HARTFORD, Conn. – 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.

The issue is part of a lawsuit filed by five members of the volleyball team at Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University and coach Robin Sparks last year after the 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 recently agreed 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 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,” Carpenter said.

“It provides a case, whichever way it goes, that can work its way up the judicial food chain, and ultimately provide a precedent.”

Underhill issued a temporary injunction last year that prevented the school from disbanding the volleyball team after finding the school was over-reporting the participation opportunities for its female athletes and under-reporting 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.

An attorney for the plaintiffs said the lawsuit is apparently a first.

“What makes this case significant is that, as far as I know, this will be the first time any court has been asked to rule whether competitive cheer is a sport for Title IX purposes,” said lawyer Jon Orleans, who represents the volleyball players.

An activity can be considered a sport under Title IX if it meets specific criteria. It must have coaches, practices, competitions during a defined season, and a governing organization. The activity also must have competition as its primary goal — not merely the support of other athletic teams.

During last year’s hearing, school cheer coach Mary Ann Powers defended competitive cheer as a legitimate sport, saying her team is made of athletes, most of them elite gymnasts.