August 27, 2012. New York. When a federal court of appeals ruled once and for all that Competition Cheerleading isn’t a sport two weeks ago, the decision reverberated on college campuses across the nation. Now that the patronizing articles about pom pom girls have come and gone, see what Title IX and the court’s ruling are really doing to college sports.
Federal court rules once and for all that competition cheerleading is not a sport. Image courtesy of dgrin.com.
Court rules cheerleading is not a sport
According to the federal government, competition cheerleading is not a sport. That was the decision handed down by the three-judge US Court of Appeals in New York ending a long-running case involving the Quinnipiac University women’s volleyball team. The decision will affect schools across the country.
The University originally eliminated women’s volleyball in lieu of the more popular women’s competition cheerleading. The volleyball team sued, insisting that cheerleading wasn’t a sport and didn’t count toward Title IX. The court agreed, saying that what the school did with its cheerleading program was irrelevant since it wasn’t a sport. But the court ruled that volleyball is and the university had to reinstate the program to comply with the law.
As the parent of a former teenage competition cheerleader, this author knows full well that it is definitely a sport. Don’t picture pom pom girls on the side of the football field. We’re talking about something more akin to synchronized gymnastics.
By the numbers
One statistic often cited is that competition cheerleaders are seriously injured more often than in any other sport, including the much more popular and sponsored youth football. And while no statistics are kept on deaths, a number of young girls have died while competing in cheer events, making it possibly the most deadly sport in America’s schools. Another eye-opening study by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injuries and detailed by LoveToKnow.com shows that of all the head, neck and spine injuries to women athletes, a full 50% are from competition cheerleading.
In 2005 alone, 28,000 cheerleaders were sent to the emergency room for injuries received while competing or practicing. In the seven years from 1998 to 2005, that number increased 600%. If the sport’s rapid growth continued at that pace, that would mean approximately 168,000 competition cheerleaders will end up in hospital emergency rooms this year. Many argue that due to the government’s refusal to acknowledge competition cheerleading as a sport, there are no safety regulations, leading to an epidemic of life-threatening injuries each year.
In fact, there’s an entire industry rapidly growing up around the sport. Any parent of an athletic teenage daughter can attest that park districts and schools are decades behind the curve. Society is demanding more cheerleading programs due to the explosive popularity. And taxpayer-subsidized programs, like Title IX, are fighting it every step of the way.
For that reason, parents and entrepreneurs in almost every city in the country have taken it upon themselves to open cheerleading facilities and launch private teams. When was the last time 10,000 teenage girls filled McCormick Place or Navy Pier, Chicago’s largest trade show venues, to play in an adolescent volleyball tournament? How many teenage volleyball tournaments does ESPN show? They show plenty of cheerleading competitions. So much so, that many parents inadvertently call the athletes, ‘ESPN Cheerleaders’. Those cheerleading competitions draw hundreds of athletes, even thousands, just in the city-wide competitions.
Hurting kids, not helping them
That’s the dilemma Title IX creates. When the law was passed 40 years ago, it required that taxpayer-subsidized athletic programs include men and women in equal percentages to their overall make-up of the student body. But two man-made problems have messed things up.
First, women are rapidly catching men in the professional world and will dominate it in just the coming few years. Girls make up just under 60% of all bachelor’s degrees today. And they make up an even larger percentage of the overall students entering college right now.
How is that a problem? Apparently, there aren’t enough women’s sports, or athletes some argue, to fill the required spots to satisfy the student-to-athlete ratio. And that leads to the second problem. Instead of adding sports programs for women, say volleyball and competition cheerleading, colleges and universities are simply eliminating men’s teams until they represent only 40 percent of the school’s overall sports programs.
That, as reality has demonstrated, doesn’t increase the number of student-athletes, it drastically reduces it.
Another real example
Calling it ‘Title IX’s Dark Legacy’, US News published an interview this past June with the coach of the US Olympic Track and Field team, Andrew Valmon. Now that the London Olympics are over, coach Valmon faces his own crisis. The University of Maryland is eliminating his Track and Field program this year.
The university announced that budget constraints were forcing the school to cut 8 sports for the coming 2012-2013 school year. Track and Field is among them. As a result, coach Valmon has taken it upon himself to raise private funds to keep his world-class track and field program alive. But to his frustration, the University of Maryland won’t let him. The school blames Title IX.
Actually, the university would allow him to privately fund his track and field program, if he can also fund an additional women’s program at the same time. The school says that his track team alone would throw the school out of compliance with Title IX.
As detailed in the US News article, athletes who have seen their opportunities vanish argue that Title IX, while well-intentioned, is simply hurting and discriminating against men. They also point out that the law is only enforced in areas where men are over-represented. The government does nothing, they argue, to address the discrimination and disproportionate numbers of women in other areas of academia, from scholarships to the school newspaper.
Can’t fight the tide
Now, Title IX appears to be harming not just men, but women too. Forget that being a competition cheerleader actually prepares one for any of the number of careers available to athletic dancers who can do gymnastics, while professional volleyball doesn’t look to be kicking down the door in the US any time soon. Also, ask any of the literally millions of parents of cheerleaders who wish the high schools would adopt a competition cheer program. And many have, more every day.
That’s why colleges and universities have added the programs as well. Universities need only look into the nation’s neighborhoods and small towns to see the future. While 100 girls show up to try out for the local competition cheer squad simply by word-of-mouth, sponsored and promoted volleyball tryouts are lucky to draw a dozen girls.
If the numbers and statistics are any indication, parents will increasingly demand that schools include competition cheer programs, regardless of what the courts say. And sooner or later, the federal government will most-likely reverse its ruling and declare competition cheerleading a sport. Anyone who’s familiar with it knows that’s exactly what it is.