Those that keep an ear to the ground for any cheer gossip have certainly been following the U.S. debate regarding Quinnipac University's decision to adopt cheer as a varsity sport, dropping the female volleyball team. All over social media young cheerleaders were up in arms regarding this ruling, adamant that what they participate in is a sport.
But, if delving deeper, this debate is not about the athleticism, dedication, drive or heart of cheer athletes. The physical prowress and athletic ability are what we believe to be on par with more traditional sports, but the Quinnipac ruling is completely unrelated to either of these characteristics.
The debate involves Title IX and whether Quinnipac satisfied the Title's rules for equal athletic opportunity for female athletes. By dropping volleyball it's likely that Quinnipac stood to save some money by replacing it with the competitive cheer team. This was less a decision over one sport versus another, and more a case of bean counting and budget balancing.
The judges ruling that cheerleading is not a sport stems from the qualifications Title IX places on the category of "sport". A defined season, public governing body, systemic competition schedule at regional, state and national levels, and additional levels of organization. Many Canadian universities also require these elements to be considered a "varsity sport."
If we are honest with ourselves, cheer offers none of this. We train nearly year-round, have private companies operating varied competitions with limited qualifications for entry, and multiple governing bodies that individual gyms can pick and choose with which to associate. There is nothing wrong with this system, it works well for us, but it precludes cheer from being considered a "sport" under Title IX
Industry leaders are working hard to solidfy our activity, organizing and creating unity across Canada and the U.S. Whether being a true "sport" by Title IX is in our best interest is an entirely different debate. We would sacrifice training time during off-season, potentially be more limited in our competition choices, etc. However, an improvement in the uniformity of experience and training required to coach cheerleading would be a likely benefit.
The Quinnipac ruling serves to point out the lack of definition in competitive cheer, and should serve to drive us all to improve the organization and uniformity associated with non-sideline teams. The United States All Star Federation has made significant head-way in recent years in solidifying All Star cheer standards across the U.S., improving both safety and consistency. Cheer Alliance has followed suit, creating school coaches training, a consist scoring system and adopting the U.S.A.S.F. safety rules for both school and all star teams so that they can compete across North America.
So, is cheerleading a sport? Well I guess that depends on your defintion.