36 or Bust... The Top 36 teams will qualify for the post-season Regional competition. The Top 36 are determined by their Regional Qualifying Score (RQS). To calculate the RQS, you take the top three away meet scores, then the three highest home or away scores, toss out the high, and average the remaining five. The RQS needed to get into the Top 36 currently (as of March 5th) is a 193.935 (BYU). Last season at the 8th week of the rankings, the mark was a 193.415. Except for certain teams at the top of the standings, much of the Top 25 are relatively tightly bunched and have been trading wins and losses in matchups throughout the season.
The Lucky 18... The top 18 are especially important because these teams are seeded, three per region, by a committee using a pre-established criteria. The first criteria are "trios" of teams: 1-12-13, 2-11-14, 3-10-15, 4-9-16, 5-8-17, and 6-7-18 are grouped together. If one of those teams is a host of a Regional, this trio is "anchored" to that Region. If more than one team is a host, the trio is broken up and the lower ranking host team is exchanged for another team within two places in the rankings. If a "trio" does not have a host team, then this trio is placed in the Region geographically closest to the highest ranked team in the trio. The committee is also instructed to avoid placing teams that produce too many teams from the same region or conference. The remaining three teams in each Region are placed by geographic proximity.
Luck Plays a Part... Chance does play a role. The rules of the final placement of the teams has the potential to create "strong" and "weak" regions. Most people believe that you do not want to have the host be the #3 ranked team in the trio. Being familiar with the equipment, the support of the home crowd and not having to travel across time zones is usually an advantage. Worse yet, a lower ranked team can also be on the upswing due to early season injuries. (This could also be said of the #4 seeds, as the parity has increased enough to reach down through the Top 24). Conversely, if a seeded team in a Region is struggling with late injuries that impact its post-season scoring potential or has experienced inconsistency due to inexperience, this could be a strong opening for a lower seed to claim one of the two spots at Nationals.
The Hosts with the Most: This year, several of the hosts are not currently in the top 12. Besides Top 18 teams Arkansas, Auburn and Utah, the hosts are Illinois, NC State and Washington. With so many factors in play, its too early to judge which Regional is going to have the fiercest competition. But keep an eye these six, as they are all in the Top 24 and four of them could easily move in and out of the Top 18 within these next several weeks. "Upsets" of Top 12 teams at Regionals have been on the rise the last several seasons, and we have every reason to expect the same this season.
We Asked, You Agree... Our "Poll" at the bottom of our Home Page is only used by a small fraction of the thousands of visitors to the site. But this small sample all seems to agree: the scoring variation is on the rise. We reached a similar conclusion in our January recap.
Shuffling Judges... In years past, a judging panel could be comprised primarily of local judges. Charges of "homering' rang throughout the fan base. Now, half of the panel is not from the host team's state. This has made positive improvements in address home-scoring variation. In addition, because judges are now hitting their four times a season limit (that they can judge a given team), we're seeing the impacts of "judge shuffling". Thus, judges that tend to score easier are being sent to new locations, and those "strict" judges are being sent to other locations, and in some cases, new judges are being given an opportunity. This shuffling is still a bit uneven, due to human nature. The highest ranked schools and the most conveniently connected or popular cities tend to see judges with the highest ratings and from the furthest distance.
The Data's There... With only two judges per panel, each judge can impact the average. The more lenient judge could be consistently the higher score in a two-score average. A problem in bias could occur, however, if one judge was consistently the highest score for one team, and the lowest score for the other. A simple test of objectivity could count the number of times this occurs. A pattern would emerge, and actions could be taken to ensure the objectivity of the panel. However, this last step is not being taken.
A Vault by Any Other Name... The Yurchenko Layout Full and Yurchenko Layout 1/2 are the de facto compulsary vaults of the NCAA. In order to differentiate scores between these vaults, what are the judges looking for within those scant few seconds? What are the most common causes of the deductions that may (or may not) be taken?
- Pre-flight form: Leg separations during the back handspring phase of the vault are the most common issue, but can be easily missed due to the viewing angle of the observer.
- Position on the table: Arm bends and early twisting (including turning of the trunk while the hands are still on the table) are the most visible faults. Less obvious issues include the shoulder angle on the vault and other finer elements of technique.
- In the air: Piking the body after repulsion from the horse and/or "piking" down for a landing are problems that bedevil even the most powerful of athletes. Sometimes, even a powerful athlete who "pop" a vault with good height ends up stalling the rotation and is forced to pike her body to facilitate a good landing. Both height and distance are both subject to deductions, with more deductions available for height, than distance. These factors are all interrelated, and only a select few actually achieve great height, distance and a straight body shape throughout.
- Landing: Even casual fans know that steps and hops are the most obvious deductions. A small hop or step is supposed to be up to 0.1. A step is 0.1, and a very large step or jump (3 feet) is 0.2. Another key area of deduction on these vaults is the chest position on landing. A bent over position on landing is a clear and easy fault for the judges to evaluate. Even arm waves to preseve a "stick", while admirable, are supposed to be deductions.
A "stuck" vault with no pike down issues can easily score a 9.8 or less with deductions for height and distance. A powerful, high and "stuck" can still get deducted for a slight pike down, an early twist and pre-flight form issues.
More Good Stuff... There's been a lot of great gymnastics on display, with great execution, originality and difficulty. In our annual list of Superlatives, we highlight the FIG E, F and G level skills being performed in the NCAA (or vaults 5.3 start value or higher). While our list is not yet complete, one trend is clear: we have more true FIG E+ level skills performed on floor than any other event, and by more athletes than ever before. The level of tumbling in 60+ routines includes a skill that goes above and beyond the requirements of the current NCAA code modifications.