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Bring It On: 2nd Cir Affirms Title IX Cheering Decision

By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 07, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Quinnipiac University is known for its polling institute, not its athletic programs, but it still has to comply with Title IX.

When the school announced in March 2009 that it would eliminate its varsity sports teams for women's volleyball, men's golf, and men's outdoor track and field, while simultaneously creating a new varsity sports team for women's competitive cheerleading, five disgruntled volleyball players took to a different kind of court, and spiked a Title IX lawsuit into Quinnipiac's lap.

This week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court decision finding that Quinnipiac's sports shift created disparities in athletic program participation in violation of Title IX.

So why the outcry over competitive cheerleading?

Title IX says that no one can be "excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

The former Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) and its successor agency, the Department of Education (DOE), have interpreted Title IX to require recipients of federal financial assistance operating or sponsoring "interscholastic, intercollegiate, club or intramural athletics" to "provide equal athletic opportunity for members of both sexes."

Here, the Quinnipiac plaintiffs claimed that replacing competitive volleyball with competitive cheerleading violated Title IX because cheerleading is not a sport.

Maybe you haven't seen Bring It On. That's okay; we have. We may have seen the musical version, too. (Don't judge.) What we learned from that movie/production/cultural phenomenon is that cheerleading is hard core. But the courts don't view it the same way: They say cheering doesn't meet the DOE's criteria for when an activity can be counted as a sport.

Because the competitive cheerleading team "did not afford the athletic participation opportunities of a varsity sport," the courts concluded that Quinnipiac did not comply with the "substantial proportionality" prong of Title IX's three-part athletic participation test.

DOE may not consider cheerleading to be a sport, but schools expend substantial resources for competitive cheerleaders' travel costs and insurance. (Judging in the pseudo-sport is subjective, but so is judging in gymnastics.) Should DOE reconsider cheerleading as a sport? Would a "sport" designation prompt schools to axe re-evaluate their commitment to other women's sports programs?

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