The softball bats and golf clubs have been stored away. All is quiet, too, at the basketball gymnasium, the volleyball courts and the soccer field.
Only the tennis team endures at Spelman College, and after the Great South Athletic Conference tournament the last weekend of April, it will also be done. Then Spelman, a historically black women’s college with alumnae who include former slaves and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, will become the second college in the last decade to leave the N.C.A.A.altogether, the other being the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn.
Officials at the college, whose 2,100 students make it the size of some high schools, decided last year to eliminate the athletic department. The college had 80 athletes spread across seven sports, but the athletic budget was roughly $900,000 for the 2012-13 academic year — from an overall operating budget of roughly $100 million.
“I was startled,” Spelman’s president, Beverly Tatum, said. “It seemed like a lot of money for 80 students.”
The highly unusual move by Spelman comes when few institutions seem to be able to resist the lure of intercollegiate sports, even as one scandal after another has tarnished the reputations of universities throughout the country.
The decision to shut down Spelman’s athletic program followed the announced intention of several colleges to leave the Great South, meaning the conference would have too few members to remain viable. For Spelman, joining another conference would have meant incurring higher travel costs, making improvements to the college’s athletic sites and fielding teams in additional sports.
While watching a basketball game in the Jaguars’ 62-year-old gymnasium, where a shorter-than-regulation court has necessitated a waiver from the N.C.A.A., Dr. Tatum began to wonder what the players would do for exercise after their eligibility expired.
Dr. Tatum had become alarmingly aware of data showing that young black women were prone to diabetes, heart disease and other ailments linked to poor diet and exercise. Observing candles being lighted on campus at 10-year reunions in memory of alumnae who had died was chilling and revealing.
A remedy seemed obvious: disband N.C.A.A.-level sports and reallocate the money devoted to them toward establishing a wellness program that could take advantage of the college’s gym, courts and fields.