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Court hears cheerleading case: Sport or not?

Jenna Johnson

A Connecticut federal court judge is learning a lot about college cheerleading this week.

Is it a sport? How about a varsity sport? How does Title IX apply?

Quinnipiac University cut its women's volleyball team so it could have a competitive cheer squad, which the university says is a less expensive program that serves more women, the New Haven Register reported.

Five volleyball players and their coach sued the university, alleging that cheerleading is not a real sport and the university improperly counts or exaggerates its number of athletes to get around Title IX requirements. The university has also dropped men's golf, and men's outdoor and indoor track, according to the Register.

(It is unclear if either side at any point used the phrase, "Bring it on.")

Title IX, which celebrates its 38th birthday today, is a federal law that mandates equal opportunity for women in athletics. Many universities are carefully watching this case, as the inclusion of cheerleaders in athlete counts could make it easier for programs to have the same number of women and men playing sports.

Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Girls and Women in Sports at the University of Minnesota, told ABC News that "the outcome of this case could have a chilling effect on women's athletics programs if cheerleading is deemed a sport."

"No one wants to denigrate cheerleading, but should it be considered sport at the expense of legitimate women's competitive team sports? It's a question of equality," Kane said. "How would people react if the school cut a men's sport like baseball or lacrosse and used those funds for a male cheerleading squad?"

The trial began Monday. Expert witness Jeff Webb, chief executive of Varsity Spirit, testified that making cheerleading a competitive college sport would threaten "classical sideline cheerleading," according to the Associated Press. He added that cheerleading is as much of a sport as chess.

And a little bit about Quinnipiac University: It's about 90 minutes outside of New York City in Hamden, Conn., right next to Sleeping Giant Mountain. The private university has 5,700 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students. It's best known for its polling institute.

What do you think? Should cheerleading be added to the list of college sports?

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By Jenna Johnson  |  June 23, 2010; 11:12 AM ET
Categories:  News Overload  | Tags: Cheerleading, Title IX  
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Was it really necessary to insert a cheerleading-denigrating joke into this otherwise serious article? This trial could have a big effect on women's access to sports and really has nothing to do with silly movies geared toward teens. The popularity of cheerleading has skyrocketed in recent years, and, contrary to what the CEO of the biggest cheerleading company in the world was quoted as saying in this article, it is not like chess. It requires athletic activity. Questions about how it should be regulated are really important to kids' safety.

Posted by: CheerCincy | June 23, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

The last time I taught my course on sports in America we examined the question of whether cheerleading (among many other pursuits) is a sport or an activity. We started by defining several criteria for sport. Cheerleading, like some other activities commonly recognized as sports, meets some of those criteria, but not all. Is that enough? This case promises to answer that question, and may establish some standard criteria to separate sports from activities.

It doesn't do a disservice to cheerleading (or chess, or drama, or modern dance, or anything else) to call it an activity. Schools and colleges should, and do, spend money on activities that teach people about fitness and character. Ice hockey, for example, is a club sport at my college, but it is a varsity sport at Quinnipiac. I'd guess that both teams teach lessons about fitness and character, and scholarships don't change that. (Or shouldn't, anyway.) What it does change is whether colleges can give a scholarship for it and whether they can submit themselves to the oversight of the NCAA.

Should be interesting.

Posted by: drrico | June 25, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

The ignorance that surrounds competitive cheer is unfortunate, there is a monumental difference in the skill level necessary to perform at competitive cheer competitions vs. sideline cheering. All Star/Competitive cheer is a spinoff of sideline cheering. I have 2 girls who are passionate about competitive cheer, they have chosen it as "their sport". I encourage them to continue with their passion knowing that they will have an opportunity to continue through college. I have no doubt that the networks are just beginning to realize the fan base they can attract with coverage of College and even High School Competitive cheer. I encourage anyone who scoffs at competitive cheer to take a look at the gymnastic ability of these participants prior to making a rash judgement.

Posted by: marycosmogirl | June 28, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

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