For many years, the Utah gymnastics coaching duo of Greg and Megan Marsden lobbied to change the NCAA Championships to make the event more fan and TV friendly.
Their efforts finally paid off as the NCAA regional and national competitions are introducing new formats that cut the participating teams, eliminating the need for the byes that made postseason competitions a sort of endurance event for everyone involved.
While Greg retired several years ago and won’t get to experience the change, his wife is all too happy to negotiate the new system, even if it means the Utes don’t advance to nationals.
“Human nature often makes you look at what is best for you, but we want to be part of something bigger and what is best for gymnastics overall,” Marsden said. “You have to look at the big picture.”
The big picture wasn’t good for gymnastics in previous years, at least when it came to TV exposure. While more and more regular season meets were being broadcast live, nationals continued to be broadcast most often on tape-delay several weeks after the event because the bye format simply made it unmanageable.
Beginning this year, regionals are being cut from a six-team, six-site format to a nine-team, four-site format. And instead of 12 teams making it to nationals, only eight will survive.
Also changing is the method for individuals to quality for the NCAAs. The 12 best all-around and 16 best gymnasts on each event who are not on a regional qualifying team will advance to regionals as individuals and will compete in the second day, rotating with qualifying teams just as before.
The top all-around individual and top individual finisher on each event will advance.
The changes mean the regional competitions expand from one to two days, plus a play-in meet, but college gymnastics coaches saw the format as a good compromise since it still allows 36 teams to advance beyond conference play.
The expanded competition means more demand on the gymnasts, which Utah junior MyKayla Skinner sees as a double-edged sword.
“It gives other schools a chance to make it, but I also think it could be too many meets,” she said. “We already compete back-to-back at nationals and doing it at regionals is kind of hard, but then again, it gives us the opportunity to compete that way before nationals so it’s extra practice.”
Marsden, though, remains positive that the changes will be embraced by fans and the gymnasts.
“I really predict the athletes and coaches living it are going to find out that finishing a competition in an hour and 50 minutes instead of three hours will feel a lot better to them,” she said. “I don’t think they are going to feel like they got hit by a bus like they did with the other format. Physically and mentally it was hard because with the byes you get warmed up and ready to go, then cool down, then warmed up, then cool down. It was hard and when you sit around like that, soreness starts to set in.”
While the new format might seem like it will make it more difficult for programs that aren’t traditionally in the Top 10, Southern Utah coach Scott Bauman said the change was worth it for the fans. He would be willing to do away with the individual competition too.
“We would then be a strictly team sport and I believe the NCAA has more of an affinity towards team sports," he said.
There is no doubt following four teams competing at once will be easier for fans than keeping tabs on six.
But what about that goal of getting more TV exposure? Indications are the move will help.
ESPN will televise the regional meets at LSU (where the Utes will perform) and Georgia with a combination of ESPN3 and SECN+, while the Oregon State and Michigan regionals will be covered by Pac-12 digital and Flo Sports.
The NCAA Championships April 19-20 in Fort Worth, Texas, will be televised by a combination of ESPN2 and ESPNU.
“We didn’t know if we were going to have any TV coverage this year so to have some is exciting,” Marsden said. “We have to do what is best for our sport and I believe these changes are going to move us forward. Being on live television definitely helps us. There is that saying, it’s not real unless it is on live TV.”
NCAA Regional Gymnastics
(Top 25 Rankings and Regional Qualifying Scores included)
(First sessions are 2 p.m. local and second sessions are 7 p.m. local)
The top two teams from April 5 will compete April 6 with the top two teams advancing to the NCAA Championships
Baton Rouge, LA.
April 4, Play-in
George Washington (195.45) vs. Lindenwood (195.4)
No. 6 Utah (197.535)
No. 11 Minnesota (196.885)
No. 17 BYU (196.57)
No. 20 Arkansas (196.38)
No. 3 LSU (197.81)
No. 14 Auburn (196.695)
No. 21 Arizona State (196.32)
George Washington/Lindenwood winner
April 4, Play-in
N.C. State (195.715) vs. New Hampshire (195.68)
No. 8 Georgia (197.315)
No. 9 Kentucky (196.085)
No. 19 Missouri (196.385)
No. 22 Iowa State (196.08)
No. 1 Oklahoma (198.115)
No. 16 California (196.625)
N.C. State/New Hampshire winner
April 4, Play-in
Iowa (195.705) vs. Arizona (195.70)
No. 5 Denver (197.545)
No. 12 Boise State (196.725)
No. 18 Washington (196.505)
No. 24 Southern Utah (196.045)
No. 4 Florida (197.76)
No. 13 Oregon State (196.625)
No. 25 Stanford (195.995)
April 4, Play-in
Illinois (195.805) vs. Central Michigan (195.735)
April 5, Session 1
No. 7 Michigan (197.32)
No. 10 Alabama (196.99)
No. 23 Penn State (196.07)
Ohio State (195.99)
No. 2 UCLA (198.1)
No. 15 Nebraska (196.65)
West Virginia (195.845)
Illinois/Central Michigan winner