Academic journal article Boston College Law Review

The Feminist Case for the Ncaa's Recognition of Competitive Cheer as an Emerging Sport for Women

Academic journal article Boston College Law Review

The Feminist Case for the Ncaa's Recognition of Competitive Cheer as an Emerging Sport for Women

Article excerpt


In 2010, in Biediger v. Quinnipiac University, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut became the first federal court to consider whether competitive cheer could count as a varsity sport for purposes of gender equity under Title IX.1 Quinnipiac University's competitive cheer team had evolved from sideline cheerleading, but was a separate and distinct activity, most notably due to its devotion entirely to its own competition and to the fact that it did not cheer on the sidelines in support of other teams. The court, however, determined that Quinnipiac's competitive cheer team was not a sport for purposes of Title IX, citing dissimilarities between cheer and other varsity sports that the university supports.2 In particular, the court focused on the fact that competitive cheer is not recognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or any comparable governing body.3 If the NCAA had designated cheer an "emerging sport for women," a provisional recognition that results in championship status once a threshold number of teams have been added by member institutions, the court likely would have counted competitive cheer opportunities alongside other athletic opportunities when determining, for purposes of Title IX, whether the opportunities overall are distributed equitably to members of each sex.4 This raises the question: should the NCAA recognize competitive cheer-also known as "acrobatics and tumbling" and "stunt"-as an emerging sport?

This Article proposes that the NCAA apply two levels of analysis to this question. First, it must insist that competitive cheer be defined and organized in such a way that it is truly comparable to other varsity sports. This would ensure that collegiate competitive cheer teams provide genuine athletic opportunities within the meaning of Title IX, and ensure that universities could not simply re-label an existing activity in order to create the appearance of a more equitable distribution of athletic opportunities.

Second, the NCAA should consider whether recognizing competitive cheer will enhance women's sports generally. This is a more challenging question, as some fear that adding competitive cheer could stall or cause a decline in opportunities for women in traditional sports, an area where women's participation helps to neutralize negative stereotypes about female athleticism.5 Additionally, some may fear that legitimizing competitive cheer will promote or entrench the narrow, idealized version of femininity that was originally cultivated in traditional sideline cheerleading-a version of femininity that was more sexual than athletic, and which normalized the expectation that women belonged on the sideline rather than the playing field.6 This Article takes the position that there is symbolic power in the transformation of cheerleading from an activity that "ghettoized" women into non-sport activities, to one that displays women's competitive athletic ability. By promoting and supporting the growth of competitive cheer, the NCAA could contribute to the destabilization of many negative stereotypes that currently serve to limit women's opportunities in sport, and could help expand the definition of sport to encompass women-driven, competitive athletic opportunities.

Part I of this Article explains the relationship between cheerleading and Title IX and provides background on the Quinnipiac litigation.7 Part II describes the ongoing efforts to qualify cheer as an emerging sport.8 Part III contains an analysis of whether the sport being proposed by two organizations satisfies Title IX concerns, as well as the larger question of whether competitive cheer is good for women's sports generally.9


Section A of this Part provides a background of Title IX and its relationship to competitive cheer.10 Section B discusses the analyses of competitive cheer conducted by various regulators, including the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). …

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