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College gymnastics’ rise on TV is a boon for Utah fans, who can’t attend meets this season

Shorter meets, long advocated by former Ute coach Greg Marsden, has turned a once-clunky TV product into a compelling one

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jaylene Gilstrap performs on the floor, in PAC-12 gymnastics action Utah vs Arizona, at the Huntsman Center onSaturday, Jan. 23, 2021. The Utes are competing in empty arenas this season due to the pandemic. Fortunately, all of their meets have been televised, so Red Rocks fans have still gotten to watch the team.

Former Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden frequently said if a sport wasn’t on TV, it didn’t exist. That belief drove him in his quest to get collegiate gymnastics on TV and in the public eye.

Now, his former program and others in the Pac-12 are reaping the benefits of his efforts in an unexpected way.

If it weren’t for TV coverage, the Utes would be competing in a level of obscurity they’ve never known since fans aren’t allowed to attend meets this season due to COVID-19 restrictions.

But luckily for the Utes and their fans, three meets are on the Pac-12 Networks and three are on the ESPN networks this season, giving Utah’s fans a chance to at least see what they are missing in person.

“Who would have predicted a pandemic would keep 15,273 of our loyal Red Rock fans from being there in person the old-fashioned way,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “But this year, with every meet up to this point being televised, being on TV has been critically important for our fanbase.”

The Pac-12 doesn’t release its TV ratings, but satisfaction can be noted in the trend to add more gymnastics meets on TV, not less.

This year the league is broadcasting 13 meets, including the conference finale.

UTAH VS. UCLA

At the Huntsman Center

When • Friday, 7 p.m.

TV • ESPNU

Teresa Gould, the Pac-12′s Senior Associate Commissioner, said the TV network has been instrumental for the league this year for fans and recruiting.

“This has certainly been the case for Pac-12 women’s gymnastics, which has continued to reach new heights since the launch of the Pac-12 Networks,” she said.

The growth of televised collegiate gymnastics meets has had a couple of significant milestones.

In December of 2011, the NCAA agreed with ESPN in a deal to broadcast many of its championships, including gymnastics through the 2023-24 season.

The Pac-12 Network was launched on Aug. 15, 2012, providing yet another platform for the conference teams.

The combination of the league channel plus the ESPN deal led to regular exposure for gymnastics programs on TV or internet platforms.

Still, there was some hesitation in expanding broadcasts because meets go long, whether it was because of the use of byes or just the nature of the sport at the time.

Gone are the old days when teams signaled to the judges when they were ready, which led to unpredictable warmup times. There is now a strict two minute period to rotate from one event to another and teams have four minutes to warm up.

“You’d have some go out to the bathroom or go get a smoothie,” Farden joked of meets years ago. “It took forever and we wanted to have a fast moving pace. Now you can get a meet in in an hour and 35 minutes or so.”

In 2019, the NCAA championship switched to the “Four on the Floor,” format in where four teams instead of six competed on the final night.

The format eliminated the need for byes, making the championships much more TV friendly for ESPN’s broadcast and easier to follow.

Marsden, who retired at the end of the 2015 season, championed the idea of a 4-team final. Farden shares his zeal for TV exposure and has continued to look for improvements to make the meets smooth.

“People used to feel gymnastics on TV was clunky,” he said. “But I don’t feel that way at all now. It has a nice rhythm to it.”

Farden has implemented some other things for season ticket holders to keep them in the loop, such as some behind the scenes videos and additional emails, but they can’t replace the opportunity of seeing the team actually compete.

“Being on TV is nothing we will take for granted,” he said. “It’s critically important for our fans and our recruiting, for them to be able to see the culture of our team.”

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