Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cheerleading on Trial

Women have -- rightfully so -- been fighting for their rights for so many years now. It's actually ridiculous that the "Get in the kitchen" and "Make me a sandwich" crowds have lasted as long as they have.

It's proof that even human beings can be completely insensitive and stupid.

Title IX -- a law not designed for sports -- has helped women come a long way toward gaining equal footing in the athletic world. The law mandates equal opportunity for females, and it has been interpreted -- right or wrong, mind you -- to mean colleges have to even up the competitive opportunities and scholarships based on their overall student population.

Argue all you want about its ups and downs. That's a different subject for a different day. It's for real.

Schools have been looking to figure out how to comply without cutting a ton of men's sports for years. In the meantime, sports like wrestling, swimming, and sometimes hockey and football have gone away to help save money and get a university in compliance.

But what happens when a school wants to cut a women's sport to save money?

They have to find a cheaper women's sport to spend scholarship money on.

This is what happened at Quinnipiac University. The powers-that-be wanted to save a few dollars, so they decided to do away with women's volleyball. They needed a cheaper alternative to replace those scholarships and keep the school in Title IX compliance. Luckily for them, there was -- they thought -- an option.


Yes, I said cheerleading.

Volleyball players were incensed. They sued the school, claiming that cheerleading is not a sport.

Now, the case is in court, and a federal judge is charged with deciding if it's a real sport. It's one of the more interesting cases involving sports we've seen in court for some time.

... the university says is a less expensive program that serves more women, the New Haven Register reported.

Five volleyball players and their coach sued the university, alleging that cheerleading is not a real sport and the university improperly counts or exaggerates its number of athletes to get around Title IX requirements.

... Expert witness Jeff Webb, chief executive of Varsity Spirit, testified that making cheerleading a competitive college sport would threaten "classical sideline cheerleading," according to the Associated Press. He added that cheerleading is as much of a sport as chess.

Except I don't remember the last time someone tore an ACL playing chess.

Something being dangerous and athletic doesn't make it a sport. However, where do we draw the line? There are competitive cheerleading championships. Surely, you've seen them on ESPN before. The people on these teams put a lot of time and effort into what they do, and while there isn't any kind of professional equivalent to it for anyone to go in after college, there isn't a professional equivalent for a lot of college sports, but yet we label them as sports.

Sanctioning cheerleading as a college sport could be bad for the cause of women's athletics. Cheerleading involves more people and is cheaper than most any other sport a university can sponsor. If you think there aren't enough women's hockey, volleyball, or softball programs now, wait until Quinnipiac wins this lawsuit, and schools look to drop expensive, money-bleeding non-revenue sports for cheerleading.

The quality and visibility of cheerleading will rise, but is that really a good thing?

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