Saturday, 27 April 2024 16:37

An Exciting and Surprising Ending to a Season to Remember

Written by
OU's Audrey Davis, the 2024 UB and BB Champion OU's Audrey Davis, the 2024 UB and BB Champion (c) 2023 Lloyd Smith, Used by Permission

What a wild and exciting finish to the NCAA gymnastics season!.  We have a new first time Women's Champion and a five in a row Men's team champion.  Let's do a quick rewind and visit some of our wishes for next season.

Tigers Triumph

LSU won their first women's National Team Championships in gymnastics, earning the title with a spectacular BB rotation in a nerve-filled final round.  A team loaded with talent, they only improved through the season as the injured stars like Kiya Johnson gained strength and newcomers like Konnor McClain gained strength and experience.  Although they had to battle injuries again, their extreme depth allowed them to power through the season and build to a champion squad.  A constant throughout was star Haleigh Bryant, the 2024 NCAA All Around champ who was a constant force throughout the season, and the champion in the end.  Teammate Aleah Finnegan, the 2024 NCAA FX Champ, was another key athlete, as was transfer Savannah Schoenherr and KJ Johnson, both who missed last season with injury.  A loaded LSU squad is set to challenge for a repeat next season.   

The Shock of the Year

The big surprise this season, of course, happened in the second NCAA semi-final.   The then-ranked #1 Sooners were a favorite to repeat as National Championships, after an undefeated regular season and a strong Regional performance.  OU opened on vault, and suffered a rare team meltdown with a fall and several very short landings.  Their semi-final also happened to be packed with talent, and even if they had hit five vaults it was very likely they still would have been in in a tight race with Utah and Florida to advance from the semifinal.   During the season, they set a new NCAA Team scoring record with a 198.95, erasing a record that stood since 2004.   But such is the nature of parity in the NCAA today that even one mistake can prevent the #1 team from the regular season from advancing. 

Regionals and "Upsets"

We saw a number of "upsets" and surprising results in the Regional competitions as well, as lower seeded teams knocked off the higher seeds.  It made for some unpredictable and exciting meets.  The parity across the NCAA combined with less rigorous scoring can mean that a single counting fall can eliminate just about any team in the Top 36.   Because teams enter the competition based on "National Qualifying Score" or NQS, a team can gain momentum during the season as key gymnasts re-enter the lineups, but qualify for the post-season with a lower ranking.  This was the case with Stanford, which finished the regular season in 19th position and ended up all the way at 5th.    In addition, certain teams entered the Regional competitions with a higher seeded position, based on high scores in the regular season.  But in the post-season, in light of higher levels of competition and judging panels that had to pay closer attention to potential deductions, we saw 14 teams post scores over 0.925 points below their season highs, and seven teams the same amount below their NQS.

Stanford Men Continue to Dominate

The Stanford men won their fifth title in a row.  Unlike the OU women, however, they were not consistently ranked #1 throughout the season.  With a number of gymnasts training for the Olympics and competing internationally, the Cardinal heavily rotated their lineups throughout the season.  Teams like OU, Michigan and Nebraska looked much improved from the last few seasons, and looked ready to challenge the Cardinal for the title.  However, in the end, the Cardinal put forth their best lineups and best sets forward for the team final.  The result?  Their fifth title.  Stanford star Khoi Young won his first AA title.  After a breakout performance at the World Championships, he has strong momentum heading into the battle to make the Olympic team.

Breaking Records

We had a record setting season this year, in the NCAA, with the all-time scoring record broken and numerous programs breaking their all-time highs.  Nearly all of these records date back to the 2004 season.  In 2004, high scores had reached a point that the NCAA finally took action.  The first year, they changed the way judges were assigned to score meets.  Rather than coaches selecting and hiring their coaches, a new Judges Assignment System was deployed.  Limits were set on the number of times a judge could judge a team, and new standards for conflict of interest (like alumni) were established.  The effect was immediate.  The next season saw a reduction in scores.  The following season, the NCAA also adjusted the Modifications to the USA Gymnastics Code of Points for Level 10.  Difficulty requirements were strengthened across the board, and separation between athletes increased.  

Earlier this season, a meet that shall be known as the "Tennessee Classic Debacle" occurred.  Overscoring at the meet was wildly out of control, with no separation between very good routines and those with notable errors.  Teams at the meet ended up posting scores two to three points above their other road scores and above their post-season marks, setting new team scoring records.  The potential best effect of this meet was that increased attention was placed on the wide variation in scoring precision across the country.  This became further evident as we hit post-season, with scoring on teams not holding up in the post season, particularly in the first half of each lineup.  In fact, as in other meets throughout the country, the biggest impact of overscoring is not on the best routines, but on the ones earlier in the lineup where deductions are often mitigated or simply overlooked.   

Wishes for the Next Code Update

There seems to be momentum behind an effort to strengthen the NCAA Code Modifications and to improve the uniformity of scoring across the country.  This potentially means an increase in training, improved accountability and we hope, changes to the NCAA Code Modifications.  At NCAA Nationals, we saw a higher level of scrutiny placed on many of the top routines.  Deductions like toe point in double saltos, swing quality on UB, distribution of difficulty, shoulder angle, dynamics and other less common deductions were seemingly used to separate out the top routines.  This caused some confusion, as some fans were upset with scores for some athletes that ended up a bit lower than they were used to seeing.  More consistent evaluations throughout the country and throughout the season, and more tools for judges to separate out the very good from the great are needed.  

The first priority of the Committee making these changes should be on FX, where this past season 58 teams ended up with National Qualifying Scores (NQS) scores above 49. This compares to the lower totals on the other events:  43 on VT and 43 on UB and BB.  As we pointed out earlier in the season, it is far too easy for a gymnast to start from a 10 on FX, relative to the other events.  A lot of the problem relates to the weakening of the requirements in the code of points and the ease of getting the required amount of difficulty bonus with the fewest number of skills, and therefore, the fewest chances for deduction.  Thus, the much discussed and maligned two-pass routines that have spread like wildfire through the NCAA this past season.  The two pass routine and the changes in the code were done to improve athlete safety, reduce wear and tear and to give strong dancers a chance to excel.  However, the pendulum has swung too far and the NCAA Code Modifications for FX need a serious review. 

We've complained in the past about the awarding of an additional bonus tenth for a double flipping or E salto in the final acro pass of a routine, when in a two pass routine that salto can occurs within the first 30 seconds of the routines.  The rest of the routine is left to a dance combination and too often, filler dance.  We've suggested that the bonus be reserved for those that execute the difficulty in the last ten to 15 seconds of the routines.  However, the FIG (International Gymnastics Federation) has offered up a potentially even better solution.  In the prior FIG Code of Points, an athlete could get an extra bonus for a "D" dismount.  However, as in the NCAA, some gymnast began adopting two pass routines and still earned this bonus.  In the new FIG Code of Points, they will now only reward the bonus for three or four pass routines.  The NCAA should follow suit. 

The NCAA could also raise the requirement for routines to be "up to the level" to be similar to those used in the USA Gymnastics Women's Development Program (WDP) Code of Points for Level 10.  The DP code offers a full 0.2 points for up to the level, not just the 0.1.  This provides for a wider range of separation between routines. 

However, the simplest solution and one that also addresses some of the issues regarding judging uniformity would be to simply adopt the WDP Code of Points for Level 10 on UB, BB and FX, with the exception of the current bonus tenth structure.  The WDP Code allows some routines to start from a 10.1 as long as they fulfill a list of criteria on UB, BB and FX, including an E rated skill and extra dance and acro on BB and FX.  Instead, the NCAA could reset the start value to 9.45 (resulting in a max score of 9.95) and reserve the last 0.05 for the same criteria used for the bonus tenth.  This would make the treatment of the other events more comparable to VT. 


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