As debate over whether cheerleading constitutes a sport continues, one thing appears almost certain: It no longer will be a sport at the University of Maryland.
An activity that Maryland was first in the nation to grant varsity status will be cut along with seven other sports, the university has announced. Athletic department insolvency was given as the reason. According to The Washington Post, the school had invested more than $4 million in the team, which morphed from "competitive cheer" to "acrobatics and tumbling," since 2003. That's when the university's athletic council first voted to grant varsity sport status to a program that first started seeking such recognition in 1987. The current squad operated with an annual budget of $629,686, spreading 11.3 scholarships among 40 team members.
Maryland's College Park campus had been the site of a five schools nationwide that field teams in a sport the NCAA still doesn't recognize. In 2010, a U.S. district judge ruled that Quinnipiac University's competitive cheer team failed to meet the U.S. Department of Education definition of a varsity sport, sending a chilling message to any school considering launching their own program as a means to comply with Title IX. "It was an ill-conceived notion, done for the wrong reason at the wrong time," Donna Lopiano, former chief executive of the Women's Sports Foundation, told Washington Post reporter Liz Clarke, speaking of Maryland's pioneering position.
The Post reports that current Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson will grant the team a reprieve if it can raise eight years of operating costs by June 30. Team members have begun working toward that $5.28 million goal, but have raised a mere $5,221. Worst-case scenario: They plan to stay together next season as a dues-paying club. Maryland coach Laura Chiriaco, a former member of the team's first official recruiting class, feels the sport was primed for a huge leap. "I have a hard time thinking why anyone would be opposed to something that could provide so many opportunities for female athletes," Chiriaco told the Post. "We still have a lot of work to do, as far as overcoming stereotypes. But we were on the cusp of this really taking off."
In January 2004, then Maryland coach Lura Fleece, herself a former Terps cheerleader, could not have been more optimistic about the sport's prospects. "I'm training my daughters now," Fleece told AB at the time. "I have a 7- and a 4-year-old, and they're in gymnastics. It will happen. They will get college scholarships."
If they do receive college scholarships, it likely won't be from their mother's alma mater - at least not in the sport of acrobatics and tumbling.