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What to Expect:  Women's Code Changes For 2007

December 12th, 2006

Last year's NCAA Code Update brought forth some significant changes, in concert with the new Olympic quadrennium and the even more dramatic changes in elite gymnastics.  These NCAA changes had an impact on many teams in 2006 by raising the bar on achieving the highest 9.8+ scores.  For all but the top teams, these changes resulted in lower average scores, and in some cases, more major mistakes.  Teams worked hard last season to maximize their scoring potential, and all pursued upgrades in order to meet tough new rule requirements.  These new rule requirements all centered in new standards for difficulty that was "up to the level of the competition."  For more information on last year's changes, see our feature article in the archives.

In contrast to last season, this year's NCAA Code update sports a slight relaxation of the difficulty requirements on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor by the lowering standards for achieving a routine that is "up to the level of the competition."  These changes are most evident on the uneven bars, the event that proved to be challenging for many teams in 2006.  However, these adjustments on the other events for 2006-2007 are not major.  In 2005-2006, the top athletes proved quite capable of tackling the new requirements, and as the season progressed, the execution improved and the scores began to rise.  Instead, these changes could be viewed as an attempt to fine tune the difficulty levels and also adjust the areas of emphasis in the code.

In this article, we'll focus mainly on the three women's events of the uneven parallel bars, the balance beam and the floor exercise.  Once again, the vault event has remained largely unchanged.  Contrary to the expectations of some, the now near-compulsory Yurchenko Layout 1/1 and Layout 1/2 vaults are still valued at a full 10.0 start value.  Thus, as the athletes continue to master 10.0 Start Value vaults, you will see the average team scores continue to rise on this event.  As a reminder, the NCAA modifications now differ quite significantly in some respects from the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic code for Level 10.  Although the NCAA code is derived from this base, there are several areas where the NCAA has moved in a different direction.  And of course, the code used in the current sport of elite gymnastics (FIG) could almost qualify the two variants as separate and distinct branches of gymnastics.            

Uneven Bars:  Releases De-emphasized

This season on the uneven bars, the NCAA has chosen to de-emphasize and alter the deductions for "up to the level of the competition".  Last season, with scores in the 9.8 range in sight, teams were intent on constructing routines that were considered "up to the level of the competition."  In order to avoid this compositional deduction, gymnasts were compelled to pursue two D releases in a routine, or a D release in direct combination with a C.  This particular compositional deduction allowed the judges to deduct up to a tenth of a point for release selections that were not above the minimum requirements (two releases of at least C&C or D&B value).  Now, that deduction has been turned on its head.  The maximum deduction for "up to the level of the competition" has been changed to a FLAT deduction of only a tenth of a point (0.1).  More important, the "up to the level" deduction can now be satisfied with a D release as part of or separate from one of the following:

    a.  Release Sequence (D+D or C+C+D or better, in any order)
    b.  Pirouette Sequence (D+D or C+C+D or better, in any order)
    c.  Combinations of Release and Pirouettes (D+D or C+C+D or better, in any order)
    d.  Dismount Sequence (D+D or C+C+D or better, in any order)
    e.  Two D releases

In the above listed combinations, just one of the skills needs to include a release or pirouette in order to qualify.

For example, a gymnast with a combination (on high bar, facing low) of a free hip handstand, giant overshoot to a handstand, toe-on straddle-shoot to catch high ("Chinese sit-up") can now meet the "up to the level of the competition" requirement and the basic release requirements.  In another important raise in value, the overshoot (not to handstand) is now rated as a "C" in the code if it immediately follows a D release.  Thus, the popular combination of giant blind, straddle Jaeger to overshoot now results in a C-D-C combination.  This combination now garners 0.3 points in bonus (extra D, 2 times 0.1 in combination bonus), satisfies the minimum release requirement and satisfies the "up to the level of the competition" requirement.  Last season, this very same combination would have been only worth 0.2 points in bonus and a routine containing it without other major difficulty from elements of combinations would be subject to up to one tenth (0.1) in compositional deductions.  Also, for example, a dismount combination of a hop full pirouette, free hip handstand to toe-on front tuck dismount will now meet "up to the level of the competition" requirement.

In another major skill upgrade, the Stalder (circle to handstand with hips bent and feet between or outside of the hand placement), either forward or backward, and with or without a 1/2 turn is now worth a D.  A Stalder with a full turn is an E.  This value change is consistent with the trend in the FIG Code of Points, and the re-emergence of the popularity of Stalder skills.  (Note that this modification was omitted during the first NCAA rules update for 2006-2007 and appear in the December clarification).  

As on other events, certain element values in the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic (JO) code have been altered slightly and new elements have been added.  However in the NCAA code, as was the case last year, a whole class of Healy-type skills (from uprise, cast, giant, free hip, and stalder) and the uprise 1/2 turn (devalued to C in the JO code this year) have been assigned a D value.  Also, as in the JO Code, a new deduction has been added on the balance beam and the uneven bars for saltos in dismounts and mounts having insufficient height (up to 0.3).  

This major change in emphasis away from releases should produce routines with more interesting routine construction, while eliminating some of the major errors made by gymnasts last season.   The largest impact will be on the overall scoring potential and consistency of the routines for teams outside of the Top Ten.  Also last season, the heavy emphasis on meeting the release requirement also produced some uniformity in the routine construction for all teams, including those at the top.  Overall, scores on the event should be higher this season, and potentially show more variety in skill selection, as the teams adjust to the new requirements.

Balance Beam:  A Few Select Changes

The new code has also altered the deduction for choice of acrobatic elements "up to the level of the competition."  First off, this deduction has been switched from "up to 0.2 points" to a FLAT 0.1 points.  Not only has this deduction been minimized, several key changes will make it easier to meet this flat requirement.  The deduction applies if a routine contains a non-bonus earning flight series such as a back handspring to back layout stepout and does not contain any other D acro skill.  Dismounts and mounts may be considered in meeting this requirement.  Thus, this season, any flight series that earns bonus may now satisfy the "up to the level" compositional requirement for difficulty.  Last season, specific three element flight series (such as the bhs-bhs-back layout) were encouraged, as they met the "up to the level" compositional requirement with ease.  These combos still meet the requirement, but they are joined by some (bonus earning) two element flight series that also meet the requirement.  A flight series of minimum B+C is still required.  

The side aerial was upgraded from a C to D, to put the value in conformance with the FIG elite program.  The skill could see a revival, as its use in combinations or as a stand-alone acro skill (along with the "front aerial to a sit" that was upgraded last season) is now valuable enough to meet the "up to the level of the competition" requirement.  The new NCAA update also makes clear that all dismounts of C value are considered "up to the level of the competition."  However, this clarification does leave room for weaker dismounts to be deducted for the "insufficient distribution of elements" compositional deduction.

The compositional deduction for "shapes" of jumps and leaps has been altered this season.  Last year, there was a prohibition on the use of more than two elements of the same shape.  This season, the requirement has been inverted, and the gymnast is required to show two different shapes within the routine or risk a flat one tenth (0.1) deduction.  Shapes for consideration include the straight, straddle, pike, wolf, tuck, split, ring, sheep and cat shapes.  Scissor or switch is not considered a shape, but the shape has now been defined by the position at the peak of the skill.  The entry technique does not change the shape of the skill (scissor, one foot, two foot).           

Floor Exercise:  Easing Back on Tumbling Difficulty

"Up to the level" has also been changed on the floor exercise.  Last season, the "up to the level of the competition" deduction was applied to the tumbling passes in the routines, greatly increasing the need for higher value tumbling to avoid a deduction.  Up to two tenths (0.2) of a point were allocated for this deduction, creating some room to spread the scores of routines based on difficulty alone.  This deduction has been reduced to a FLAT one-tenth (0.1) deduction and the requirements simplified to a minimum set.  This minimum set is:

    a.  One D salto
    b.  Last pass containing a D or better or C bonus combination.

Last season, to be certain of avoiding a deduction, a gymnast would need a (minimum) D first pass, a "C bonus" combination (or higher) middle pass, and a (minimum) D last pass.  This relaxed requirement for tumbling still puts strong emphasis on the dismount, but relaxes the requirements overall.  Routines containing a double back and dismount pass of front layout full to punch front will now meet the "up to the level" requirement.

Like on beam, the "shape" repetition deduction has been inverted.  Gymnasts are now required to show jumps or leaps of two different shapes (straight, straddle, pike, wolf, tuck, split, ring, sheep or cat).  As on beam, the shape is defined by the position at the peak of the skill and the entry method does not change the shape.  A minimum C leap is still required, but in another change, a full turn on one foot is not.      


Last year's somewhat dramatic changes produced a dilution of parity in the NCAA, widening the gap between the top teams and reducing scores for most of the teams outside of the Top Ten.  More troubling, the incidence of injury may have been accelerated by a push for difficulty.  The new code changes have relaxed and simplified many of the key difficulty requirements.  The changes in the code will result in higher scores this season for all but the top teams and will result in increasing parity as we head into the post-season.  Some elements of variability and subjectivity in separating the top routines have been eliminated through the use of flat deductions.  Overall, look for a very competitive and higher scoring season in 2007.

For further reference, see the National Association of Women's Gymnastics Judges web site for the NCAA Modifications and December Clarifications.



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