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Commentary: The Quinnipiac Case: Volleyball, Cheerleading, and Title IX

by David F.P.

As I am not a legal or Title IX expert my comments will be less about that but more just a general commentary on the case. I would also recommend visiting the excellent Connecticut Sports Law Blog for more on this case as it is an excellent resource. But first I feel the need to point out that what is being missed in the basic presentation of this story by many media outlets, is what competitive cheerleading actually is.

“Cheerleading” in general is compromised of multiple elements. The first would be the actual cheer-leading where the girls and guys try to get the crowd cheering with them. The second is the more theatrical elements, waving pom-poms, and dancing in tune. Many schools don’t even call that cheerleading, they call it spirit squads, or pom line, or whatever they want. Now, a third element is stunting where the cheer teams do the various maneuvers, being held in a scale, or flipping in the air, or standing in some sort of formation, and a fourth element similar is the tumbling passes often done.

Not all cheerleaders do the third and fourth parts, not all cheer teams do the third and fourth parts. In the general public view, cheerleaders are more seen as doing the cheering and the pom pom waving.

But keep in mind for those that stunt and tumble, that requires athleticism and training. Stunting and tumbling are elements of both acrobatics and gymnastics, gymnastics by the way is a collegiate sport. Competitive cheer does use elements from the world of gymnastics, albeit not the double twisting tuck full in passes you’ll see at a gymnastics meet. Competitive cheer is less about cheerleading and more about stunting and tumbling, which is likely why Oregon’s team is called the “Stunts and Gymnastics” team. I don’t like the name since there are already plenty of gymnastics teams out there that do gymnastics in full, but the point is, as it gets reported I think some may wonder why waving poms poms is considered a sport. It is not.

But “Competitive Cheer” is not about that it’s an athletic activity. It is actually unfortunate it has cheer in it’s name. If the sport was called Competitive Stunting it wouldn’t nearly be as confusing in the media reporting. What is currently known as “Competitive Cheer” consists of competitions using elements of stunting and tumbling which are judged against other teams. It requires athletes.

I see media stories accompanied by pictures of dance teams or NFL cheerleading teams and I cringe. It’s really a disservice to cheerleaders as a whole, competitive cheer competitors, and the volleyball team for the distinction to be lost. I am not insulting cheerleaders who just cheer and dance either, it’s just yes that isn’t a sport in itself. They’re an integral part of sports culture, just dancing on a sideline is not a sport, but tumbling down one may very well be.

Now that that’s explained lets move into the two issues at hand.

Is “Competitive Cheer” a sport, and also the second issue at hand is when one sport replaces another for whatever reason.

I firmly believe that Competitive Cheer has all the elements that make up a sport. Despite the stereotypes, cheerleaders, whether competitive or otherwise who tumble and stunt are engaged in an athletic behavior, which requires physical skill and involves competition with one another. Keep in mind (and I use these examples not to insult the sports I mention, but to point out they are lesser known sports) that Curling is an olympic sport, and Pistol and Rifle are college sports. Sport cannot be defined as just something we’re used to, i.e. running and throwing. Tumbling and stunting cheerleaders are athletes as far as I’m concerned. However, as Judge Underhill says:

“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.”

Now this is matters not as a knock on those who compete now, but it leads to question two. The fear that some athletic departments will turn to certain sports to replace others for whatever reason. Whether it be Title IX slots, or budgetary or any other reason. I am opposed to this action. As a hardcore gymnastics fan I witnessed two different cuts in teams in the past few years.

The University of Rhode Island, decided to replace it’s Gymnastics team with a Lacrosse team, I believe (and I hope I am stating this correctly) they Title IX in mind when they figured to add the one they needed to subtract the other, but I could be wrong. Either way, they made the determination that Lacrosse was more important to the state of Rhode Island. Budget cuts eventually lead URI to not make a Lacrosse team and also cut some other sports as well.

M.I.T. on the other hand cut a variety of sports including Hockey and Gymnastics for budgetary concerns. They did not replace any, did not Title IX shifts, just made a determination and cut a variety of teams.

While I agreed with neither decision, the M.I.T. one sat better with me a little because although they would be shifting resources that went to the teams cut to the other areas, it was not as if they had determined there were newer sports they wanted to support.

Quinnipiac is a very successful athletics program, their Hockey and Basketball teams especially have become well known quickly and they have a sterling facility in the TD Bank Sports Center. What surprised me about this whole situation is that I expect during tough times that athletic departments will sometimes feel the pressures to cut, but I just didn’t see why Volleyball, was targeted and then Competitive Cheer set to replace it. It didn’t make sense. I like Volleyball, I like Competitive Cheer, it was tough to see two sports put off against each other. Now I personally am not interested in if there is roster manipulation going on, because that is a case for authorities and experts to look into, I try to focus on the on the court/field actions exclusively when possible. I will let that be sorted out by involved parties. If I don’t know factually that a school has done something wrong I’m not about to throw charges around.

However, I just think if athletic departments insist on cuts, then so be it, but replacing one sport with another…I don’t know.

The toughest thing for this is by replacing one sport with another it sets athletes up against each other in the worst way, for Competitive Cheerleading to win, Volleyball had to lose and vice versa, and that’s the worst part of this. Never mind the fact that if your QU Volleyball, this no doubt will affect recruiting, if you can’t tell the potential athlete you don’t know if the team will exist. Now the team is saved, and that will help, but I’m sure it has an affect. And I might add, there is a lot of volleyball teams in the area, all gunning for talent.

It’s just an unfortunate situation. And I am no doubt the legal experts and Title IX experts, will have much more developed thoughts to add to it, and now also athletic departments will need to seek answers as well. Hopefully some good will come of it eventually. I am glad that the QU Volleyball Team will take the court again, but also sad to see that now the QU Comp Cheer team has to go searching for answers.