SEC power play jeopardizes new NCAA rules ideas

The background: At their annual conference last month in Seattle, NCAA coaches voted 60-3 in favor of two new policies long championed by Utah coach Greg Marsden: turning the NCAA Super Six into a four-team final (thus making it live-TV eligible) and implementing a six-up, six-count competition format.

The idea: To give the stagnant NCAA gymnastics scene some much-needed oomph among the sport’s more casual fans. After all, less than 3,000 people showed up in Nebraska this year to watch Courtney Kupets, arguably the best NCAA female gymnast in history, dominate the NCAA Championships.

The drama: An 11th hour letter from the (gymnastics powerhouse) SEC Chairman Mike Slive to the head of the NCAA women’s gymnastics committee is asking the committee to maintain the status quo and not adopt the rules coaches voted overwhelmingly for. That status quo benefits the SEC tremendously. For years, SEC schools have dominated the NCAA gymnastics scene; Georgia, after all, has won the last five NCAA titles. The new rules are likely to hurt the SEC cohort the most. (The three who voted against the new rules in that 60-3 vote: LSU’s D-D Breaux, Alabama’s Sarah Patterson and Florida’s Rhonda Faehn. Those three are almost always in the Super Six and likely have the biggest cases of NCAA title angst.)

But if college gymnastics is going to thrive, there needs to be more competition. More upsets. Georgia et al losing a few NCAA Championships. Of course the SEC doesn’t like that.

From the Salt Lake Tribune gymnastics reporter extraordinaire Lya Wodraska:

In the letter obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, Slive requests the format undergo no changes based out of concern a reduction in the number of teams advancing to the finals “would not only decrease opportunities, but could significantly decrease the attendance for the final night of team competition,” the letter states. “This would also have a negative impact on an institution’s decision to bid to host this event,” Slive writes.

While the SEC certainly has the most to lose if the new rules are implemented, this blogger wonders what the conference feels so threatened by. Attendance at the 2009 NCAA Championships was dismal. Decreasing attendance isn’t the problem; the problem is how to keep it from decreasing further, and the solution to that is a) don’t hold these things in Nebraska, b) do something to make it more understandable and exciting and c) give non-SEC schools reason to bid for — and attend — these championships.

Decreased opportunities? If the new rules were implemented, 12 schools would still advance to the first round. OK, so two teams (approximately 16-18 gymnasts) would be left out on the second night. But if they want to increase opportunities, why not compensate by having the top 10 in each event advance to event finals?

No, the only reason the SEC would move to block the proposed changes is that the new rules could reduce its strangehold on the sport. But do the new rules really give non-SEC schools a tangible advantage? Even with the new rules, the SEC (along with UCLA and Stanford) will still have a disproportionate share of the very best recruits for the next few years. They’ll still have lots of funding, great training facilities and huge campus fan bases. All this does is give less prestigious gymnastics schools — Illinois, Michigan, Washington, Penn State, Oregon State, etc. — an outside chance at winning meets if the traditionally stronger schools make big mistakes. Which they should be held accountable for.

Frankly, Georgia’s been on top for so long that I’m surprised other SEC schools are trying to block these changes. After all, Alabama would have won this year’s NCAA Championship if the six-up, six-count rule had been in place. Yet Patterson and the Tide contingent don’t want these changes.

This SEC power play is provoking semi-outraged comments from people like UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field, who told The Tribune bluntly, “”I’ve been a head coach for 19 years and an assistant before then and I’ve always heard there could be behind-the-scene maneuverings by specific individuals in the SEC, but I never believed a few could have that much power until now…I don’t know why I spent thousands as a coach to sit in our meetings, put a lot of thought into decisions and vote, then come back and have a very select few turn our decision on its heels.”

The NCAA committee should announce any rule changes this week. Stay tuned.

12 Responses to “SEC power play jeopardizes new NCAA rules ideas”

  1. Katrina Says:

    I think the SEC needs get off it’s High horse. I completely agree that the NCAA needs some more compeition in gymnastics. I’m sick of Gerogia winning.

  2. Jo-Jo Says:

    Why can’t they count all scores, but only with 5 performances per event- surely that would solve the problem Rhonda Faehn brought up about depth? It would also mean that people who follow the sport would still be able to see team scores and know that 197, for example, is a good score, rather than being confronted with a confusing 236.

    • Blythe Says:

      Marsden has said that ideally, he’d like to see five-up, five-count. But since only five can compete, that really does take away opportunities for athletes on all teams. Had that been proposed, I can see how it might have been voted down by coaches for just that reason.
      Six-up, six-count really does the opposite — with that system, everybody competes — and for better or worse, everybody really contributes to the team score.

  3. shergymrag Says:

    Did 2009 NCAA attendance decrease because of the recession? Lots of people aren’t in position to travel these days.

    • Blythe Says:

      The attendance decrease has been attributed more to the location than anything else, as well as the fact that the home team did not qualify to the meet (had the Corn Huskers done so, several thousand Nebraska fans would probably have shown up). But the recession probably played a part too.

      • shergymrag Says:

        Dang! Seems like the thing to do is make sure the home team is there. If 12 teams get to go, one spot for the home team isn’t too much to ask.

  4. Lynn Says:

    The Super Six to Final Four change doesn’t bother me much, but I think the change to 6-up 6-count is going to be harmful to the sport. Before gymnasts could try new skills without blowing the meet for their team with a fall. I just feel like college gymnastics should be more of a fun atmosphere as opposed to the high stress of elite competition. Just an opinion.

  5. Marcus Says:

    Honestly, I don’t care who’s pulling what, I just don’t want these changes to occur.

  6. Coach M Says:

    I’m actually a fan of 6 up 5 count. I think the current situation already promotes coaches choreographing the same skills over and over and the difficulty of the routines is watered down. If there is no room for error, teams are likely going to play it even safer, which will make for more boring ho hum routines, which is not going to increase attendance IMO. I think the 4 teams in super six might be a good idea for television coverage because without live coverage, it just seems kinda cheesy. its more of a feature television highlight reel than a sports competition on TV.

  7. shergymrag Says:

    “its more of a feature television highlight reel than a sports competition on TV.”

    That’s because they make it that way. They could make it as a sports competition on TV if they wanted to taped or not.

    • Coach M Says:

      That’s true, but I wonder why? Someone must think that it will bring in more viewers that way.

  8. ugly Says:

    Hmm. Sometimes it seems that no one is more resistant to change than gymnastics fans.

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