Given the collegiate athletics scandals of late, many people may have lost sight of the positive role of sports in higher education. While I fully support the priority of academics, I feel it is important to acknowledge the complimentary role of athletics in helping to train healthy young adults who can flourish in our naturally-competitive society.
The Olympic spirit calls for giving one's best, striving for personal excellence, and bringing honor to the world. Quite frankly, students not only enjoy the sense of belonging created by athletic participation, but also they need the physical and mental outlet that athletics provide. They need the team-building, the strategic thinking skills, and the health benefits to be productive in the classroom. And yes, they get to set personal goals, receive recognition for hard work, and have fun.
Student-athletic participation in two of several national athletic associations are estimated at 400,000 (NCAA) and 60,000 (NAIA). According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 22, 2012), "Nearly 200,000 female athletes will suit up this year on 9,274 NCAA teams." The National Intramural-Recreation Sports Association (NIRSA) claims on its website that it serves "an estimated 5.5 million students who regularly participate in campus recreational sports programs."
On our small campus we offer fourteen men's, women's and coed sports, and year after year our business student-athletes perform at a high level academically; around 50% of them are on the Dean's list in any given semester. Better yet, athletic participants are givers in the community helping out with local and international hunger awareness and food drives, American Red Cross blood drives, Special Olympics competition supervision, disaster relief and preparedness programs, among other efforts.
The good side of athletics in higher education is that it helps develop exceptional leaders, team players, and citizens. Healthy competition is a motivator for excellence and represents the best outcome of the Olympic spirit.