As colleges skew more female, they're looking for ways to comply with Title IX without eliminating men's sports. One solution: classify cheerleading as a sport. But is this bad for female athletes?

According to NPR's Frank Deford, Title IX mandates that representation on sports teams be proportional to enrollment. With the proportion of women at American universities at 57% and rising, this means some schools might have to eliminate men's teams. To avoid this, some athletic departments would like to redefine cheerleading as a sport rather than an "activity." Since cheerleading is female-dominated and relatively inexpensive, calling it a sport would increase women's representation without much outlay of funds.


On the one hand, this reclassification would honor the athleticism many cheerleading squads display. To illustrate its physical demands, Deford points out that nearly a third of severe injuries to female college and high school students occur during cheerleading. And many cheerleaders would probably relish the acknowledgment that what they do is competitive and demanding, not the popularity contest among Barbie dolls sometimes depicted in teen movies. On the other hand, calling cheerleading a sport might allow schools to cut women's teams that required more equipment and outlay of funds. Ultimately, the reclassification seems to be less about giving cheerleading the respect it deserves than about saving money by scrimping on women's athletics.

The debate over cheerleading highlights what a thorny issue sports in schools can be. As Deford notes, football is such a huge deal at many high schools and colleges that it tends to obscure other sports. And especially at the college level, sports are a major cash cow, not only through ticket sales but through alumni donations. Unfortunately, this may lead schools to pay more attention to the bottom line than to fairness and equality. Title IX was meant to prevent this โ€” and schools shouldn't use cheerleading as a vehicle to circumvent it.

Women's Sports, Title IX And The Cheerleader Option [NPR]