For college gymnastics fans who have trouble following scoring because of byes or sitting through a day’s worth of gymnastics at the NCAA regional and national events, take heart: things are about to change.
Beginning with the 2018-19 season, the formats for the regional and national NCAA events will be streamlined to hopefully make the postseason easier to follow and more TV-friendly.
In the model recently approved by the Division I Competition Oversight Committee in Indianapolis, the regional event will be expanded from one to three days and cut back from six to four sites.
Two teams at each site will compete in a play-in on the first day, then the second day eight teams will compete in two sessions of four, with the top two in each of those sessions advancing to the third and final day.
The top two teams from that competition will advance to the NCAA finals site.
Since only eight teams will advance in this model, down from the 12 used in the current Super Six, the NCAA Championships will feature sessions of four teams each in the semifinals and then the finals, cutting down the length of the sessions by as much as 90 minutes.
Utah coach Megan Marsden is fully behind the change, recognizing that college gymnastics must get more TV time if it is to thrive.
“Hallelujah,” she said. “We don’t move quickly or easily, but we finally got this done.”
ESPN has televised the NCAA Championships the past two seasons, but Marsden said eliminating the byes will make broadcasts even better because they will be shorter and easier to follow.
“It opens the possibility for more exciting opportunities at the end oft he season,” she said. “The Olympics have huge ratings for gymnastics, but we haven’t had that happen with college gymnastics because we didn’t have the format.”
Like Marsden, UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field is supportive of the change and said it was long overdue.
“It makes our event much more relevant to athletic fans who can track the scores as they are posting versus dealing with byes,” she said. “The format is something TV has been asking for for years in order to be able to produce a much tighter TV-friendly product.”
Marsden’s husband and former Utah coach, Greg, long pushed for a format at nationals that would eliminate the byes to make the meets more TV-friendly. However, there was some resistance among coaches because they didn’t want to cut back teams’ chances of experiencing postseason competition.
However, the adopted format will maintain the current number of 36 teams in the post-season, which was the main reason for adding the play-in day at regionals.
“We created what we felt like was a compromise,” Marsden said. “I think it will make for a fun, regional weekend.”
Since the format doesn’t change until next season, Utah fans will have to sit through one of the infamously long regional meets this season, when the Utes host a regional on April 7.
The Utes are also scheduled to host the regionals in 2021. Marsden said the NCAA is getting input from schools designated as host sites to see which could handle the expanded format.
“I don’t think it would be a problem for us,” she said.
Utah’s season begins Jan. 5 against BYU. Utah fans can get a glimpse of how the 2018 team is looking when the Utes host the Red Rocks Preview on Dec. 15.
NCAA gymnastics changes
Current Regional Format • Six sites with six teams participating; top two advance to the NCAA Championships.
Adopted format • Four sites with a two-team play-in, two semifinals of four teams each and afinals competition with the top two teams advancing to the NCAAs.
Current NCAA championship format • Two sessions of six teams with the top three teams advancing to the finals.
Adopted format • Two sessions of four teams with the top two teams advancing to the finals.