Monday, May 23, 2011

Competitive Cheer Efforts Profiled in NYT

Today's New York Times includes an article on the competing proposals to the NCAA to recognize some version of competitive cheer as an emerging sport for women. One was submitted by a consortium of six universities already sponsoring varsity-level cheer, which they call "Acrobatics and Tumbling," while the other, called "Stunt" has been put forth by USA Cheer, an organization that has affiliation and common leadership with Varsity Brands Inc., the company that runs well-known competitions primarily for sideline cheer squads. According to the article,

The two proposals being considered by the N.C.A.A. share many similarities: the competitions themselves are longer and more standardized than in the past, athletes now wear uniforms more akin to those of volleyball players, and they no longer rally the crowd for another team.

However, they differ in other ways, like how to score the events and how many competitions to stage in any given season. The proposal being advanced by the handful of universities calls the new sport acrobatics and tumbling and uses a scoring system similar to that of gymnastics, with points based on degree of difficulty. The format backed by USA Cheer is called stunt and has a head-to-head format, with the competition divided into quarters.

One important distinction is the size of the teams. The proposal for acrobatics and tumbling, which was submitted to the N.C.A.A. late last year, imagines that an average squad size will number from 32 to 36 athletes, with a maximum of 12 scholarships. The proposal for stunt, which was sent in on Wednesday, envisions a squad of 20 to 30, with a maximum of 24 scholarships.

The article also addressed the potential Title IX implications of the NCAA's potential decision to award one or the other versions of competitive cheer emerging sport status. Athletic department administrators will now have another possibility to choose from in adding sports for women and to promote their institution's Title IX compliance by either satiating unmet interests and abilities or closing the disparity between athletic opportunities for men and women.

On the issue of competitive cheer's relationship to Title IX, reporter Katie Thomas admirably conveyed the position of mainstream women's sports advocates, which is that as long as competitive cheer is truly operating as a sport, with the same level of support, the same opportunities for varsity-level competition as any other sport, it ought to be considered a sport. This position is too nuanced for many reporters who seem to delight in setting up women's sports advocates the nemeses of competitive cheer, so I was pleased that this article conveyed a difference between being against competitive cheer, and being against/concerned about athletic departments using competitive cheer to avoid having to address existing disparities in traditional sports.