Athletics under the microscope at Amherst

Amherst is in the process of reassessing the place of athletics at the college, with top concerns including:

–the relative lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity among athletes (73% of male athletes are white while only 35% of non-athletes are white; only 6% of male athletes are low income while 31% of non-athletes are)
–creeping roster size (primarily a lacrosse and track issue)
–the social divide between athletes and non-athletes (reflected in the tendency of athletes to congregate in particular dorms and to dominate the party scene and exacerbated by the size of the athletes’ cohort at Amherst (35-38% of the student body))
–the tendency of athletes to concentrate in certain academic disciplines (economics, political science, and history) and to avoid some disciplines (like the sciences) and to exhibit other academic shortcomings (favoring large over small classes and writing senior theses at a much lower rate than non-athletes)
–a concern about the growth in the length of the season and number of games due to a substantial increase in post-season play
–a concern about concussions (the report cites 4 and 6 concussions for members of the men’s hockey teams in 2013 and 2014 and suggests that 3 concussions should result in the end of an athlete’s Amherst playing career)

On the positive side for athletes, the report noted that athletes have higher graduation rates than non-athletes and, likely most important from the administration’s perspective, are more likely to be donors to Amherst (for example, in 2015 76% of 1960s’ graduates who were athletes contributed versus 56% of non-athletes) and to make large contributions (a whopping 78% of the members of Amherst’s Founders Society (those whose cumulative gifts total $1 million or more) are former athletes). The documentation of athletes’ much-stronger-than-average financial commitment to Amherst over the long term is not surprising but is an eye opener in explaining just how important this ongoing commitment is to an institution like Amherst and likely many other NESCAC schools.

It is unclear what, if anything, this study and the ongoing assessment/review will mean for the place of athletics at Amherst. Williams’ undertook a similar study several years ago  with long-term negative consequences for several of the men’s “team” sports (most notably football) but with no apparent impact on men’s hockey or any of the many “individual” sports in which Williams excels (swimming, track, tennis, etc). More committees are to be involved in the review process at Amherst and many of the existing recommendations are on the soft side. Its impact on the hockey program is even harder to discern. The hockey team does not suffer from creeping roster size (quite the opposite, in fact, as the Amherst roster is more often than not one of the leanest in the NESCAC) but does suffer from the lack of racial diversity (as do all NESCAC and other college hockey teams) and is one of the teams that tends to have  longer seasons due to Amherst’s frequent post-season success. Finally, there has been considerable concern about the place of athletics at Amherst in recent months due to the recent exposure of bad behavior (of the sexist and misogynist sort) on the part of some members of the men’s cross-country team.

Here is a link to Amherst President Biddy Martin’s statement on the study, which includes a link to the study but also says that the study will only be available online for a limited (and unspecified) time period. Due to the fact that the report may soon not be accessible to the public via the Amherst website, here is another link to the study, which is entitled The Place of Athletics at Amherst College.

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