Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Judge's ruling on cheerleading raises key issues


Is cheerleading a sport?

According to a federal judge, the answer is no for Title IX purposes. Quinnipiac University tried to argue that it could swap its women’s volleyball team for a competitive cheerleading squad.


Mary Jo Kane, who is the director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, smartly explained the situation to ABCNews.com: “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?”

Quinnipiac tried to save tens of thousands of dollars by replacing women’s volleyball with cheerleading, ABCNews.com reported. Interestingly, more people would be able to participate on a cheerleading squad than on a volleyball team.

Let’s examine this further. If Quinnipiac’s argument is that more people can participate in cheerleading for a lower cost, then every sport the university offers should be held to the same standard, i.e., are we having the most people play for the lowest price?

And many colleges should be thinking about overhauling their sports programs. An NCAA report said that only 22 athletic departments in 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools turned a profitin 2010.

If programs want to fix their athletic ledgers, changes must come from both male and female sports, equally.

I would be negligent if I did not speak in support of cheerleading, as well. The athletic merits of cheerleading go unquestioned. Watching some of the competitions on ESPN, it is clear that these young people are athletes.

With that in mind, I have to take an issue with this Kane comment to ABCNews.com: “No one wants to denigrate cheerleading, but should it be considered sport at the expense of legitimate women’s competitive team sports?”

I asked a friend who did cheerleading in high school about this and she took an issue with that statement, in particular the use of the word “legitimate.” She explained to me her team trained at five every morning, “just like swimmers do.” The workouts included weightlifting and mandatory gymnastics. Team members had to attend training camps in the summer, too.

She did tell me that while there are national and international competitions, there are inconsistencies in the evaluation of cheerleading programs – comments that support the judge’s ruling.

But I posit this: Gymnastics, boxing and figure skating routinely have scoring controversies.

This post is not taking a position on cheerleading’s merit as a sport. It is saying that a discussion needs to be had on deciding a definition for sports before we can say what is and more importantly what is not a sport.

-- Steve Bien-Aime

1 comment:

Sean Flynn said...

To further explore the "what is a sport and what isn't?" question (while I should be working)...

The US District Court of Connecticut (whose decision the 2nd Circuit affirmed in its entirety) drew its preliminary definition of "sport" from documents published by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). According to the ruling, OCR recognizes a college's activity as a sport by one of two tests:

1) If the school is a member of a "recognized intercollegiate athletic organization" (NCAA, NJCAA, NCCAA, et al.), and the activity in question is subject to that organization's requirements, OCR will presume the activity is a sport.

2) If that presumption does not apply, OCR determines whether the activity qualifies as a sport by several factors relating to "program structure and administration" and "team preparation and competition."

The district court examined the "structure, administration, team preparation, and competition" of Quinnipiac's competitive cheerleading program. The court found that the program enjoyed the budget, benefits, services, etc. of a varsity sport, with a couple "minor" exceptions: The cheerleaders don't get their own locker space, and the NCAA wouldn't provide catastrophic injury insurance (because the NCAA doesn't recognize cheerleading as a sport).

However, according to the district court (whose findings the 2nd Circuit affirmed), several major factors prevented Quinnipiac's cheerleading program from being recognized as a varsity sport (which sheds some light on what OCR considers a sport).

* The cheerleading program was not allowed to conduct any off-campus recruiting (unlike a "typical NCAA Division I sports program").

* Competitive cheerleading lacks a coherent set of rules. In the 10 competitions in which the Quinnipiac team competed, they were judged by five different scoring systems.

* Quinnipiac did not face other varsity cheerleading teams; instead, their competition comprised club teams, sideline teams, and teams wholly unaffiliated with academic institutions.

* Post-season play was highly irregular, including a completely new segment of competition that didn't exist in 'regular season' competition (which, among other things, gave points to a team for the number of the sponsoring brand's props it used).

OCR is having this discussion. What have we got to say about it?