For years the debate has raged over whether cheerleading is a sexist activity that exists so girls can shake more than pom poms while wearing skimpy uniforms, or a rigorous sport consisting of difficult gymnastic maneuvers and stunts. In the meantime, the lack of regulation has made cheerleading one of the most dangerous activities for young women, accounting for 65% of all female catastrophic injuries in high school and college. Now two groups are hoping to put an end to this by pushing the National Collegiate Athletic Association to recognize competitive cheer as a sport.
USA Cheer, which is backed by a company that sells cheerleading supplies, and the National Collegiate Athletics and Tumbling Association, which is made up of six universities that compete against each other, are both asking the N.C.A.A. to recognize competitive cheer as an "emerging sport." This program is aimed at encouraging schools to add new sports for women, and could lead to cheerleading becoming a full championship sport.
The New York Times reports that both proposals involve longer and more standardized competitions, uniforms that resemble those of volleyball players, and no cheering for other teams. The paper explains:
They differ in other ways, like how to score the events and how many competitions to stage in any given season. The proposal being advanced by the handful of universities calls the new sport acrobatics and tumbling and uses a scoring system similar to that of gymnastics, with points based on degree of difficulty. The format backed by USA Cheer is called stunt and has a head-to-head format, with the competition divided into quarters.
One important distinction is the size of the teams. The proposal for acrobatics and tumbling, which was submitted to the N.C.A.A. late last year, imagines that an average squad size will number from 32 to 36 athletes, with a maximum of 12 scholarships. The proposal for stunt, which was sent in on Wednesday, envisions a squad of 20 to 30, with a maximum of 24 scholarships.
Six universities competed in the acrobatics and tumbling format this year, while teams from 22 programs competed in the stunt version.
The N.C.A.A. could choose one proposal, or ask the groups to collaborate and make a new joint pitch.
Both proposals are a response to a judge ruling last summer that Quinnipiac University's competitive cheerleading can't be used to satisfy Title IX requirements because the activity is "too underdeveloped and disorganized" to be called a sport. A recent Times exposé found schools routinely lie about the number of female athletes, yet women still make up 53% of the student body at Division I schools, but only 46% of athletes. If this new effort is successful, schools could start devoting more money to cheerleading, recruiting scholarship athletes, and increasing the size of squads to meet Title IX requirements.
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the senior director of advocacy at the Women's Sports Foundation, said she has no problem with cheerleading being used to satisfy Title IX requirements. "As long as it's actually operating as a sport, we welcome it into the women's sports tent," she said. Like gymnastics or figure skating, "this is another aesthetic sport that if done right could provide lots more girls with legitimate sports experiences."
Image via steven r. hendricks/Shutterstock.