As you’re probably aware, a federal judge ruled last week that Quinnipiac University in Connecticut could not count competitive cheerleading as a varsity sport, and thus had to reinstate volleyball at least for another year. After that, the school might still eliminate volleyball if it finds a satisfactory way, according to the judge, to comply with Title IX.
I was asked on an ESPN.com chat last week what I thought of the ruling, and said I was still sorting my way through it. And here’s why. It’s not because I disagree with the judge’s decision. I think it was absolutely the right one.
The trickier issue, to me, comes in trying to determine what is a “sport.” I would guess a lot of people might think competitive cheer is just some made-up hokum that should be getting left behind as we start the second decade of the 2000s, rather than being debated as a “sport.”
Meanwhile, others will point to the stunts that are done, the physical prowess of the participants, the sense that it really is competitive, the increasing participation numbers … and say, “Well, why not?”
I think I’m residing in the ground between these two views. I always have been more open to a broader definition of “sports.” In part because I think, as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, that too often the sports that get criticized as not being “real sports” are those not traditionally defined as legitimate by a mostly male point of view. In part because they stress physical attributes in which men don’t necessarily have any advantage in over women, such as grace and flexibility.
Competitive cheer would seem to me, if it’s done correctly, to have the potential to be counted as a varsity sport. And it may appeal to some participants in a way that other athletic activities wouldn’t. So I’m not of the mindset to just automatically toss competitive cheer on the junk pile with eye-rolling derision.
Thus, I could see a school trying to cultivate a competitive cheer program if it really believes that’s serving a recognizable and measurable student interest.
But I can’t agree at all with competitive cheer ever the taking the place of a traditional sport such as volleyball. If Quinnipiac wanted to add cheer to what it already had as women’s sports, then maybe that would be more palatable to people. But to replace volleyball? That’s absurd.
Furthermore, it seems hard to believe that Quinnipiac officials truly thought this would actually go unchallenged or that they had the slightest chance of defending it in court.
Look, if it were up to me (as if, right?) there would be five women’s sports any college with an athletic department would definitely have: basketball, track and field, volleyball, softball and soccer. From all the data I’ve seen, they are the five most participated-in sports by girls. So it just makes sense to have them available to female student-athletes in college. (The possible exception being, in some cases, softball because of the impact a particularly cold and/or rainy climate can have on that sport).
But I just can’t fathom schools ever putting volleyball in the crosshairs … unless they’re in the process of getting rid of their entire athletic department.
So … the right decision was made by judge Stefan R. Underhill. It wasn’t a grenade thrown at competitive cheer, nor should it have been. But it did send a firm message. And now maybe Quinnipiac will seriously work on solving its athletic department’s financial issues in a way that is fair and sensible.
*_Radio today: On “She’s Got Game,” (1 p.m. Central time), Brenda VanLengen and I will be talking with the Indiana Fever’s Katie Douglas and former Colorado coach Ceal Barry, who is now chair of the Division I women’s basketball issues committee.