MANHATTAN (CN) – Quinnipiac University’s decision to shut down its women’s volleyball team and beef up its competitive cheerleading program violated federal equal-protection laws because cheerleading is not a sport, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
In March 2009, Quinnipiac announced that it would eliminate varsity sports teams for women’s volleyball, men’s golf, and men’s outdoor track and field, while simultaneously creating a new varsity sports team for women’s competitive cheerleading.
Five of the college’s female volleyball athletes and their coach, Robin Sparks, greeted the news with a lawsuit in the Connecticut Federal Court about a month later.
U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill eventually certified the case as a class action, and granted a permanent injunction stopping the closure in June 2010.
His decision found that Quinnipiac systematically reduced the rosters of female athletes while increasing those of their male counterparts.
On appeal, Quinnipiac claimed that the judge botched his counts by excluding 11 members of the women’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams, as well as 30 positions in competitive cheerleading.
The federal appeals court affirmed Tuesday, finding that the college fudged the numbers, not the District Court.
Underhill rightly excluded the track members that had been “red-shirted,” meaning they would remain on a team while being sidelined because of an injury.
“Thus, the District Court concluded that for injured and red-shirted cross-country runners, the athletic participation opportunities afforded by mandated membership on the indoor and outdoor track teams were ‘truly illusory,'” according to the 39-page decision authored by Judge Reena Raggi.
“What was not illusory, however, was Quinnipiac’s ability to ‘pad its rosters’ with female athletes who had ‘no hope of competing or otherwise participating meaningfully during the indoor and outdoor track seasons.'”
The appellate court also upheld Underhill’s findings about cheerleading.
“Preliminary to reaching this conclusion, the district court observed that competitive cheerleading is not yet recognized as a ‘sport,’ or even an ’emerging sport,’ by the NCAA, action that would have triggered a presumption in favor of counting its participants under Title IX,” Raggi wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel. “Nor has [Department of Education] recognized competitive cheerleading as a sport; to the contrary, in two letters in 2000, [the Office of Civil Rights] indicated competitive cheerleading is presumptively not a sport, while leaving open the possibility for a different conclusion with respect to a particular cheerleading program.”
“Like the District Court, we acknowledge record evidence showing that competitive cheerleading can be physically challenging, requiring competitors to possess ‘strength, agility, and grace,'” the opinion states. “Similarly, we do not foreclose the possibility that the activity, with better organization and defined rules, might some day warrant recognition as a varsity sport. But, like the District Court, we conclude that the record evidence shows that ‘that time has not yet arrived.'”