Since the day the Associated Press reported Jeff Webb said Cheerleading is not a sport, I’ve had quite a few conversations and email exchanges with Varsity employees concerning the Quinnipiac University trial and the future of cheerleading. In many cases I’m not stating exactly who said what, but here is a summary of what I was told by my friends at Varsity. As used below, Traditional Cheerleading refers to sideline cheerleading teams, whether or not they compete. Competition Only Cheerleading refers to teams that were established for the sake of competition, including All*Star teams and competition only collegiate teams such as Maryland and Fairmont State.
Quinnipiac University Trial
Varsity is interested in promoting and protecting all forms of cheerleading in the long term, which sometimes means doing something that is misunderstood in the short term in order to do what is best long term. Varsity’s interest in supporting all forms of cheerleading is evident from their involvement in the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), the United State and International All Star Federation (USASF/IASF), USA Cheer, and the International Cheer Union (ICU). From a personal and personnel point of view, Varsity was founded and is run by cheerleaders that have a love of cheerleading and want to see it continue to grow and evolve. The Quinnipiac case is a landmark case concerning the future of cheerleading, so Varsity felt involvement was necessary. More specifically, Jeff Webb got involved with this case, as an expert witness for the Volleyball team in order to protect Traditional Cheerleading. This sounds counter-intuitive, but as explained to me, if Cheerleading as a whole, including Traditional teams, Traditional teams that compete, and Competition Only teams, is considered a sport the focus of the Traditional teams will shift from school leadership and community involvement to competition. And whether we agree with the stance or not, Varsity, especially UCA, has always said Traditional Cheerleading is all about school leadership and community involvement with competition being a bonus. Varsity wanted to help reinforce the focus of Traditional Cheerleading teams and avoid anything that will take Traditional teams away from school leadership and community involvement.
In addition, sports at the High School and Collegiate level have rules that could change what teams can do in terms of fundraising and limit the amount of time teams can participate in the sport. Varsity does not want these potential restrictions to have the consequence of limiting sideline cheerleading responsibilities in favor of competition or preparing for competition. On the opposite end, a concern was mentioned that if Cheerleading becomes a sport, without separating Traditional from Competition Only, it could lead to some Traditional cheerleaders not having an opportunity to compete. These concerns conflict with each other, but that is due to not knowing how each governing body, meaning the NCAA and state high school athletic associations, will respond to cheerleading as a whole being considered a sport.
Profit is an easy thing for people to focus on when criticizing Varsity because of Varsity’s leadership position in the industry. The reality is profit is necessary to remain in business, promote cheerleading, and fund ideas, but it is not the first thought. I questioned this, pointing out Varsity’s relationship with Leonard Green, a private equity firm that appears to have a heavy focus on profits. I was told by someone that has never been in a meeting with the partners of Leonard Green, but has been with NCA since before it was part of Varsity and been in most or all of the high level meeting since the combination, that Jeff has never talked profits first. The same person pointed out the things Jeff has said and done have erased the perception many long time NCA’ers had prior to the combination that UCA/Varsity was too financially focused.
It was also pointed out that the growth and evolution of cheerleading is financially good for all aspects of the industry. Gyms will have more people to train, event producers will have more people and teams at competitions, and parents and athletes will have more options to ensure they are getting what they need. There was no hiding that Varsity is going to profit from what they are doing, but they pointed out that many others, including Varsity’s competitors, will also profit from what Varsity is doing.
Competition Only Cheerleading
Varsity is working with USA Cheer on a competition format they believe will help Competition Only Cheerleading gain recognition as a sport under Title IX and by sports governing bodies, such as the NCAA. USA Cheer did not offer many details about the format or who they were working with, but Bill Seely, the Executive Director of USA Cheer, told me they are talking to the National Competitive Stunt and Tumble Association (NCSTA) in hopes of finding a format that will meet all the criteria USA Cheer has been told is necessary to get recognition as a sport from the appropriate organizations and more details will be publicized soon. I was told a large part of the concern is whether or not the competitive formats implemented or proposed to date go far enough to differentiate Traditional Cheerleading from Competition Only Cheerleading and a secondary concern is whether or not the proposed formats separate Competition Only Cheerleading far enough away from other sports, specifically gymnastics. If they haven’t done enough to separate themselves, USA Cheer’s understanding is Cheerleading will not be recognized as desired. When asked if USA Cheer would be willing to work closer with NCSTA, I was told yes. I was also told that NCA Vice President Bill Boggs offered to create an NCSTA division at NCA 2010 College Nationals, but the offer was declined, but NCA is still open to working with the NCSTA and having an NCSTA division at NCA College Nationals.
I’m not going to draw a conclusion yet. I’d like to hear what others have to say in addition to and in response to what is stated here. I’d also like to find out more about the competition only format being developed before coming to a conclusion. Please let us know your thoughts and what needs to be explained in more detail.