Event Finals, Please Pack Your 9.9s and Go

RIP, NCAA event finals. We’ll always have complaining about how long you take amid a vague hangover.  

During the great yfull purge of 2015, the NCAA League of Chief In-Charge Women also revealed that they were planning to decapitate the event finals in the town square at some time to be determined, and it turns out that time is immediately.

It is now confirmed that instead of the usual three-day competition, the 2016 NCAA championship will consist of the normal semifinals on Friday, the normal Super Six on Saturday, and then nothing on Sunday, eliminating a specific day devoted to events. (This is a slight improvement on the previously proposed Friday-rest-Sunday schedule, as advocated by the boring police from Lametown.) In another development, both the Friday and Saturday competitions will be televised live on ESPNU, a coup that the sport has been fighting for dating back to the days when TVs were a thing that people watched.

Getting live television is still a big deal in exposure for the sport (we’ve seen the very encouraging recent ratings from the Pac-12 and SEC Nets that helped propel this move and have brought more people into following the sport), especially for family viewing and people who still watch programs—but pronounced progrums—on the TV box, though it’s increasingly less important for later-teenage, early-twenties whippersnappers who Liketweet on their iDroids and aren’t particularly likely to watch the competition live on TV, and who make up a valuable demo for gymnastics that isn’t catered to quite enough, but that’s an issue for another day.

Well actually, it’s an issue for today because there is a real chunk of people, mostly younger and therefore still valuable as human beings, who will be excluded from watching the championship since ESPNU broadcasts fall behind a subscription wall. People who don’t have ESPNU or a WatchESPN login from their cable/sat package likely won’t be able to watch (unless a special allowance is made), which is a long-term issue for a sport that needs every set of eyeballs it can get on its main event to stay afloat and specifically needs to cater to people in that borderline age of “I’m not doing gymnastics anymore and I might start drifting away from it toward other interests if my attention span isn’t constantly reminded of it” to turn them into lifelong fans. Getting a live TV deal is still good news, but it’s not exclusively good news in the present incarnation. 

Personally, I’d probably choose to watch on the app anyway, just like the last few years, because that’s convenient for blogging and because someone might make a weird face at some point that I’ll need to screencap and never forget ever. But that’s just me.

Let’s also talk about some other problems. (Autobiography title, called it.) The move is being constructed as “we had to get rid of event finals for the TV deal” which is a problem because…um, hi? That makes no sense. Having competition on Sunday has no bearing on whether ESPN shows the team final on TV on Saturday or not. So, you don’t want to show an extra day of competition on Sunday? Then don’t show it. Throw it on ESPN3 like always and use the TV broadcast to focus on the team and pretend event finals don’t exist. NBC has been doing that with Worlds for years. This explanation is illogical.

Now, the other thing I’m struggling with is that I’ve always mostly hated NCAA event finals. They’re long, a complete afterthought to Super Six that no one thinks about until the morning of, and extremely arbitrary in determining qualifiers and awarding titles. The one or two fun upgrades that get thrown out there each year don’t really make up for that. I should be celebrating since they’re basically my arch-nemesis, but it feels hollow. Primarily because it means there’s less gymnastics, which is a disheartening continuation of gymnastics’ tendency to try to solve problems by shrinking itself down to seem more palatable. Whether its going down to fewer routines/all scores counting like in the elite or men’s NCAA TF, or going down to fewer team competitors for the 2020 Olympics. It always feels like it’s surreptitiously trying to dwindle away.

Also, we need to talk about how event champions are going to be determined now. Because it seems like it’s going to be a problem. The issue with awarding event titles based on scores from the semifinal day, like in the AA, is that every event will have 5-6 people tied on 9.950 in first place. And if they’re all co-champions, I’m going to riot. The Worlds bars final is not a role model. Is there going to be some sort of permutation based on season performance + semifinal performance? Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a permutation as much as the next spreadsheet-happy dorkburger, and that would result in more deserving champions, but it wouldn’t exactly adhere to the mission statement of making things straightforward and easy for all fans to follow.

Well, with all that said, it’s a brave new world. Let’s get ready for it.