Quinnipiac University officials can't get rid of the school's women's varsity volleyball team no matter how hard they try.
The Hamden-based school first tried to eliminate the team for budgetary reasons in 2009 and replace it with a competitive cheer squad. But a federal judge said competitive cheer was not a sport and that the move would violate Title IX , the federal law that, among other things, requires colleges that receive federal funds to provide equal athletic participation opportunities for men and women.
The university responded by adding women's rugby and "acrobatics and tumbling" known to its fans as "acro" to try to even out the number of sports team roster spots available to female and male athletes.
Then Quinnipiac went back into court, hoping those additions would allow for the elimination of women's volleyball. But last week, U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill wasn't fully buying into acro and denied the university's motion to lift an injunction that prevents it from cutting volleyball.
"At most, the University has shown that it has made some progress toward the goal of effective accommodation, but those modest adjustments over the past two years have brought only incremental improvements in gender equity, not full and lasting compliance with Title IX," Underhill wrote.
Quinnipiac spokeswoman Lynn Bushnell issued a statement saying the school is disappointed with the ruling, but "remains committed to its long-standing plans to continue expanding opportunities in women's athletics."
The National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association website describes the activity as a "new sport" that embodies "gymnastic skill sets." But it lists only six colleges nationally currently fielding teams. While Judge Underhill acknowledged that improvements had been made in terms of more cohesive rules of competition and a better championship format, he noted that acro is not recognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association as a sport, or even as an emerging sport.
"And without that recognition, acro lacks what every other varsity men's team sponsored by Quinnipiac enjoys: the chance to participate in an NCAA-sponsored championship," the judge wrote.
Underhill also found that the rugby team lacked quality competition because only four other colleges nationally offer women's rugby as a varsity sport. That meant Quinnipiac's team spent most of its inaugural season playing club teams.
Thomas B. Mooney, a Shipman & Goodwin partner specializing in education law, said Underhill's latest ruling, after Quinnipiac made efforts to comply, "shows how seriously the courts take Title IX."