The recent forum presenting the conclusions of the Special Committee on the Strategic Role of Athletics and Recreation at the University raised important questions about the future of athletics on campus. Created to address the role of intercollegiate and intramural athletics, the University’s membership in the Patriot League, the school’s Division I status and the granting of merit aid for athletes, the committee has brought to our attention the need to reaffirm the importance of athletics and its relation to academics at the University.
At the University, sports and athletics are important in most students’ lives. The University’s involvement in the Patriot League and Division I athletics provides student-athletes with the chance to excel in both academics and athletics, while also drawing sports fans and other spectators to campus. Athletics thus foster a sense of community, build the University’s reputation and constitute a source of revenue for the University. Many students who are not varsity athletes also live active lifestyles, participating in intramural and club sports, or frequenting the gym.
Still, fostering opportunities for sports and recreation is not the sole goal of the University. The stated mission of the University is to educate “men and women for a lifetime of critical thinking and strong leadership characterized by continued intellectual exploration, creativity and imagination,” according to the University’s website. Certainly athletics may enrich education, but when evaluating the reallocation of funds for athletic merit scholarships, we believe it is important to keep a focus on academics in mind.
Membership in the Patriot League is supposed to promote “opportunities for students to compete in Division I intercollegiate athletics programs within a context that holds paramount the high academic standards and integrity of member institutions, and the academic and personal growth of student-athletes,” according to the Patriot League website. If the University decides to allocate more money to provide merit aid for student-athletes, it runs the risk of becoming too sports-oriented. Merit aid scholarships could attract students who are gifted athletically, but who may not uphold the academic standards on which the University prides itself.
Of course qualified student-athletes should receive merit aid. Student-athletes enrich life at the University by providing diverse points of view in class, by contributing to the cultural atmosphere and by creating contests, events and causes around which the campus community can rally. Student-athletes are an integral part of the campus culture, and they should be rewarded for their talents. The model of superior academics and outstanding athletics is what differentiates the University from most other schools.
Currently the University policy is to spend $3 of merit aid on non-athletes for each $1 spent on merit aid for athletes. The policy as it stands seems fair for the time being. Student-athletes and non-athletes alike should receive merit aid, but as the University re-evaluates its policy in reaction to proposed changes in the Patriot League, it should ensure the student body stays representative of academic talent. We cannot and should not prioritize athletics over academics and arts at the University, no matter the financial or reputational incentives of doing so.
Moreover, if the University decides to spend more money on merit aid for varsity athletes, it should ensure that the decision does not divert resources away from non-athlete students. Non-athlete students still deserve to enjoy the benefits of clean athletic facilities, and policies that favor student-athletes over non-athletes should not be enacted.