HARTFORD - A federal judge is being asked to decide whether cheerleading can be counted as a sport by schools looking for ways to meet gender-equity requirements.

It is part of a lawsuit filed by five members of the volleyball team at Quinnipiac University and coach Robin Sparks last year after the Connecticut school decided in a budgetary move to eliminate women's volleyball in favor of a competitive cheer squad.

Judge Stefan Underhill also will be asked to decide whether Quinnipiac improperly manipulates the size of the rosters of its other teams to get around complying with Title IX, the 1972 federal law that mandates equal opportunities for men and women in athletics. Underhill agreed recently to make the lawsuit a class action for all current and future female athletes at Quinnipiac.

The case goes to trial in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, beginning today.

Linda Carpenter, a professor emerita at Brooklyn College and co-author of the book "Title IX," said the women's sports community is watching the case closely. "These are significant issues and a significant case," she said.

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Underhill issued a temporary injunction last year that prevented the school from disbanding the volleyball team after finding it was overreporting the participation opportunities for its female athletes and underreporting the opportunities for men.

Evidence showed the men's baseball and lacrosse teams, for example, would drop players before reporting data to the Department of Education and reinstate them after the reports were submitted. Conversely, the women's softball team would add players before the reporting date, knowing the additional players would not be on the team in the spring.

Quinnipiac officials said that the school "believes that it has complied with all aspects of Title IX legislation and will continue to do so."