Friday, October 13, 2006

Title IX, Misunderstandings, and Cheerleading

There are two parts to this post. The first addresses some of the prevailing misconceptions about Title IX as evidenced in a recent report on an OCR investigation. The second touches on the question of cheerleading as a sport.
This article attempts to report on Title IX compliance in Darien, Connecticut where a parent of a high school female swimmer filed a complaint alleging inequity in representation and scheduling. This initiated an investigation by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) which, according to the article, did find that the proportionality was off by 1.9 percent or 43 athletes.
But this is a very small discrepancy. No court has ever (and Erin can speak to this better than I can) ruled a school to be noncompliant for a discrepancy under 5 percent. So I am curious about the greater context. My interpretation is that OCR came in and ran the numbers (the scheduling complaint was not deemed viable but no reason is given) and provided a report with the statistics.
The larger problem with the reporting is that the writer seems to believe that to be in compliance an institution must meet every part of the three-prong test. So she goes through all three to show where Darien High School has succeeded/failed. But of course the high school only has to meet one of the three prongs and it looks like they already have the proportionality one met--especially if it is true, as the writer reports, that in the year after that complaint was filed the numbers shifted slightly.
The article is very confusing probably because the author (or her editors) does not have a very good understanding of Title IX. But it appears that the district believes it must now provide surveys to find out if the needs of the girls in Darien are being met. Again, this seems unnecessary given their proportionality numbers.
But this does lead to a brief explanation of why the numbers are off: cheerleading. If Darien had been allowed to count cheerleaders as athletes proportionality would be guaranteed.
Darien is not alone in this. Many institutions would meet the proportionality prong if cheerleaders could be counted.
So is cheerleading a sport? According to the article, the OCR will not allow it. But this is not entirely true. A 1975 letter of clarification stated that "drill teams, cheerleaders and the like, which are covered more generally as extracurricular activities . . . are not part of the institution's 'athletic program' within the meaning of the [Title IX] regulation."
BUT given the changes in cheerleading over the years, the OCR has adopted a policy of examining cheerleading on a case-by-case basis when an institution wants to count cheerleaders as athletes.
Here is an explanation provided by the Women's Sports Foundation:

Q: Can cheerleading be considered a varsity sport?
A: No in the case of traditional cheerleading where cheerleaders perform at athletic events and participating in no or few cheerleading competitions each year. Yes if the cheerleading team has a coach, practices as frequently as a regular varsity team, and competes against other cheerleading teams on a regular basis and more frequently than it appears to cheer for other teams.

Basically, the cheerleading squad must exist to do MORE than just support other athletic teams. I am pretty ambivalent about the cheerleading as sport debate but I want to suggest that adding cheerleading may not be the panacea many schools believe it to be.
Given the extremely high injury rate among cheerleaders, they would likely require a team physician. They would be required to travel with a certified athletic trainer most certainly. And I would imagine there is a decent amount of travel required as well. Coaches would have to be paid commensurate with the pay scale athletic departments use for other coaches likely resulting in pay increases for existing coaches or the hiring of qualified coaches.
If cheerleading was approved as a sport that would mean cheerleaders would have to be treated equitably. They might be eligible for things like training tables; they would have to be given equitable access to practice and weightlifting facilities; publicity would be required. Because recruiting dollars are examined under Title IX, cheerleading would have to be given a recruitment budget like other sports.
For cheerleaders to "become" athletes in the eyes of both the OCR and the institution there has to be more than just a counting of heads--there has to be equitable treatment of them once they are given that status. And since many institutions already have a problem treating their current female athletes equitably, I do not think cheerleaders would fare any better.

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