When will cheer become an NCAA sport?
The GIST: Title IX created countless opportunities for women to compete in NCAA sports, but there are athletes on nearly every college campus who aren’t counted under the landmark law: cheerleaders. Since Title IX’s 1972 inception, cheer has been “an activity,” not an NCAA sport, but a recent push to change that status is gaining momentum.
The history: Organized cheer was an all-male activity when it began in the late 1800s, but like many pursuits, women took over the spirit fingers during World War II. When Title IX rolled around, cheer fell outside the law’s aim to shift women from the sidelines into the game because, to qualify as a sport, competition — not supporting others — must be the main goal.
- The rise of competitive cheer in the ’90s and 2000s, though, meant that athletes were not only competing, but risking their health more than nearly every other college sport without any NCAA support.
The challenge: In 2010, after Quinnipiac sought to replace their women’s volleyball team with competitive cheer to maintain gender-equity quotas, a judge ruled against the school, stating that cheer did not meet Title IX’s varsity sport standards.
- The motivation behind Quinnipiac’s move — cut a staff-, scholarship-, and facility-heavy sport for a significantly cheaper one — is an ongoing concern around competitive cheer gaining full NCAA status.
- Since the programs already exist, adding cheer could mean big Title IX–quota gains for little investment, an easy-out for schools who already fail to comply with equity standards and now face a rising female population.
Zooming out: Despite the well-founded concerns, making cheer an NCAA sport would aid athletes by expanding the rare, paltry scholarships available, increasing coaching and staff, expanding competition opportunities, and, perhaps most importantly, continuing to decrease injury risk via these supports. Captain Torrence would approve.
- Including cheer under Title IX may come sooner, not later. In January, “STUNT,” a competition-centered version of cheer, earned the NCAA’s “emerging sport” status (more on that below) for Division II beginning August 1st. Flippin’ awesome.