In a local T-Mobile advertisement, Corky appeared with Emporia State cheerleaders and coaches, an arrangement which ESU Athletics say is mutually valuable for the business and university.
“That is what corporate partnerships are, beneficial to both parties,” said Kent Weiser, athletic director. “If we are not driving business to their store, they are not going to advertise with us.”
The ad showed Corky in the T-Mobile store, ending with head football coach Garin Higgins in Welch Stadium with Hornet cheerleaders, endorsing T-Mobile and encouraging attendance at games. The commercial was updated for the basketball season with a version featuring men’s head basketball coach Shaun Vandiver and women’s coach Jory Collins.
While NCAA rules prohibit athletes from endorsing products, no rules were broken since cheerleaders are not considered athletes under Title IX in the NCAA manual.
But some disagree and say cheerleaders are, in fact, athletes.
“I definitely consider cheerleaders athletes – other athletes lift weights, we lift people,” said Mallory Baird, senior elementary education major and Hornet cheerleader. “I know a lot of cheerleaders don’t compete, but we work just as hard as any other sport and I have had so many injuries in my life from cheering. It is the second hardest sport there is. It is a fact. I definitely, definitely don’t think we get enough recognition. But I know I am an athlete.”
Travis Sipe, freshman wildlife biology major and cross-country runner, said he considers cheerleaders to be athletes because they are treated as such by the university.
“But since they are not considered athletes by the NCAA, I don’t think it was wrong for them to be in the commercial,” Sipe said. “I would have done the same thing.”
The ad was authorized on an “approved basis,” by Weiser, meaning the final product had to be approved by him and university marketing
Cheerleaders receive scholarships in the same manner as official student athletes under Emporia State rules and must maintain the same grades as their colleagues.
Weiser said he assumes the NCAA does not consider cheerleaders athletes because cheerleading is not a competitive sport.
“We still require them to maintain grades and work towards their degrees, but that isn’t NCAA rules,” Weiser said. “We hold them kind of to a high standard.”
Weiser said neither the university nor the people involved in the commercial received anything extra from T-Mobile and that the coaches and cheerleaders volunteered. He said it was part of the sponsorship with T-Mobile in which they receive about $6,000 a year.
“We benefit from it certainly financially with their support, but then also it brings awareness to our teams and encourages people to attend and support them,” Weiser said. “When you create partnerships you have to be creative. We don’t let anybody do it and we have to approve them all, but I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with that.”
Weiser said he would be open for more commercials in the future but has no current plans for making another.