Saturday, February 4, 2023

Opinion: MTSU dance team fights for recognition amid historic performance

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The MTSU Dance Team competed in the annual Universal Dance Association National College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship at Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports on January 13-15 in 2023. 

These students anxiously awaited this event after earning three high honor awards this past summer at the 2022 Universal Dance Association Camp, competing against Division 1 Schools including the 2021 National Champions, and The University of Memphis Dance Team. 

Memphis earned the Game Day Superior Award and Superior Award for the first time in its history. The team earned the most prestigious award of the camp, the Outstanding Gameday Award.

However, despite its success over recent years, this team is not considered a sport by the Middle Tennessee State University Athletics Department. 

On the contrary, this talented dance team is considered part of the MTSU Marching Band. Therefore, none of these dance team members are considered student-athletes, putting not only their team at a major disadvantage, but these students also receive no benefits that every other MTSU athlete gets for their time and effort. 

For instance, MTSU Dance Team members receive no scholarships, no priority registration, no designated tutors, and no athletic trainers or strength coaches. The dance team does not even have a designated practice facility and has to rely on other athletic programs such as the football and basketball team to use their facilities if available. 

MTSU Dance team coach Katie Stricklin said their team is not funded by the university, but they are given a small budget from the band. She further explained that the team holds multiple fundraisers to pay for the majority of their things such as clinics, uniforms, and camp. 

According to junior dance team member Ansley Eskew, the funding is so small that it cannot even go towards their national competition, so each dance team member pays $1,400 out of pocket to go every year.

With that being said, Alexis Bockman pointed out that the MTSU Football team rents out a hotel for the night of every home game, to prevent any potential issues for the players that could prohibit them from playing the game the next day. 

“The money it takes to rent out the hotel for one night of the season could cover the entire Nationals trip for the dance team,” Bockman said. “Yet we receive no money every year and have to pay for it ourselves.” 

The dance team is not the only program that is not recognized under MTSU athletics. Members of the MISU Cheer squad are also not considered student-athletes. Instead, they are considered MTSU Campus Recreation Club Members.

While other universities consider their dance team and cheer squad members to be student-athletes and grant them scholarships more like football and basketball players, the NCAA does not recognize cheerleading or dance as a sport, despite the fact both of these activities tend to practice and compete for more hours per week than other sports. 

The NCAA, however, defines a sport as “an institutional activity, sponsored at the varsity or club level, involving physical exertion for the purpose of competition against teams or individuals within an intercollegiate competition structure.”

The MTSU Dance team is a team institutionalized by Middle Tennessee State University, and this team performs four different forms of physical activity, and they compete at the national level every year.

There could be multiple reasons these teams are underfunded and unrecognized by the Athletic Department at MTSU.

“In a perfect world, I would love to have cheer and dance under the Athletics Department,” MTSU assistant athletic director Chelsea Floyd said.

Jenna Roberts is a sports reporter for MTSU Sidelines. If you have any information for a story, you can contact her at jennanroberts3@gmail.com.

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