NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Competitive cheerleading is too "underdeveloped" to qualify as a full-fledged sport for women under federal gender equality rules, and the university which proposed it discriminated against women, a federal judge in Connecticut ruled.
In the 95-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill said Quinnipiac University, located in Connecticut, had discriminated against women when it sought to eliminate the school's varsity volleyball team and create a competitive cheerleading squad in its stead.
Universities are mandated under a federal statute called Title IX modified in 1975 to provide equal opportunity for men and women in athletics programs.
"Quinnipiac discriminated on the basis of sex... by failing to provide equal athletic participation opportunities for women," Underhill said.
Plaintiffs' attorney Jonathan Orleans praised the ruling, saying in a statement "This is a victory not only for the student athletes and their coach, but for women's collegiate sports generally."
Connecticut ACLU executive director Andrew Schneider said the decision "gives force to the law that has opened doors for women over the last 30 years."
"The University's competitive cheerleading team does not qualify as a varsity sport for the purposes of Title IX and, therefore, its members may not be counted as athletic participants under the statute," the judge ruled.
While cheerleading may be recognized in the future, the judge said, "the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students."
There are numerous cheerleading competitions around the country emphasizing dance and gymnastics moves.
Lynn Bushnell, a spokeswoman for Quinnipiac, said in a statement the school "is disappointed that the court has disallowed competitive cheer as a varsity sport." She said the university would continue to press for competitive cheerleading to become an officially-recognized varsity sport.
The school will add women's rugby to equalize opportunities for women, the spokeswoman said.
Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Greg McCune