NCAA GymnasticsAs a Brit I know very little about the concept of NCAA or the format of the gymnastics programme. I do know that it is very popular and a great way to keep watching some fantastic gymnasts as they further their skills as well as their education. With three British gymnasts competing in the programme next year (Danusia Francis - UCLA, Marissa King - Florida, Becky Wing - Stanford) I decided it was about time I learned what it is all about. So here is my 'Beginner's Guide to NCAA Gymnastics':
There are 82 Universities in the USA that offer gymnastics as part of the collegiate sports programme. Each university has a team of gymnasts, some who will compete all around and some who will specialise on specific apparatus. The focus of NCAA gymnastics is the team. When you are competing, you are always competing as part of the team and hoping to to beat the other teams on both a weekly and an overall basis. Within the team of gymnasts there is already competition amongst themselves to get the chance to go and compete at each of the meets. During each meet, six gymnasts perform on each apparatus with the top five scores counting towards the team total. All routines are judged out of 10.
The competition season begins in January with competitions most weekends. Initially the competitions are held between universities within the same 'conference'. This basically means that all the universities have been put into groups and will compete against all the other teams in their group. The competitions can be either two teams going head to head or sometimes three or four teams competing together, some being held at their 'home' university and travelling 'away' to compete at other universities. After all the teams have competed within their conference, the top 36 teams nationwide qualify to the regional finals. The regional qualification score is taken by adding their six highest scores, at least three of which must be from 'away' meets. These are then averaged to give the RQS (Regional Qualifying Score) with the top 36 scores gaining qualification to the regional competitions. The five highest scoring all around gymnasts who are not part of a qualifying team and the top gymnast on each apparatus that is not in a qualifying team also advance to the Regional Championships.
There are six regional competitions, with six teams competing in each one. The top two teams of each regional competition then advance to the NCAA National Championships. This time it is the top two all around gymnasts and the top two gymnasts on each apparatus, who are not linked to a qualifying team, who advance to the National Championships.
The National Championships are held over three days. Day one is qualification for the team finals and event finals. Qualification consists of two semi-finals, each one containing six of the teams as well as the individual gymnasts. The top six teams qualify to the team final and the top four gymnasts on each apparatus advance to the event finals. This is also the day where the individual all around champion is crowned. Day two is the 'Super Six' team final. The six teams who have made it this far go head to head, battling it out to see who will take the much coveted NCAA title. Day three is the event finals. Although it is meant to be four gymnasts qualifying on each apparatus, any gymnast with a tied score can advance meaning that there will usually be more than four gymnasts in each final.
From what I have seen and heard about NCAA so far it is a much more relaxed and fun way to compete. The focus is on execution rather than the high level difficulty of elite gymnastics and everything is about the team. The girls are out there not only to compete but to have fun and support each other. There is always a great crowd and a great atmosphere. If you have not come across NCAA gymnastics before it is definitely worth a look.