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Guest Opinion: Two quick fixes to help men's NCAAs
(4 votes, average 4.00 out of 5)

NCAA men’s gymnastics has difficulty drawing spectators. The gymnastics is exciting, but the format of the competitions and the scoring make it almost impossible for the spectator to follow. Here are two problems that need to be addressed:

1) Scoring is confusing and inconsistent from event to event

2) The 6-up-4-count format make the team competition difficult to follow

I have used the results from the 2010 NCAA preliminaries and finals in order to make some recommendations to the collegiate coaches. It is my hope that these changes can make the meet more exciting and easier for spectators to follow. It may also make it more enjoyable for the coaches and competitors, as the meets will be closer, and strategic decisions in coaching before and during the meet will have more impact on the final score. I have run a number of statistics on all three NCAA team sessions. I will address each recommendation, based upon the actual statistics from this competition.

Fix No. 1

The format should have either five or six gymnasts up, and all scores count. In no sport can you drop one-third of your performances or efforts in order to arrive at the final team results. If you make a mistake in basketball, golf, baseball or any team sport, it counts towards your final results.

In recalculating the 2010 NCAA men’s finals, using the top five scores from each team, the only difference is that fifth-place Cal-Berkeley would switched places with fourth-place. If you count all six scores, runner-up Stanford would have won by .35. This is a very small margin of change, and if this would have been the case, strategies may have been different. Cal and Ohio State did not have six gymnasts on some events. If Cal would have put a gymnast up on the event they only used five, it would have been fourth, as the difference was six points.

Fix No. 2

Perhaps the biggest problem in following team scores is that vault is way out of line in terms of Start Values and final score. When averaging the Start Values (using six scores per event) for all six events from the NCAA team finals, vault was 2.5 higher than the next event, floor. If you average all the Start Values, vault is 4.34 higher than the average. Also, the average final score is even higher.

Using the actual results, the average vault team score for the finals was 63.27. The average team score of the other five events combined, was 58.49. The difference is 4.78 for four only scores counting! This is because the judges are only evaluating one skill. Everyone knows that vault radically changes the team results. Michigan was in third when it went to vault, and then moved into first. In the NCAA finals, a team moved up two places on average after it vaulted.

If the vault start values are lowered .50 per vault, then the team scores were each lowered 2.0 points overall. There was no change to the final results. However, there were two different placements of teams compared to the actual meet. If one point is taken off of the Start Values, there would have been three different lead changes and 15 different team placements compared to the actual meet. In the finals, the difference between first and second averaged 1.42 during the meet, and first and sixth were separated by an average of 8.88. If vault Start Values are lowered 1.0 each, then the average difference between first and second drops to 1.00 (three different leaders) and the difference between first and sixth becomes 7.57.

Therefore, a 6-up-6-count format with lower vault Start Values (by one point) would make the meet more exciting and easier to follow. Another benefit of lowering the vault Start Values is that it places more emphasis on the events that have full routines. These scores become a bigger percentage of the team score. The two highest Start Value events at NCAAs were vault and floor. Therefore, more than one-third of the final score is devoted to two events which require similar abilities. No event should be worth more than another.

Former NCAA gymnast Ben Fox, an International Brevet judge since 1985, has judged NCAA competitions for the last several years.

Comments (4)add comment

German Gymnast said:

Have a look at the german team championships
In Germany we have also a very popular team championship. The biggest difference is that the teams are club-teams and no teams from university.
In Germany there are always two teams competing against each other. In the past there have also been several attempts to make the competitions more interesting. E.g. they introduced a 4-4 system where each team had 2 "Jokers". Directly after a bad routine (before the score was published) the coach had the chance to play a joker. This meant that the last routine didn't count to the team result, but an additional gymnast may perform on this apparatus.
A few years ago there was an additional change. From there on, there were 4 men-to-men duells on each apparatus. For each duell the difference between the classic scores (scored by Code of Points) was converted to so called "Score Points". So each team could win up to 5 score points within each duell.
As the conversion of score-difference in score points is not linear, this enabled more tactical options and it's actually easier to understand for the spectators, as the judges just compare two routines....
In my opinion this worked well for the german bundesliga. However i think, that the public interest can not be changed drastically by only modifying the mode of the competition.
April 20, 2010
Votes: +0

Muramasa said:

VT is fine
It doesn't matter that vault is scored higher than other events, in the end each team goes through vault. It doesn't seem hard to understand either, VT start values are higher so the scores will probably be higher. I never understand why the difference of start values on vault is a problem.
April 20, 2010
Votes: +1

Bill Suits said:

Your post was noted on a gymnastics message board. I choose to post three comments here, instead.

First, I can see your point about "6 and 4" not being acceptable for the reasons why you stated with reference to other sports. Do you know if it is used because some teams lack depth in their programs on all events. Maybe this is some sort of equalizer but I do not know for certain. MAG is not a high appeal sport and many teams, though there are not as many as in the 1970s, can not attract the best gymnasts (for an NCAA final) and it would be a disadvantage to them to count all scores. I honestly do not know as I am over 20 years removed from my NCAA days.

Second, your argument about vault has many supporters within the fans of the MAG FIG side of the sport. It may change but I am not as concerned as in the past FX and V were typically high scoring events (relative to say PH) and it has not hurt the sport IMO. Additionally, many elements can be performed on the apparatus as on the FX and there are few complaints that it is the same skills we are seeing.

Finally, I feel it is dangerous to apply scoring from one known competition situation and apply it to an unknown. Your math makes sense, but what your infer from it I take issue. We do not know how the teams would have prepared for the meet, how they would have performed had they known all scores counted, and what vaults they would have selected and performed if the vaults were scaled to a lower value. I don't believe we can readily predict what would have happen by assuming what we saw at this past final would be what we would have seen had it been run with the rules you suggested.

Thank you,

Bill Suits.
April 20, 2010
Votes: +1

Murasaki said:

one more thing
I agree with most points made in the other comments, but I believe the most salient point was made in the first post - MAG (NCAA or otherwise) is not a very popular sport in the U.S. and there is little evidence that tweaking the competition format will draw fans that otherwise would not attend.

I'm far from the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I don't have all that much trouble following the scoring. I know going into a meet that VT will score higher and that two out of six scores will be dropped. This helps me interpret what I see on the scoreboard.

To solve this problem, the question one needs to ask themselves is "why do people watch sports?". It usually has more to do with caring about the outcome and wanting to know "what is going to happen next?" than ease of understanding the rules.
April 22, 2010
Votes: +1

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