other programs (including club and intramural sports).   Not to mention, studies have shown that college graduates are less likely to suffer from obesity than those with less formal education.

Eliminating varsity athletics is more than eliminating red water bottles, it may very well enhance the overall excellence of our college experience.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • M

    MicahMar 14, 2008 at 12:02 am

    “Without athletics, the college sends the message that it’s serious about academics—which is, after all, what we’re here for.”

    Academics is one of many reasons individuals go to Whitman. Not the only reason.

    If you use your argument, then you also have to eliminate debate, campus climate change, fencing club, and all that stuff.

    But yeah, you do make a lot of good points.

    The other Otto must of won the coin flip about which side of the argument to write about.