When the Pac-12 Conference decided to move its gymnastics championships to a neutral site, it wanted a location that would be attractive to fans and a place that would be willing to spend the money for a podium setup, the platform staging used for the NCAA Championships.
Enter the Maverik Center, the West Valley City arena that has held a variety of sporting events, including hockey, indoor soccer and indoor football.
Arena officials were looking for ways to fill its calendar, and hosting the Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships was a no-brainer. And they get to host the event for three years. The first championship meet is this Saturday with the lower seeds competing at 1 p.m. and the top seeds competing at 6 p.m. Utah is in the later group.
According to Pac-12 Associate Commissioner Chris Grant, the event has 7,000 tickets in the hands of fans through sales and team allotments, which should make for a good atmosphere, since the building has a capacity of about 9,500 for the event.
Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Teams with rankings and regional qualifying score averages
Session 1 teams: No. 18 Washington (196.505); No. 21 Arizona State (196.18); No. 26 Stanford (195.905); No. 30 Arizona (195.7)
Session 2 teams: No. 2 UCLA (197.885); No. 6 Utah (197.375); No. 14 Oregon State (196.575); No. 16 California (196.54)
“We know how many gymnastics enthusiasts are in the community there,” Grant said. “Historically when NCAA events are in Salt Lake there is a huge walk-up sale too, so we expect a lot of excitement and great atmosphere for this event.”
The event is being billed as a “neutral site,” but defining neutrality might be an individual thing. Since the meet is in the same area as the University of Utah, the Utes will have the largest crowd. However, Utah coach Tom Farden pointed out that his squad has never practiced or competed in the arena.
“We obviously have the advantage of staying in school and sleeping in our beds since we don’t have to travel,” Farden said. “But we have never been on that equipment or competed there, so it’s going to be neutral for us too.”
Previously the championships were hosted by teams on a rotation. The Utes hosted in 2012 and 2015. The events were the highest attended of any of the championships, with the 2012 event drawing 19,374 for the two sessions combined and the 2015 event drawing 23,568 fans. The Utes won the 2015 title and the 2014 and 2017 championships. UCLA won in 2012, 2016 and 2018 and Oregon State won in 2013.
UCLA, which defeated Utah earlier in the season, is the top seed this year, followed by Utah, but Farden warned the competition wasn’t just about the top two teams.
“We are going to be keeping a close eye on all the teams,” he said. “Oregon State, Cal, there are a lot of capable teams who are going to be there.”
Lest anyone thinks that the other universities might grumble about competing in Utah’s so-called backyard, Farden notes that all the coaches voted for the format change so the championships could be held on a podium.
The equipment to do so costs more than $100,000, which made it hard for schools to invest that amount for a one-shot deal. Having the championships at sites for three years in a row makes it financially easier for arenas to invest in the equipment.
“Other conferences have had their championships on podiums for years and we didn’t,” Farden said. “That was a big disadvantage for us, and coaches have been clamoring for this.”
Keeping the championships at a site for three years also allows the championships to build a following, Grant said.
“We can use it as an anchor there,” he said. “Sports as a whole are choosing to do this, to anchor their championships, and with gymnastics being so strong there, it makes it ideal.”