Judge says competitive cheerleading not an official collegiate sport
HARTFORD, Conn. — Competitive cheerleading is not an official sport that colleges can use to meet gender-equity requirements, a federal judge ruled Wednesday in ordering a Connecticut school to keep its women’s volleyball team.
Several volleyball players and their coach had sued Quinnipiac University after it announced in March 2009 that it would eliminate the team for budgetary reasons and replace it with a competitive cheer squad.
The school contended the cheer squad and other moves kept it in compliance with Title IX, the 1972 federal law that mandates equal op- portunities for men and women in athletics. But U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill disagreed in a ruling that those involved say was the first time the issue has been decided by a judge.
“Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX,” Underhill wrote. “Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”
Quinnipiac has 60 days to come up with a plan to keep the volleyball team through next season and comply with gender rules.
School officials responded to the ruling by saying they would start a women’s rugby team, but they refused to answer any questions, discuss the future of other athletic teams or say whether they would continue offering scholarships to competitive cheerleaders.
An activity can be considered a sport under Title IX if it meets specific criteria. It must have coaches, practices, competitions during a defined season and a governing organization. The activity also must have competition as its primary goal — not merely the support of other athletic teams.
Quinnipiac and seven other schools recently formed a governing body, the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association, to govern and develop competitive cheer as a col- lege sport.
Previously, competitive cheerleading championships were put on by two private organizations with ties to Varsity Brands Inc., which makes cheerleading apparel and runs camps.
Bill Seely, the executive director of USA Cheer, a national governing body for both sideline and competitive cheerleading, said he believes the ruling represents only a minor setback for the efforts to make cheer an intercollegiate sport.
“It’s an opportunity to look at what hasn’t worked and find what will work so we are creating more opportunities for young women and not affecting other female sports,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to tweak some things.”