Wodraska: College gymnastics needs TV

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Being here in Lincoln, Neb., for the last week for the NCAA Gymnastics Championships, I can give you a great assessment of how eager this town was for this weekend.

The date must have been circled on a lot of Nebraska fans' calendars, judging by the soldout hotels, hard to get rental cars and signs plastered around town. The full invasion kicked in Saturday morning with the tailgating starting early and traffic jammed in downtown.

Yep, no doubt about it, this weekend's big event was finally here, Nebraska's spring football game.

More than 80,000-plus turned out for the glorified practice in the Huskers' stadium that looms over the town.

In its shadow, more figuratively than literally, was the Bob Devaney Sports Center where the best gymnasts college gymnastics has to offer competed in obscurity.

The atmosphere here couldn't compare at all to what we're used to Salt Lake City, Athens, Ga., Tuscaloosa, Ala., or other places considered the hotbeds of the sport where thousands sellout arenas to watch their teams.

Attendance for Friday's Super Six was just 2,949, assuring these championships were going to be the lowest attendance since the 1980s, back when the sport had just become an NCAA-sponsored event.

Surely part of it was because the home team, Nebraska, failed to qualify. Nebraska coach Dan Kendig did his best to sell it to the community, but he knows nothing draws interest more than a winner and without even the possibility of a Nebraska win people were only mildly interested.

"Back in 2003 we had 7,500-plus for the last night," he said, dejectedly looking up in the stands.

Right now college gymnastics seems to be going two ways. While it's growing in many places it's established, it's failing to draw casual sports fans as witnessed by the disinterest here in Lincoln.

Utah coach Greg Marsden would like to change that and hopes his proposal to go to an eight-team format will get more support than it has in recent years.

There are other proposals, too, to make the sport more fan friendly and less time consuming. They need to be considered.

An encouraging sign is that CBS is interested in showing the championships live, but needs to keep the championships to about a two-hour block. That surely would mean doing away with a six-team final and the byes necessary in that format.

CBS' interest might sway coaches who are resisting the change because TV coverage is so important. "If you aren't live, you aren't real," Marsden said in accurately summing up sports TV coverage in the modern era.

Marsden, ever the sports promoter, is a man who gets that idea. The rest should get it too.