Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rah-Rah For Federal Judge Stephan Underhill

Excuse my huge ear to ear grin and my exuberance today, but I’m sending kudos and possibly several bouquets of flowers to United States District Court Judge Stephan Underhill who yesterday ruled what I and many others have been saying for years: Cheerleading is NOT a sport, at least it’s not an official sport as far as colleges using it to meet Title IX gender-equity requirements, those of the 1972 federal law that commands equal opportunities for men and women in athletics.

The ruling came out of a court case he heard in Connecticut involving Quinnipiac University—the same school that offers political polling results used by media and candidates—which had shelved its women’s volleyball team for budgetary reasons (isn’t that always the case) and replaced it with a cheerleading squad involved in competition, not a team just standing on sidelines of football and basketball games and other athletics events and say “Rah! Rah!” The story at Quinnipiac is bigger than just the Cheer Squad. It seems the University has been cooking the books with the Title IX requirements. More on that later, but a now a local-interest interlude:

In the Atlantic Coast Conference, three schools list Competitive Cheerleading on their websites: Virginia Tech is one of the three. The other two are: Maryland and NC State. Now we may know one of the reasons by Debbie Yow to want to move from being Athletics Director at Maryland to being Athletics Director at NC State: Competitive Cheerleading. And, this might have been the reason Chancellor Randy Woodson wanted Yow to come to Raleigh. While Purdue doesn’t have a competitive cheer squad, maybe he wanted to make sure the new AD wanted to keep it at State. It all makes sense now.

At Quinnipiac, it was announced in 2009 that the women’s volleyball team would be dropped for budgetary reasons and be replaced with the competitive cheer team. You should check out the Cheer Squad section of the Quinnipiac Bobcats website: 30 players (all women) and three fulltime coaches (all women). Over at the Volleyball page: nine players (all women); one paid coach (a woman) and one volunteer coach (a man). Amazing stuff, or maybe not.

It appears the school wants to make the move—eliminating nine and adding 30 (or more—to keep it in compliance with Title IX. But the Judge will have nothing to do with that. In his ruling, he wrote: “Competitive cheer may, sometime in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX. Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.” He instructed the school to report back within 60 days with a plan to keep the volleyball team—members of which who had sued the school over the announced dropping of the sport—and comply with Title IX rules.

Quinnipiac officials responded by saying that instead of continuing the volleyball program, it would start a women’s rugby team. That’s probably because it needs bodies—female bodies—and if 30 women cheerleaders are eliminated as varsity competitors, the numbers from a rugby team would offset the differential. The Judge had good reason to rule in favor of the volleyball players and against the school. Title IX says, according to an Associated Press account of this case, “An activity can be considered a sport under Title IX if it meets specific criteria. It must have coaches, practices, competitions during a defined season and a governing organization. The activity also must have competition as its primary goal - not merely the support of other athletic teams.”

The trial, more importantly, also revealed how Quinnipiac has been cooking the books in the gender equity area. The Judge found something that’s common at all colleges and universities in reporting Title IX facts and figures: participation instead of athletes. For instance, at Quinnipiac, there’s a men’s cross country team and there are cross country, indoor track and outdoor track for women. When one female athlete participates in all three team sports, she’s counted as three different participants. At NC State, it’s likely that Russell Wilson, football quarterback and multi-purpose baseball player, is counted twice. And, any person on any team is counted. So, even at NC State, a women’s cross country runner is counted there as well as on the indoor and outdoor track teams, but then so are the duplicate men.

But, wait, there’s more to the evil doings at Quinnipiac that trusted name in political polling. The book-cooking gets a little deeper. For instance, the Judge discovered the baseball and men’s lacrosse teams were dropping names from the rosters for reporting purposes in the fall and then adding team members to the roster in the spring for the season. This reduces male participants. At the same time, names were added to the softball team for reporting purposes and them eliminating them for the season. Now that’s integrity.

While the headline in this matter is that a Federal Judge says cheerleading is NOT a sport, and while I sing praises for this opinion, one that I’ve had all along no matter how many national cheerleading titles NC State has won—and by the way, NC State does not report cheerleading for Title IX purposes and, anyway, there are equal number of men and women on the squad and because NC State feels cheerleading does not fall into the Title IX guidelines for being considered a sport—the real winner in this could be women’s athletics and female athletes. If Judge Underhill’s ruling stands, all colleges and universities and probably high schools will have to review how the numbers are counted, resulting in an increase for the women.

And, as far as the headline, I’ll say it again: It thrills me to no end for a federal judge to say that cheerleading is not a sport, no matter how hard they work to be in shape and do all those fancy twists, turns and flips. If it is, then remove them from the sidelines at football and basketball games and create a schedule of competition with other cheerleading squads from other universities. Train and hire rules officials and judges who do not host summer camps to prevent bias in point-giving. In other words, if cheerleading is to be a sport along the lines of football, basketball, tennis, golf, etc., then treat it the same. In all the years I been watching college sports, I have never seen a men’s or women’s tennis team along the sidelines at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium leading the fans in rah-rahing. Why is the competitive cheerleading squad doing that?

A problem I see to making cheerleading a full-fledged sport: Who will stand along those sidelines cheering on the cheerleaders? And, if a squad is chosen for that, then one day, it too will want varsity status. It just doesn’t end, does it? Anyway, Rah-Rah for Judge Underhill!


  1. FWIW .... my sources in local college sports medicine report that injuries among cheerleaders are BY FAR the highest per capita of any "sport" /

    The really high-flying flips are verboten because of that.

    I'm not sure what Marvin Austin's thought are on this but I'm certain he has some.

  2. Jim, I usually enjoy your posts but must take exception today. And not because of the underlying reasons for the judge's ruling, - no doubt there needs to be better standardization and organization of the sport - but because I detect an attitude from you that cheerleading is not serious athletic competition. My daughter cheered in middle, high, and college (ASU) and on highly competitive competition teams. I have observed firsthand the athleticism of these young people. Most of them are better athletes than the football or basketball players they are cheering for. I would put their physcial shape up against volleyballers, golfers, etc any day of the week. So quit lumping the cheerleaders in with the pep band, kind of like you and I did when we were in school, because things are much different now with the cheerleaders!!


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