Format changes for NCAA gymnastics up in the air

In the balance » Proposals aim to make postseason meets more TV-friendly.
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Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden has long pushed for revamping the format for the NCAA Championships. Now, he might just get his wish.

Members of the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches have voted to change the format from a Super Six format where three teams from two sessions advance to the finals to just two teams from each session.

The move would eliminate the need for byes, which would make the finals competition shorter and be more appealing to live TV coverage.

In addition, coaches voted to count all six routines on each event instead of dropping the lowest score.

Both changes are similar to ones spurred by Marsden, who believes the current format for the NCAAs is too confusing and events are too long to hold the attention of even ardent gymnastics fans, much less general sports fans.

"I've always felt that unfortunately the worst meets we run in terms of being fan-friendly and media-friendly is the postseason," said Marsden, noting more teams participating means longer meets. "Our regular season meets are very exciting and easy to follow and then the postseason becomes so long and are difficult to follow."

While the measures have been passed by coaches, they still must be approved by the seven-person NCAA committee that oversees gymnastics. The committee has gone against the coaches' votes several times in the past, including over format changes virtually identical to the ones recently approved by the coaches. Marsden and others hope the allure of live TV coverage will entice the committee to give its approval.

CBS is interested in televising the event live instead of on a tape delay, but needs the championships to last closer to two hours instead of the average three hours it takes to complete the event with six teams.

"I feel it's extremely important to make our championships TV-friendly so that we can be telecast live," UCLA coach Valorie Kondos-Field said. "In this day and age, anything that is not in real time is old news and of little interest to its viewing public."

Paul Plinske, the athletics director at Wisconsin-Whitewater who is the chair of the NCAA Gymnastics Committee, acknowledged it's time to look at the current format and possibly make some changes because gymnastics was "at risk."

"We need to create some excitement," he said. "Reducing two spots from six to four is a major variable, but we need to do what is in the best interest of the sport and draw fans to the event."

More controversial was the idea of counting all six scores. Some coaches, including Marsden, wanted to see just five gymnasts compete on each event, with all scores counting, but other coaches hesitated to vote in favor of that proposal out of concern the NCAA would then reduce the number of scholarships given to gymnastics. Currently, programs are allowed a maximum of 12 scholarships.

"Counting six is not the best scenario for the majority of our teams," Marsden said. "Many teams don't have the depth, and they struggle to put six up; it could expose problems with injuries and that kind of thing."

Marsden had also hoped to cut the number of teams that advance to the NCAAs from 12 to eight.

Despite the slight differences, he still believes the changes would be an improvement and hopes they are passed.

"It's disconcerting for us to be stagnant and deteriorating in interest while there are other sports that have done things that have improved their situations and gained popularity and improved attendance," he said. "I've watched the softball championships live and lacrosse live; it's killing us not to have that opportunity."

NCAA Gymnastics Proposed Changes

» 12 teams qualify for NCAA Championships, but only four would advance to finals night instead of six

» All six scores would count per event instead of five

» Finals could be held on Saturday to benefit live TV coverage

» Individual Championships would have to move to another night or determined in another manner

Up next » Proposals will be discussed and reviewed during the NCAA Gymnastics Committee meetings starting today