On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that Quinnipiac College in New Haven, Connecticut, could not count varsity cheerleading as a sport for the purposes of complying with Title IX, the 1972 federal law that expanded women's access to sports by mandating gender equity in education:
Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX. ...Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.
In 2009, Quinnipiac College in Connecticut decided to cut women's varsity volley ball but argued that elevating cheer to a varsity sport would take care of it's Title IX requirement. The judge disagreed, ruling that cheer as an organized sport was, in fact, too new and disorganized to qualify. As The New York Times reported,
The university created the new team by hiring the woman who formerly coached the traditional sideline cheerleading squad. She elevated 16 cheerleaders from the sideline team and recruited the rest from the student body. ... [The judge] noted that competitive cheer is not recognized by either the National Collegiate Athletic Association or the federal Department of Education, and intercollegiate teams lacked a playoff system.
This is precisely the kind of prejudice and short-cutting that Title IX is supposed to protect women from, making the ruling a victory for women. However, cheer does have the potential to be a competitive sport and the women who participate are athletes. So the question the judge answered -- is cheer a sport -- isn't the issue in the long run. The real question is, if cheer were a bona fide sport, can it replace women's teams in traditional sports, as Quinnipiac tried to do.
Cheerleading as a sport is hard to swallow because, historically, it represented women's exclusion from sports. When cheer becomes an accepted varsity sport, as it seems it one day will, it should not come at the cost of other women’s sports teams. If a cheer team replaces a volley ball team or a basketball team, then elevating cheerleading to a varsity sport will no longer be empowering; it will recreate the the divisions Title IX was meant to address. If cheerleading puts sexism in it’s past, it will do so by joining the ranks of traditional sports, not replacing them.
-- Pema Levy