Is Cheerleading a Sport?
Learn why a federal judge ruled that cheerleading is not a sport and why it matters in the first place.
Today’s topic: Rah, Rah, Federal Law! Is cheerleading a sport? Learn what federal law has to say about cheerleading and why it matters to schools across the country.
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Is Cheerleading a Sport?
A federal judge recently held that competitive cheerleading at the university level does not count as a “sport.” Why does that matter? The quick and dirty answer is that the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX requires schools and universities to achieve roughly equal participation for men and women in “sports.” This decision will change how some colleges comply with that law.
What Is Title IX?
Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972 is designed to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sex. The statute says that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Title IX’s mandate applies to a wide range of programs at high schools and colleges including such things as admissions, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, student treatment and services, counseling and guidance, discipline, classroom assignment, grading, and vocational education.
Title IX and School Sports
But the aspect of the Title IX that seems to get the most attention is its application to sports. In regulations over the years, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (or OCR) has made it clear that Title IX requires “equal opportunities” for male and female participation in school athletics.
The OCR will look at a variety of factors to determine whether a school or university has provided equal opportunities in athletics. One of the factors is whether the level of participation in athletics among men and women is “substantially proportionate” to their respective levels of enrollment. And for these purposes, “athletics” means “varsity sports.” It doesn’t help a school to show that the female students have access to workout facilities.
So the bottom line is that if half of the student body is female, then the Department of Education expects roughly half of the varsity athletes to be female. There are other factors, of course, and there are ways for a school to account for any disparity in sports participation, but still, schools now aim to achieve varsity sports programs that mirror the student population.
Why Is Title IX Controversial?
That sounds like a great thing, but in practice there are some controversial aspects of the law. Critics charge that the regulations have turned Title IX from a law that requires equality of opportunity to one that requires equality of results. In addition, nothing in the law requires schools or universities to have a particular number or size of sports teams. That has lead to some interesting results. To achieve equal levels of sports participation, some schools and universities have simply cut the number or size of sports programs for men--thus decreasing opportunities for males without doing anything for females.
Other institutions, such as Quinnipiac University in Connecticut created competitive cheerleading squads and elevated cheerleading to the level of a varsity sport. However, due to the expense of creating the cheerleading team, the university had to cut its women’s volleyball team. It was this decision that sparked the federal lawsuit that has led to the first ever judicial ruling on whether cheerleading is a sport.
Why Is Cheerleading Not a Sport?
As I already mentioned, the judge said that competitive cheerleading is not a sport. The judge relied on OCR regulations that spell out the characteristics of a “sport.” These include:
The existence of a governing body, such as an intercollegiate conference
The judge conceded that competitive cheerleading did possess some of these qualities. Indeed, Quinnipiac and seven other schools had recently formed a governing body called the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association. But ultimately the judge decided that competitive cheerleading is “still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”
Why Cheerleading Being Ruled Not a Sport Matters
But the judge held out hope that competitive cheer may, some day in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX. The irony here is that the judge’s ruling has removed much of the incentive for schools and universities to nurture this sport, since, at least for now, it won’t help them to meet their Title IX quotas.
Okay, you can probably tell that I’m a little skeptical of the judge’s reasoning in this case. Let me know what you think – you can post a comment to the Quick and Dirty Tips website or to Legal Lad’s Facebook page. Bring it on!
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