With little more than a point separating eight teams' averages, the 2011 NCAA Gymnastics Championships should feature the closest competition the national championships have had.
Too bad the only ones who will see the drama unfold live are the fans in the stands, since gymnastics is one of the few sports where the finals aren't televised live.
Instead, CBS will televise the meet on tape delay on May 14. It didn't have to be this way.
Lured by the possibility that CBS might televise the meet live, the coaches voted two years ago to switch the format to a TV-friendly version, beginning with the 2011 championships. Instead of six teams advancing to the finals, coaches voted to send just four, which would eliminate the need for byes and make for a shorter, easier to follow final.
But just when many coaches, including Utah's Greg Marsden, started celebrating what they viewed as a huge step in gaining exposure for their sport, the coaches changed their minds and voted last year to retain the old format.
The only change that remained in place was moving the championships back a day, so now the team finals are on Saturday instead of Friday and the individual finals are on Sunday.
Marsden, a longtime advocate of making the championships shorter and more TV friendly, called the reversal a step back for the sport.
"I couldn't be more disappointed in the lack of direction our sport is going," he said. "Over and over again, we've said if you aren't on TV, you aren't relevant. But we refuse to do the types of things other sports are willing to do and make the event more watchable."
Even without the promise of live coverage, Marsden would be in favor of a four-team final to cut down on the time needed to run the final event, which normally lasts longer than three hours due to the byes needed for a six-team format.
The byes not only make it hard to follow the scoring, but they put both the competitors and fans through an unnecessarily long event, Marsden said.
"It's ridiculous from every perspective," he said. "The only people who love this format are the gymnastics groupies who can sit there for six hours of two sessions and love every minute of it. It kills me to see other sports like softball going live and we can't get ours live."
UCLA's Valorie Kondos-Field agreed with Marsden.
"It will definitely make it a more understandable event for our fans and for TV," she said. "It will keep the event to two hours, a reasonable time frame, and if we are ever going to get TV to televise us live, then we've got to show them how exciting a gymnastics event can be when it's head-to-head competition."
Ultimately Marsden and Kondos-Field were in the minority of coaches, with many believing in the 'more is better' philosophy. Without a firm promise from CBS, the event would be live, coaches were hesitant to cut down on the number of teams in the finals. The more teams that have opportunities to win a national title, the better, is their reasoning.
"While there are numerous reasons to stay with the Super Six format, the most compelling is that we don't want to lose opportunities, for teams or individuals, to compete for a national championship," Alabama's Sarah Patterson said. "Over the past several years, collegiate gymnastics has experienced a tremendous amount of competitive growth, in terms of the number of teams that have the talent to contend for a national championship, and that parity has had a most positive impact on our sport."
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P At Kent State, Cleveland
Friday • Team preliminaries, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Saturday • Team finals, 2 p.m.
Sunday • Team individual finals, 11 a.m.
Afternoon (10 a.m.)
No. 2. UCLA (6) 394.11
No. 3. Oklahoma (5) 394.045
No. 6 Michigan (9) 393.575
No. 7 Georgia (8) 393.285
No. 10 Arkansas (12) 392.61
No. 11 Illinois (14) 391.85
Evening (4 p.m.)
No. 1 Alabama (2) 394.395
No. 4 Oregon State (3) 393.795
No. 5 Florida (1) 393.615
No. 8 Utah (7) 393.045
No. 9 Nebraska (10) 392.825
No. 12 Kent State (24) 390.695
Note • The numbers to the left represent the teams' seedings while the numbers in parentheses represent their final regular season rankings. The numbers to the right represent the national qualifying score, which is determined by adding the regional qualifying score to the teams' scores from the regional competitions.