The NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Committee just announced that it’s changing the format for the national championships to make it more hospitable for TV broadcast. Who knew that NCAA sports had anything to do with money?
During the regular season, women’s collegiate gymnastics makes for good TV and has been rewarded with increasing numbers of live television hours devoted to it. Typically, there are two teams out on the floor, competing head-to-head. One gymnast from one team goes, gets her score and then an athlete from the other team goes up, gets her score. This continues, with athletes from each team volleying back and forth. At the end of the competition, the team with the highest point total wins. The pace of the competition is brisk, with most meets clocking in at about 90 minutes, and it’s pretty easy to follow.
This is not the case, however, with the postseason and championships. During those higher-stakes competitions, the pace is sluggish and the action is basically impossible to follow. And the cause is obvious from the name of the championship competition—the Super Six.
In the finals, there are six teams out on the floor though there are only four events in women’s gymnastics. This means that during every rotation of team finals (and semis, and regionals), two teams are on a “bye,” meaning they aren’t competing. With two teams off the floor during every rotation of finals, it makes the standings hard to follow. This year, ESPN used average scores, instead of raw point total, in order to account for the teams on a bye.
The new championship format reduces the number of teams in the final from six to four. This means that all four teams will be out on the floor for the whole competition. We won’t have to do any complicated middle-school math to parse the standings.
The change doesn’t just apply to the finals but to other postseason competitions. Now, instead of six different regional sites with six teams competing with all of those confusing byes, there will be four regional sites with three rounds of competition: four teams will compete in the afternoon session and four in the evening session. The top two teams from each of those sessions will advance to a super regional. The top two teams out of that session will advance to national championship semifinals.
The report makes no secret about its desire to be more friendly and relevant to TV and other commercial interests. It plainly states it: “This model reduces the number of teams at the championship site from 12 to eight, which creates an access ratio that is more in line with the sport’s current sponsorship.”
The new final is being tentatively called “Four on the Floor,” which makes it sounds like a drinking game. But other four-based competitive sounding names such as the “Final Four” have already been trademarked because the NCAA is all about education, not money.
That said, I can’t wait for these changes to go into effect because this will be a much more exciting way to watch the regionals and finals. Regionals, especially, are excruciatingly long. But unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until the 2018-2019 season to say goodbye to the byes.