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University of Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden. Credit: University of Utah Athletics Department
Utah gymnastics: Coaches’ complaint – No one’s judging the judges
Gymnastics » U.’s Marsden and others say they have no recourse when challenging decisions.
First Published Feb 29 2012 04:17 pm • Last Updated Jun 25 2012 11:31 pm

The only thing Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden disliked more than his team’s floor scores against Stanford last week was the lack of a system in which to voice his displeasure.

So instead, he mouthed off his disgruntlement in front of a judge and got a yellow card. It was a warning for bad behavior in a bad situation by all accounts.

At a glance

The basics of gymnastics judging

College meets are judged using the Junior Olympic and U.S. age group rules with some modifications for collegiate gymnastics. Judges receive their ratings based on the Junior Olympic/age group rules but are not required to have a separate certification to judge collegiate gymnastics. Judges can take practice tests and view examples of routines through the judges’ assigning system website, and an additional 12-15 hours of judging seminars were available at the 2011 judging national symposium. Neither chief judges nor the meet referees are allowed to change another judge’s score. If judges are out of range, a conference is called and the scores are brought into range. Judges do not have to agree on the start value of a routine.

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"I know I shouldn’t get so emotional," Marsden acknowledged. "But it’s frustrating. I’m not critical of tight judging, there is nothing wrong with that, but what I don’t like is when there isn’t tight judging for everybody."

While Marsden might be drawing the most attention following his behavior in the 196.3-196.1 win over Stanford, he certainly isn’t the only coach frustrated over inconsistent gymnastics judging.

Nebraska coach Dan Kendig was still stewing this week over what he believed was a mistake in the judging of the Huskers’ meet against Arkansas. And Bobbie Cesarek, the former coach at Northern Illinois who is serving as president of the National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Coaches Association, believes judges would benefit from more education before presiding over collegiate meets.

However, there is very little coaches can do to plead their case when it comes to officiating.

Unlike other sports, collegiate gymnastics has no video review, and chief referees or meet referees are powerless to overturn scores. There is no system in conference offices to govern judges as there are in other sports.

Coaches can send letters evaluating judges to the NCAA, and if an official receives several poor evaluations, he or she is contacted, said Carole Ide, a former president of the National Association of Women’s Gymnastics Judges and current national assigner. But that small step does little to placate coaches.

In Nebraska’s recent 197.0-196.3 win over Arkansas, Kendig was upset over a routine in which he thought there was a correctable judging error, but got no help from the meet referee. Kendig said the scores weren’t so much about the meet itself, but the overall battle to make the postseason.

"The problem is, we aren’t just competing against the team on the floor, but against UCLA, Georgia and all these other teams," he said. "The girls work too hard to be misjudged and it’s almost to the point where the meet referee is just like another official. We’re not getting anything out of it having them there. The biggest thing they will do is talk to the panel and take back the inquiries. I can have someone locally carry papers across the floor."

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Some inconsistency is expected in a subjective sport such as gymnastics, but others believe there needs to be more education for judges. Judges use the Junior Olympic and age group qualifications for collegiate meets with some modifications. However, there is no required certification specifically for the collegiate level — though there are practice tests and routines available for judges to review if they wish.

Evelyn Chandler, the president of the NAWGJ, did not respond to interview requests. However, Ide acknowledged scoring issues exist.

"Since the rules are modified for the college athlete, inconsistencies can occur because the college rules are not used by every official as often as the age group rules they are tested on," she said in an e-mailed response.

More education, through online seminars and webinars, would bring more consistency, said Cesarek, president of the college coaches association.

"We don’t want to discourage judges from judging at the collegiate level because there is already a small pool of judges, I don’t ever want to see us do things like calling judges out, but I do see our role lies in helping educate the judging community," she said.

For now, coaches must deal with their frustrations and concerns over judging and hope they are given a fair opportunity.

Marsden wonders if his reputation as being an outspoken coach is coming back to haunt him.

He had several run-ins with judges many years ago, including an infamous incident in 1994 when he pulled his team off the floor at BYU due to a judging dispute — resulting in a 194.125-125.8 loss.

He hadn’t had many blowups until this year, when what he calls unpredictable judging has been more evident. Marsden was admonished by a judge following Utah’s win at Arizona State three weeks ago and was critical of the judging at Michigan two weeks ago.

"The problem is judges won’t police themselves," he said. "As an organization, they do some education, certification and assigning but there is no form of self-evaluation where there is action taken. If I have a problem and something is really off the wall and things happen and people are ignoring the rules, there is nowhere for me to go. In the Pac-12 [in football], officials can be reprimanded and the league can get rid of them. There is no equivalent like that in gymnastics judging."

Comments such as that probably won’t earn him any more friends in the judging circles, but he isn’t alone in his feelings.

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