(CN) – Competitive cheerleading “does not qualify as a varsity sport for the purposes of Title IX,” a federal judge in Connecticut ruled in barring Quinnipiac University from replacing its women’s volleyball program with a new cheer squad.
“Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX,” U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill wrote. “[T]oday, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”
The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by members of the varsity women’s volleyball team at Quinnipiac University after the school announced plans to cut women’s volleyball and men’s golf and outdoor track, and pledged to create a new varsity sport: competitive cheerleading.
The volleyball players accused the school of violating Title IX, a federal law requiring gender equity in federally funded educational programs, including athletics.
The school violated Title IX in three ways, according to the players: by inflating its roster numbers for female varsity athletes, by counting female cross-country runners multiple times for their required participation on indoor and outdoor track teams, and by considering competitive cheerleading a sport.
Judge Underhill agreed that the university appeared to inflate its women’s rosters, particularly by requiring female cross-country runners to participate in both indoor and outdoor track.
And in an extensive analysis of competitive cheerleading, Underhill noted that cheerleading is not recognized as a sport by the Department of Education or the NCAA. He described the activity as “group floor gymnastics” and said the team’s first season was “marked by inconsistency” in its scoring system and level of competition.
“If Quinnipiac is serious that its competitive cheer team is a legitimate varsity sport, then it should not tolerate its team playing against non-varsity collegiate teams, non-scholastic all-star teams, and, especially, athletes who are still in high school,” Underhill wrote.
However, he was quick to add, “I do not mean to minimize the experience shared by the Quinnipiac competitive cheer team. It is unquestionable that the Quinnipiac competitive cheer members engaged in meaningful efforts and activities during the 2009-10 season – efforts and activities that this decision cannot diminish or take away,” he wrote.
“But what those students experienced was not the genuine opportunity to participate on a varsity team, which is the standard for counting athletes under Title IX.
“In reaching my conclusion, I also do not mean to belittle competitive cheer as an athletic endeavor,” Underhill added. “Competitive cheerleading is a difficult, physical task that requires strength, agility, and grace. I have little doubt that at some point in the near future — once competitive cheer is better organized and defined, and surely in the event that the NCAA recognizes the activity as an emerging sport — competitive cheer will be acknowledged as a bona fide sporting activity by academic institutions, the public, and the law.
“As the evidence in this case demonstrates, however, that time has not yet arrived. For that reason, Quinnipiac may not yet count the members of its competitive cheer team in order to prove its compliance with Title IX.”