July 29, 2015

Everything's Going To Change Now, Isn't It?

First things first, Simone Biles is going pro and will not compete in NCAA. It's a completely understandable decision. In her specific case, the lure of going pro is virtually undeniable. Unlike some other pro gymnasts who commit to an NCAA program as a clear Plan B if things don't work out, I get the feeling that Simone really did want to compete for UCLA but was in an untenable position. Let's direct our fury at the antiquated, unrealistic rules that require her to choose in the first place.

It is a positive for the profile of gymnastics as a whole in the United States to have someone as successful and marketable as Simone able to take advantage of everything being a professional athlete entails. If everything goes to plan, she's going to be a damn star, with her dominance, cheerful personality, and natural presence in front of a camera (she's not one of the I'm So Honored robots, and I hope they don't turn her into one). Usually I rail against people going pro at this point in the quad because you just don't know what's going to happen, but everyone and their dog knows Simone is going to the Olympics if she's healthy, so this isn't like a Bieger situation.

But mostly, I want to take this opportunity to talk about the new NCAA rules, which are finally published and official. (Thanks to super sleuth Cordelia Price for the twitter red alert.) Take a look. This is basically just confirmation of the information that circulated a few months ago, but now it's all real, and we have to deal with it. Let's break down the major developments.

1) Yurchenko full and Yurchenko 1/2, 9.95 start value. 

Al Trautwig would like me to take this opportunity to remind you that the start value is the value at which the vault starts.

This is the big one. Shockingly, I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other so far. Something had to be done about the omnipresence of Yfulls in NCAA gymnastics. It's everyone, all the time. But it remains to be seen whether downgrading the vault is that solution. There are a number of people on top teams (like Scaman) who will be able to upgrade realistically and safely back to a 10.0 SV vault, which should change the dynamic of the vault lineups at showcase meets, but for the most part, teams will still be performing their same lineups packed with Yfulls because they don't have more difficult vaults or different entries to do. The Yfull will remain by far, far, far the most-performed vault in NCAA, even with this change. It will just score lower. Although, if we see even a small upswing in the number of Omelianchiks performed, then I'll be a happy camper.

The argument against downgrading the full has long been that it makes it even harder for the second-tier teams to compete and inhibits (DUN DUN DUN) parity, since only the top teams will be able to put up the 1.5s. I used to subscribe to this argument more than I do now. It's not like the second-tier teams were an inch away from making Super Six and now they have no chance. They weren't getting there anyway. This won't change that dynamic and perhaps will allow some less traditional vaults to stand out.

I do, however, wonder what this will do for the equivalency of scoring across the four events. Currently, vault and floor enjoy a slight advantage over bars and beam in total scoring, but it's not major or definite, and they're all within reason. Hopefully this doesn't degrade the vault scores too much to the point where it becomes the clear lower-scoring event. How about we agree that execution judging gets .050 stricter on the other events to maintain the balance with all these yfulls? 

But overall, I appreciate that this adds a new wrinkle to proceedings (whether or not it solves the problem in any substantive way) and provides an extra element of strategy. Which teams are going to take the plunge and start throwing a bunch of 1.5s, and which teams will play it safe with their fulls and hope to get through on execution over teams throwing potentially sloppier 1.5s? (What a very elite question!) It could also change the lineups. Someone like Breanna Hughes for Utah has a 1.5, but hasn't been making the vault lineup. Does having a 1.5 put her over the edge? (Or will that happen anyway because every single Utah gymnast graduated after last year?) 

Also, the judging aspect should get interesting. And by interesting, I mean infuriating. So no change there. How are these vaults going to be scored? Currently, 1.5s get a little bit of scoring forgiveness compared to equivalently executed fulls. Does that unwritten boost go away now that the 1.5 advantage is codified, or does it stay? Is 9.950 going to be a realistic score for a great full, or will it be reserved solely for almost-great 1.5s? We're all going to be watching those vault scores like damn vultures. Get ready, judges. You thought we were critical before? Bring me all the fine-toothed combs in the land! 

Final note: Vulture-eyed Uncle Tim noted that while the Yfull has been downgraded, the Yurchenko piked full still starts from a 10.0. Yeah. Nothing has better encapsulated the nonsense of NCAA gymnastics rule procedures than that. Someone needs to clean that oversight up. Can you imagine? Coaches frantically telling everyone to be really sure to pike their straight vaults at the end. "It's totally piked! I swear! 10!" 

2) The McMurtry Rule

In other important news, the "up to the competitive level" deduction (0.10) on uneven bars has become stricter in an attempt to prevent easier, risk-free routines from getting such huge scores. But that never happens!

At its heart, the new rule requires a same-bar release of at least D value on bars, which many have spent years clamoring for, but in reality, there are enough exceptions included that the requirement is sort of neutered and basically refers only to routines with McMurtry-style composition.

Gymnasts can now must fulfill the bars "up to level" requirement with one of the following:
1) a D same-bar release
2) any release of E value
Shap 1/2, bhardwaj, etc. will still suffice to complete the requirement. If the rule is the McMurtry Rule, this is the Peng Exception.
3) minimum of two D releases
That means that routines with a bail and a shap are also still fine. I didn't need this exception. You should still have to perform a same-bar release if you're not Peng.
4) minimum of two E skills
This is another interesting one, meaning that someone could do, say, a stalder full and a DLO dismount and avoid having to perform a same-bar release, which makes no sense.  

3) No more event finals
This is not part of the rule amendments, and may not necessarily be in place immediately for the upcoming season, but word is also that event finals are to be done away with. I have never been the biggest fan of event finals and would not be as sad as some others to see them die (it's just so anti-climactic and 95% boring unless someone throws out a cool skill), but to do away with a day of gymnastics completely instead of trying to overhaul the system is a little depressing. It seems like we could come up with some other, entertaining way to continue to showcase the sport.

The other part of this development is, according to Greg Marsden for a hot second on facebook, that the semifinals would remain on Friday, but the final wouldn't be until Sunday, leaving a whole day off in between with no competition. That's a bore, shatters the momentum of the event, and is a pain for the fans who actually might want to travel to the event, forcing an extra day of no gymnastics upon them. Hopefully if this does happen, the semifinals will be moved to Saturday, which makes much more sense.

Sadly, the proposal to limit the team final to four teams instead of six was rejected again because of.........the reasons? That are terrible and don't exist? Super Six is too long, and byes make competitions awkward. It's just not an efficient or organized system and could be so much more entertaining. "Oh, boo hoo, limiting it to four teams means fewer teams get a chance to participate in the final!" Cry me a river. I'm sorry, were you not aware that you are competing in a sport? Suck it up. You want to be in the final? Then get better.

Honestly, if event finals are to be eliminated and the final moved to Sunday, my ideal system would see 16 teams advance to nationals, divided into 4 semifinals each of 4 teams, with only the winners advancing to the team final. Two semifinals would take place on Friday, and the other two would be on Saturday. This will never happen because the teams going on Saturday would raise a hell of a stink about not getting a rest day (because once again, the NCAA coaches' main justification for any decision they make is "waaaaaaaah!"), but it would be great.

Elsewhere in the rules, there were a few other small changes in beam and floor requirements, but they shouldn't make all that much difference in most cases. Of note, on floor an E dance element can now satisfy up to level (or two D elements, instead of one), and the requirement to show two different shapes in dance elements on beam and floor has disappeared, which is fine because no one was paying attention to it in the first place.


  1. my question is since they are doing away with event finals are they doing away with all event winners or are they going to award those winners on semi night or on super six night?

    1. I'm not sure if we know yet. I've heard that it would be based on the semifinal day with all judges scores counting, but that seems like it would still create a whole mess of ties and nonsense.

  2. If we get the 16 teams to nationals and 4 semi finals with the wiiner of each semi finals advancing to finals, you get the unfair situation that a team that finished 2nd of its pool may have finished with a higher score than the winner of another pool, and still not qualify... Couldn't just the top 4 scoring teams advance to finals?

    1. It's true and a worthy concern, but that could also happen now. We can have a 4th-place team in one semifinal scoring higher than qualifying teams from the other semifinal. (It should have happened last year since Michigan in the first semi performed way better and should have scored higher than some of the teams advancing from the second semi, but got eliminated, which sucked for them but is just the way things go.)

      Overall, I think we need to move away from the idea of fairness as the ultimate goal. Sports aren't fair. In every sport that has any kind of knockout system, you have great teams getting eliminated early while weaker teams advance farther because of the randomness of the draw and the difficulty of their opponents. That's the whole nature of the NCAA basketball tournament, for instance. Do the teams that play the best always advance the farthest? No. That's what makes it fun. Creating an exciting event should be the goal, so while having the top-scoring teams going through might be more fair (although people would still find something to complain about—the scoring on day 2 was looser!), it would be way less interesting and pretty anticlimactic, especially if you watch, say, a whole session where none of the four teams end up advancing.

  3. I think your 16 teams to nationals proposal is actually a really good idea and think you should do an individual post on it. I think one way to increase market appeal for gymnastics is to make the format more similar to the NCAA basketball tournament. IMO, the NCAA basketball tournament draws people in who know nothing about basketball, and I'd love for NCAA gym to have the same appeal. This format produces a "Sweet 16 and Final Four" just like basketball.
    I think coaches whose teams were often in the top 16 but didn't always make nationals would be all for this proposal, it would help them put their team on the map. (I'm thinking teams like Denver, Illinois, Arkansas, Oregon State, Cal, Penn State, etc) would be all over this.
    Also, to eliminate your concern that the Friday vs Saturday split is unfair (which it is) why not have a gymnastics marathon semifinal on Friday. You could have 4 sessions with 4 teams each (9AM, 1PM, 5PM, 9PM) and finals on Sunday. I think if I came for 8 hours of straight gymnastics on Friday, I'd want a rest day (as a fan) between that marathon and the finals.

    (I will say that I live in a city where college basketball is a BIG deal, so maybe I'm wrong that likening the format to basketball would increase appeal nationwide.) That said, I would love to see 16 teams to nationals and 4 in the finals happen. It accomplishes Marsden's proposal of 4 teams in finals and still increases the opportunity for teams to get to Nationals.

    1. I would love to see 16 teams and 4 sessions of prelims. I agree about having 4 sessions of 4 for prelims on the same day though. I'm all about having the best competition, but I think that giving 2 of the 4 teams a day off would be really unfair to the other 2 teams that have to compete back to back. I would say that is a legit complaint as opposed to whining. However, I can see the problem from a judging perspective. That is a really long day. Perhaps, they could just have 2 sets of judges - 1 set for the first two sessions and another set for the last 2. Since, rotations could already be decided beforehand, it wouldn't really be an issue in terms of score determining rotation order.

      It would be a problem for event champions if they're going by prelims now, but at this rate, I would almost rather that they just go by RQS anyway. If we're still going to have EFs, then just go by the top 2 on each event from each session and for the AA, have top 2 AAers from each session compete each event during EFs pick the AA champ on day 3 as well.

      If there needs to be a day off with the hypothetical 16 teams championships or the current format, then they should perhaps look into incorporating the mens and women's championships. I don't follow men's college gymnastics, but if women's prelims were Friday, men's finals on Saturday (not sure how their format is otherwise), and women's finals on Sunday afternoon, I would probably watch it. I'm sure there are reasons why they don't do this now, but just seems smarter to avoid having a free day in between prelims and finals and it could help grow the audience more for men's college gymnastics.

  4. If Event Finals are eliminated (I assume the four winners would be declared in semis, like the AA champ), why not have a Showcase where the gymnasts can perform their best events for the audience? Seniors could throw whatever difficulty they want and would include the top seniors from the lesser schools who have no chance to make finals or who usually perform well, but had an off day at Regional qualifying and failed to make the final.

    As for the freshmen, sophomores and juniors the Top 8 competitors on each event in semifinals (not including senior scores) could make the Showcase (kind of like after the Olympics when the gymnasts tour, but this is one night with less of the gymnast's choosing – doesn't have to be school colours).

    The Top 8 with no seniors would be something like this:

    Vault final:
    1. Junior
    2. Senior
    3. Senior
    4. Freshman
    5. Junior
    6. Freshman
    7. Sophomore
    8. Sophomore

    Since 2 seniors made Top 8 the next two non-seniors would qualify for the non-competitive, just for fun Showcase (everyone cannot qualify because of time constraints).

    So let's say spots 9-12 were all senior gymnasts as well as the 14 spot.

    13. Junior
    15. Sophomore
    Would be the final qualifiers.