Friday, July 16, 2010

Biediger v. Quinnipiac University: Can competitive women’s cheerleading be considered a Title IX-eligible sport?

Whether cheerleading is a sport and whether it should count in Title IX analysis are subjects that we've periodically considered on the blog. In 2005, Greg Skidmore wrote about cheerleading and Title IX when the University of Maryland added cheerleading as a varsity sport. Tim Epstein addressed the tort implications of cheerleading in his 2006 post, From Poms to Pain, and more recently Tim, Marc Edelman, and Howard Wasserman have all considered Wisconsin courts' handling of cheerleading as a contact sport and the impact on Title IX, particularly in the Noffke v. Bakke decision.

As discussed a couple of weeks ago by Pat Eaton-Robb of the Associated Press, the future of the seven universities that currently offer competitive cheerleading may hinge on U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill’s view of competitive cheerleading in a class action case expected to be decided later this month. The case, Biediger v. Quinnipiac University, is before the U.S. District Court for Connecticut.

Here's the gist of the case: Although the NCAA does not recognize competitive cheerleading as a sport, Quinnipiac University argues that cheerleading is a sport and ought to be Title IX eligible. Indeed, Quinnipiac counted competitive varsity cheer squad members among the athletic opportunity allotments provided to women as mandated by Title IX. By counting their cheerleading team, the school reasoned that it could terminate the women’s varsity volleyball program and still report equitable allotments of athletic opportunities to men and women.

When it learned of the school’s plan to terminate the women’s volleyball program, the volleyball team responded--in court. It filed a lawsuit claiming that if the school proceeds as planned, the school would be in violation of Title IX and the volleyball team members would suffer irreparable harm. The volleyball team also insists the school’s roster management and EADA reporting practices are misleading. Namely, according to the volleyball team, the school sets artificial roster floors in order to generate inflated figures, which in turn gives a misleading appearance of Title IX compliance.

About a year ago, Judge Underhill issued a temporary injunction preventing Quinnipiac from cutting the women’s volleyball program or any other female opportunities. The judge reserved ruling on whether competitive women’s cheerleading is a Title IX-eligible sport. That ruling should arrive in days.

Closing arguments occurred three weeks ago, and in its closing statement, Quinnipiac argued that competitive cheerleading meets every requirement for consideration as an emerging sport: “Don’t close the door to the thousands of women who intend to compete in this new sport and it is a sport. If the court doesn’t recognize it will be a death knell (to competitive cheerleading).” Quinnipiac intimates that if it could not count the competitive women’s cheer team under Title IX, the sport may be economically unsustainable and abandoned.

Many thanks to research assistant Britney Turner for her assistance on this post.