Despite the gymnastics and level of training required to make a collegiate cheer squad a federal judge ruled that competitive cheerleading is not an official sport that colleges can use to satisfy the gender-equity requirements of Title IX. Therefore, Quinnipiac University of Connecticut cannot replace its women’s volleyball team with a competitive cheer squad.
The University, feeling budgetary pressure, sought to eliminate the women’s volleyball program in 2009. Several volleyball players and their coach pushed back and sued, arguing that elimination of the program would violate Title IX. The University countered with a proposal to add a competitive cheer program, arguing the squad would keep the school in line with requirements that men and women have equal opportunities in both education and athletics.
According to Judge Stefan Underhill competitive cheerleading remains too underdeveloped and disorganized to be considered akin to “genuine varsity athletic participation”. Under the rules and regulations of Title IX, an activity can be considered a sport only if it meets very specific criteria including having coaches, practices, competitions during a defined season and be part of an overall governing organization. The activity also must have competition as its primary goal and not simply support other athletic teams.
The order acknowledges that this could change, leaving the door open for the development of competitive cheerleading as a legitimate varsity sport. In fact, efforts have been underway for sometime to make competitive cheerleading a intercollegiate sport. Quinnipiac and seven other schools recently formed the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association to govern and develop the sport.
Implications Reach Beyond Just the Pom-Poms
Unfortunately though this is not just a case about trying to get recognition for an activity that many feel is athletic and competitive as nearly any other collegiate sport. Quinnipiac was accused of, and found liable for, underreporting male participation and opportunities in athletics and over-representing those for women. This cooking the books, in addition to the sustained and aggressive push to include cheerleading as an athletic opportunity for women in place of volleyball at least creates the appearance that the Athletic Department simply does not take Title IX seriously.
Even worse, it suggests that those in charge still harbor deeply ingrained prejudices against female athletes. As both a former competitive athlete and a former cheerleader I am not arguing against the inclusion of cheer squads as athletic teams. I just don’t want that inclusion does not come at the expense of other already established athletic programs.
photo courtesy of SD Dirk via Flickr