Happy Anniversary, Title IX

June 23, 2010

Title IX celebrates its 38th anniversary today, while, simultaneously, a court battle is being waged over whether or not the Quinnipiac University competitive cheerleading squad is considered a sport for Title IX purposes. As a former cheerleader myself, one whose squad collectively had one girl capable of more than a cartwheel, I would have to say no, cheerleading is not a sport. The fact that we were cheerleaders depended more on who we knew than what we could do. Yet the varsity girls all qualified for Varsity Club and got their letters and pins like all the other varsity jocks.

The squads I see today cheering at football and basketball games are a different story, at least in Northern Virginia, where my daughter attends high school. Many of these girls have been taking gymnastics since they were in diapers. They go to daily practices where they sweat buckets, tear ligaments, and sprain body parts … if that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is!

But should cheerleading count as a sport when determining the number of girls participating in high school athletics? Although much of the media’s coverage of the Quinnipiac case this week has focused on whether cheerleading is a sport, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has a definition of what a sport is for the purposes of Title IX compliance. Under that definition, the primary purpose of an athletic team must be competition in order to be considered a sport. Thus, for the purposes of Title IX, most cheerleading squads across the country would not be considered a sport. Rather, they are auxiliaries to the competitive sports they cheer for.

Does the fact that Anytown High School has a cheer squad make up for the fact that it doesn’t field a girls’ soccer or lacrosse team? I contend that it depends on why those teams don’t exist. If they hold lacrosse try outs and only three girls show up, clearly there is no interest at that point in time. Is the school obligated to provide a lacrosse experience for those few interested? Again, I’d say it depends. How many boys were required to show interest before they started the boys’ team? Fair is fair, and it shouldn’t require a Solomon to make the proper determination. Unfortunately, that statement is based on the assumption that everyone agrees on what’s fair.

In many small towns across America, the competitiveness of your football and boys’ basketball programs is often the town’s only claim to fame. The cross-town rivalries are fierce, the games well attended, and the concession stands money-makers. In schools across America, boys on those teams are getting the opportunity to win scholarships to the best universities in our country. Does a girl’s field hockey team really stand a chance when battling for limited financial resources? The budget cuts schools are facing nationwide are deep and devastating. Many gains made by girls’ athletics during the past decades could be severely eroded in the name of the bottom line. Unfair? Yes. Illegal? Absolutely! Inevitable? Most likely – unless Title IX is clearly enforced.

So, as seems to always be the case when one attempts to legislate “fairness,” we have a law in place with plenty of room for loopholes and that depends largely upon voluntary compliance or forced compliance through a few brave whistleblowers. Nevertheless, happy anniversary, Title IX. You’ve allowed millions of girls opportunities many would have been denied. Where would we be without you?

This post is by Cordy Galligan, Director of Corporate Relations at AAUW.

cordygalligan By:   |   June 23, 2010


  1. Lisa Maatz Lisa Maatz says:

    Thanks for your comment, Mary. It gives us an excellent opportunity to further clarify AAUW’s position on this very important issue. I need to stress upfront that AAUW is not anti-cheerleading, nor are we questioning the athletic abilities of cheerleaders. The case of Biediger v. Quinnipiac University revolved around the school’s elimination of women’s volleyball and their attempt to replace it with competitive cheerleading, and whether that change met the requirements of Title IX.

    In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill wrote: “I conclude, as a matter of law, that Quinnipiac discriminated on the basis of sex during the 2009-10 academic year by failing to provide equal athletic participation opportunities for women. Specifically, I hold that the University’s competitive cheerleading team does not qualify as a varsity sport for the purposes of Title IX and, therefore, its members may not be counted as athletic participants under the statute.”

    Judge Underhill acknowledged the possibility that, some time in the future, competitive cheer “may… 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.”

    AAUW is supportive of the possiblity that competitive or stunt cheer will organize itself appropriately, and evolve to the point that the Office for Civil Rights can recognize it. Right now, however, there are far too few schools engaged in the activity, no NCAA recognition or organized leagues, and no true competition opportunities as a result. Cheerleading as an ancillary activity to a sport is not acceptable, either, because it lacks consistent competition. Because of the complexities of this issue, AAUW supports OCR’s current practice of taking such claims on a case by case basis.

    Unfortunately, right now, competitive cheer is being used as a less expensive activity that schools are trying to employ as a roster management tool that effectively takes full competitive athletic opportunities away from women. As the protectors and defenders of Title IX, AAUW simply cannot support that motivation or action.

    I hope this answers your questions, and thanks again for participating in our AAUW Dialog.

    Lisa Maatz
    AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations

  2. Avatar Mary Costa says:

    How sad, as a woman’s advocate, that you feel that college level competitive cheer does not qualify as a sport. You really need to attend a few practices at a college/university that has a competition cheer team. These are not the girls standing on the sidelines cheering the boys’ athletic teams to victory. These are true athletes. Most of these girls have spent years training in either gymnastics or competive cheer. They train year round. Their workouts include strength, cardio, and weight training in addition to continually learning new skills and routines. They are required to work out on their own during the summer to maintain their levels of fitness.

    Pound for pound, inch for inch, these young women can go head to head with the athletes from any team in a contest of strength and endurance. I have seen it done and am amazed and proud to see the results!

    Please take some time to visit a local college or university that has a competition cheer team that is a member of NCSTA. Do some research on COLLEGE level competition cheer; do not compare it to high school cheer. I think you may reconsider your position.

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