Judge Rules Quinnipiac Violated Title IX
District Judge Stefan Underhill ruled yesterday that the competitive cheerleading at Quinnipiac does not qualify as varsity sport for purposes of Title IX. The ruling (see ruling) found that Quinnipiac University's decision to replace the women's volleyball team with a competitive cheerleading team in March 2009 inappropriately inflated the number of the women in team rosters. The university cut the women's volleyball team due to budget constraints and added competitive cheerleading so they could still meet Title IX proportionality guidelines. The women's volleyball team, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, alleged in a lawsuit that the school was failing to provide equal opportunity to women athletes to participate in varsity-level sports. Quinnipiac now has 60 days to map out a plan to keep the volleyball team through the season, according to New York Daily News.
Under Title IX, a sport must have coaches, an overarching governance organization, and specific seasons in which competitions take place, with practices, and competition as its primary activity. The judge was careful not to degrade the value of cheerleading in his decision. According to New England Cable News, Underhill wrote, "Competitive cheer may, some time 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."
An attorney representing the volleyball team, Alex Hernandez, said "their bravery and tenacity in pursuing this case has led to a milestone decision ensuring that academic institutions which receive federal financial assistance must uphold the spirit of Title IX."
Counting cheerleading wasn't Quinnipiac's only violation of Title IX. the judge found that Quinnipiac inflated the women's rosters and deflated the men's rosters by counting women who participated in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track three separate times, according to the New Haven Register.
Additionally, Volleyball Coach Robin Sparks testified that the school took names of male student athletes off team rosters and then reinstituted them in to deflate the numbers of men on the varsity team rosters and thus make the school's Title IX reports appear to be in compliance with the law. The judge ruled that Quinnipiac was no longer altering their number of student athletes in this way.
This decision provides a careful and informative analysis of standards used to judge equality under Title IX athletic guidelines and a detailed comparison of "sideline" and "competitive cheerleading. However, Dave Czesniuk, from the Sport in Society at Northeastern University Center, said "What's troublesome with this case is it's almost pitting one group of female athletes against another group of female athletes." Deanna Harvey, an opinion writer for the New York Daily News and former competitive cheerleader, expressed outrage at the declaration that "cheerleading is not a sport." She challenged Underhill to "try one stunt, perform a backflip while you soar into the air, and wait for two petite girls to catch you. And then get back to me."
Media Resources: New York Daily News 7/21/10; New England Cable News 7/22/10; Feminist Newswire 5/12/09; New Haven Register 7/22/10; New York Daily News 7/22/10