Finding some spot on the continuum to be the dividing line (this is a sport, that isn't) would be the trick, I think, and I'm not sure how to do that.
Well, of course it's always the borderline cases that are the most interesting, as well as the ones that help us better understand the clear-cut cases on both sides of the border.
In this instance, I was all set to side with the judge, especially after seeing how Quinnipiac fudged the numbers in other respects to meet its Title IX goals. But then I re-read what the judge had to say about cheerleading as a sport: "Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students." That got me asking myself: what exactly is
a genuine varsity athletic participation opportunity, and why is it so important?
There are, to be sure, the real
reasons for having intercollegiate athletics -- for starters, the big sports (football and basketball) they can generate tons of cash for Division 1 programs, they publicize the university even to non-athletes, and they allow faded alums the chance to relive vicariously their salad days at dear old Alma Mater. I'm sure, however, that the judge wasn't talking about those reasons for college athletics.
Instead, I figure he was talking about the justifications that colleges routinely use in order to avoid talking about those real reasons -- i.e. the chance for students to develop team and leadership skills while engaging in physical activity. But then doesn't cheerleading provide that as well? It seems clear that it does. So what's missing?
My guess is that the tiebreaker for the judge is that there's no organized competition in cheerleading. In other words, there's no recognized national rule-making body for the sport, no intercollegiate conferences, no national championship. Well, that may or may not be true -- it looks like somebody thinks there's a national cheerleading championship
-- but again, why is that
I suppose that, in order for something to be a sport, there has to be some sort of competition, but is that really crucial to the "genuine varsity athletic participation opportunity" experience? If we want our student athletes to develop leadership skills and be physically active, does it matter whether or not those students also get a chance to defeat some other student athletes on the other side of the field who are also developing their leadership skills while being physically active?
Of course, if you take away the competition aspect, then everyone might as well be doing jumping jacks, and there's not much fun in that. But that seems to be taking the viewpoint of the spectator, not the participant. Competition, in other words, is more important for the fan than for the athlete (the athlete might enjoy the competition just as much, but the athlete is also getting all of the physical and mental benefits of participation), yet there's not even a pretense about expanding or protecting the "genuine varsity athletic viewership opportunities" for spectators.
In short, the crux of the judge's decision is that it's unfair for Quinnipiac to deprive its female students of the opportunity to beat some other university's female students in athletic competition. I'm just not convinced that's the right approach to this issue.