Friday, November 06, 2009

More Universities Add Competitive Cheer... I Mean, "Team Stunt and Gymnastics"

A recent article in Athletic Business profiles the apparent trend in college sports -- competitive teams in an activity formerly(?) known as cheerleading, now, at least in some circles, team stunt and gymnastics. Competitive cheer is nothing like sideline cheer, or the predominantly sideline cheerleaders who perform a competitive routine once a year at Nationals. Competitive cheer teams compete against each other in structured meets over the course of a season. AB describes it this way:
Team and individual stats will be compiled during four compulsory stunting rounds, followed by each team's uniquely choreographed final routine judged for its degree of difficulty and the ability of its performers to "hit" their skills passes and limit their "bobbles."

"It's like floor routine in gymnastics but with 20 people on the floor — all synchronized," [University of Oregon Head Coach Felecia] Mulkey says. "It has some stunts in it that may look like cheerleading, but without any of the cheerleading stuff."

Six universities have competitive cheer teams: University of Maryland, University of Oregon (they are the ones who call it team stunt and gymnastics), Baylor, Fairmont State, Morgan State, and Quinnipiac. The NCAA does not currently offer a championship in competitive cheer, but cheer proponents hope to change that. If four more institutions create varsity programs, then NCAA could recognize it as an emerging sport as early as August 2011. As an emerging sport, it would then have 10 years add 40 varsity programs at NCAA member institutions for the NCAA to stage a championship.

The "emergence" of competitive cheer is supported by those who note the sport's popularity. Obstacles, however, include the fact that many universities are not in the economic position to add new teams, and AB also notes expressed concern about the sport's high injury rate. The article does not delve into another concern that competitive cheer programs raise, which is that athletic departments are adding them not to respond to interest and ability of their female student population, but as a cheap and easy way to achieve compliance with Title IX's proportionality prong. For one thing, cheer enjoys popularity as a co-ed sport. Kate Torgovnick's Cheer makes the point that in some non-varsity cheer programs (competitive-sideline hybrids) the co-ed squads are at the top of the cheer hierarchy. If the sport was truly being added in response to interest among the student body, it would include opportunities for men. Limiting the sport to women, on the other hand, suggests that adding cheer so they don't have to add other women's sports. Another reason for concern is that some schools (I'm thinking of Quinnipiac) propose cheer squads that have both larger rosters and smaller budgets than any other women's teams. That too suggests the possibility that a school's primary motive is to pad their numbers rather than offer meaningful athletic opportunities. Hopefully these points do not sound like criticism directed at competitive cheer. Rather, I think that they are concerns the sport, and the rest of women's athletics, should keep in mind as competitive cheer continues to gain ground.

h/t Jeff