Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cheerleading to ease Title IX controversy?

That's the thought of a writer in New York who believes that the growth of competitive cheerleading and its acceptance as a sport by some schools could help ease all the Title IX controversy over "quotas."
Would that it were so (or that we would want it to be so).

From what I have heard and read on blogs, in personal correspondence, and in the media, the competitive cheerleading issue has engendered more controversy--nearly every day, in fact, in recent weeks. (For more of a "history" on the emergence of competitive cheerleading click on the cheerleading tag.)
Last month was the Quinnipiac case in which the university cut women's volleyball and elevated cheerleading to varsity status. The volleyball team won an injunction preventing QU from cutting it until the lawsuit charging non-compliance with Title IX was complete. (Mediation is currently underway in that case.) But the discussion around competitive cheerleading in that case seemed to die when the volleyball team won their injunction.
Currently we have Florida Parents for Athletic Equity filing an injunction and lawsuit against the Florida High School Athletic Association over cuts to all athletic competitions except football and cheerleading. But the cheerleading issue has not received a lot of the coverage. We do know that there are far more male football players than female cheerleaders which makes the cuts inequitable, of course. But Nancy Hogshead-Makar, one of the lawyers for FPAE, has concern over cheerleading as a competitive, varsity sport. My guess is that those competitive cheerleaders are, in most cases, also sideline cheerleaders. And that is a big no-no if you want to count your cheerleaders as student-athletes.
A recent article in Inside Higher Ed has done a better job than most in addressing the cheerleading controversy and includes information about both QU and Florida as well as comments from Hogshead-Makar.
I predict (may be eating my words on this one) that the cheerleading issue is going to have to be decided soon. The case-by-case basis that OCR has allowed for is a little too abstract. It also places the burden on female students who have been denied a sporting opportunity (for example when a women's club sport is not elevated) to sue their school when it decides to take the cheap way out and elevate cheerleading. This, in effect, is pitting these athletes against the cheerleaders--an issue that was raised in the QU case by the cheerleading coach. It's an unfortunate situation, at best.
Also I see a difference between being treated like a sport and actually being a sport. And this is contentious territory. Competitive cheerleading is being counted as a sport for Title IX purposes when the team is treated like other varsity teams in terms of access to coaching, competition, facilities, etc. But is it really a sport just because it involves athletic elements? What definition of sport do we employ? If, as many claim, cheerleaders are largely former gymnasts, why don't we just have more gymnastics teams? It's hard to believe gymnastics is a dying sport if there are so many cheerleaders with gymnastic skills and experience.
I have some doubts though that when (if?) the final decision is made it will be based on defining a sport. It probably seems easier to base it on how the participants are treated. If this turns out to be the case, I encourage marching bands everywhere to apply for varsity status. There are plenty of athletic elements there: the actual marching, the need for good lung capacity, and lots of push-ups! Because if we take cheerleaders away from the sidelines can the marching band be that far behind?