Yeah, I am not actually going to answer that question using my own personal thoughts on the matter. I remain pretty ambivalent about the debate.
But the issue has come up again. This time in Darien, Connecticut which recently underwent a review by the Office of Civil Rights because a Title IX complaint was filed by a parent of a female swimmer alleging inequity in participation numbers and scheduling (the latter was deemed unfounded by OCR).
OCR found a 1.9 percent discrepancy in examining the ratio of females in the district/female athletes and boys/male athletes. This is pretty small.
Feeling the need to explain, the superintendent of schools said that if cheerleaders had been counted, the district would have achieved proportionality--one test (out of three) for measuring compliance.
But cheerleaders are not counted. Darien is not alone in this. Many institutions would meet the proportionality prong if cheerleaders could be counted. So is cheerleading a sport?
According to the article, the OCR will not allow it. But this is not entirely true. A 1975 letter of clarification stated that "drill teams, cheerleaders and the like, which are covered more generally as extracurricular activities . . . are not part of the institution's 'athletic program' within the meaning of the [Title IX] regulation." BUT given the changes in cheerleading over the years, the OCR has adopted a policy of examining cheerleading on a case-by-case basis when an institution wants to count cheerleaders as athletes. Here is an explanation provided by the Women's Sports Foundation:
Q: Can cheerleading be considered a varsity sport?
A: No in the case of traditional cheerleading where cheerleaders perform at athletic events and participating in no or few cheerleading competitions each year. Yes if the cheerleading team has a coach, practices as frequently as a regular varsity team, and competes against other cheerleading teams on a regular basis and more frequently than it appears to cheer for other teams.
Basically, the cheerleading squad must exist to do MORE than just support other athletic teams. Despite my ambivalence, I do want to suggest that adding cheerleading may not be the panacea many schools believe it to be. Given the extremely high injury rate among cheerleaders, they would likely require a team physician. They would be required to travel with a certified athletic trainer most certainly. And I would imagine there is a decent amount of travel required as well. Coaches would have to be paid commensurate with the pay scale athletic departments use for other coaches likely resulting in pay increases for existing coaches or the hiring of qualified coaches.
If cheerleading was approved as a sport that would mean cheerleaders would have to be treated equitably. They might be eligible for things like training tables; they would have to be given equitable access to practice and weightlifting facilities; publicity would be required. Because recruiting dollars are examined under Title IX, cheerleading would have to be given a recruitment budget like other sports.
For cheerleaders to "become" athletes in the eyes of both the OCR and the institution there has to be more than just a counting of heads--there has to be equitable treatment of them once they are given that status. And since many institutions already have a problem treating their current female athletes equitably, I do not think cheerleaders would fare any better.
But if you're interested in fighting that battle, go to it! Rah!