Cheer Evolving, But Will NCAA Call It an Emerging Sport?

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The latest noise on the national competitive cheer front was sounded last Wednesday, when USA Cheer submitted to the NCAA a proposal to add "stunt" to the association's list of emerging sports. Last year, a group of six universities calling itself the National Collegiate Athletics and Tumbling Association, with support from USA Gymnastics, submitted its own proposal to the NCAA. Katie Thomas chronicles the evolution of cheerleading in today's New York Times.

Varsity status for cheerleading is a concept first elevated to new heights by the University of Oregon, among a handful of other schools, but it is unclear when or if the NCAA will ever stage championships in the sport. In fact, it's still debated whether the activity represents a sport at all.

The two groups seeking the NCAA's stamp of approval share some similarities, including longer competitions than in the past and team uniforms not unlike those worn by volleyball players. Main differences, according to the Times, center on scoring and the competitive season. Not surprisingly, the acrobatics and tumbling group favors a scoring system similar to gymnastics, with points awarded based on degree of difficulty. The stunt group backed by USA Cheer envisions head-to-head competitions divided into quarters. A third distinction involves teams sizes, with the tumbling group championing squad sizes of 32 to 36 athletes, with a maximum of 12 scholarships. The stunt group calls for 20- to 30-member rosters and twice as many scholarships.

The Times reports that the NCAA committee charged with vetting emerging sports could present both versions to the association membership, it could select one version over the other, or it could request that a single compromise proposal be submitted by the two groups.

A final caveat: Regardless of what form the activity takes, its designation as an emerging sport doesn't guarantee that schools will be able to use roster numbers to satisfy gender-equity requirements. As the Times' Thomas points out, the Office for Civil Rights has said it presumes that a sport can be counted if it is recognized by the NCAA. However, schools must still treat the team like other varsity sports in terms of financial support and rigorous competition and practice schedules.

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