The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Spencer Fixes College Gymnastics


You’re welcome, college gymnastics.

Now that we’re nearly two weeks removed from the college gymnastics season and beginning to remember how to walk on dry land and breathe without an iron lung again, it’s time for my semi-bi-quadri-sorta-annual list of grievances about college gymnastics and what needs to be done to make them…not grievances.

As we know, the coaches are their own worst enemies when it comes to deciding how college gymnastics should be run since they tend to make decisions that are in their own short-term best interests (my team is more likely to make the final if there are six teams) rather than in the long-term best interests of the sport and the fan experience (Super Six is actual trash).

So, I’m taking the decisions out of their hands and just telling them what to do with these few, simple, humble notes on how to stop being the worst and make everything instantly perfect.


Obviously, the postseason format is a total tear-down. No salvaging this fixer-upper. Raze that garbage.

My proposed format adds a third round of postseason elimination meets (because of more exciting), so I would not be averse to shortening the regular season by one week since the gymnasts don’t need to be competing/traveling more than they already do.

1. Playoff Round – (Teams #9-#40, 8 quad-meet sessions at 4 host sites)

The first round of elimination meets would see the teams ranked #1-#8 receive byes (actual byes) straight through to the round of 16. This provides a much more significant and tangible incentive for regular-season success while also focusing our attention on the teams that actually have something riding on these massive early-round meets.

The remaining 32 teams (ranked #9-#40) will be divided into eight groups of four and will compete in winner-take-all quad meets. Each of the four sites will host two of these meets in a two-session day—mimicking the current format of the SEC and Pac-12 Championships—with a quad session in the afternoon and a quad session in the evening. The winner (and only the winner) of each quad session will advance to the round of 16, making up the remaining eight teams.

This round will take place over two weekends, with each of the four host sites having its own day (Saturday of weekend 1, Sunday of weekend 1, Saturday of weekend 2, Sunday of weekend 2). That way, all of the teams receive a week off, but it’s the not the same week off for each team and doesn’t break up the momentum of the entire sport as much as the current postseason format does. We could even allow teams to apply to compete on a specific weekend if the other conflicts with finals or something. (ah ha ha, school.)

2. National Semifinals – (Teams #1-8 + winners of Round 1, 4 quad-meet sessions at 1 host site)

Now, 16 teams remain and all travel to a single host site for the national semifinals. Yes, 16 teams in the semifinals instead of 12, so don’t complain about fewer opportunities to boast of postseason accomplishments.

The semifinals will be conducted in a single weekend of four quad-meet sessions—Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening—with only the winners of each session advancing to the four-team national championship.

3. National Championship and Event Finals – (Winners of National Semifinals, 1 quad-meet session at 1 host site)

The national championship weekend itself will consist of a four-on-the-floor final to crown the winner of the national championship on Saturday, followed by a day of event finals on Sunday.

Each event final would have 10 competitors (I know, but I feel like that’s manageable enough), comprised of the top 6 gymnasts on that event in the regular-season rankings, along with one “coaches selection,” one “fan selection,” the winner of that event from DIII nationals, and the winner of that event from the DII/DI USAG nationals.


We’re done with you, RQS.

This is difficult for me to say because I love RQS and figuring it out via the medium of spreadsheets and calculations, but it really serves very little purpose anymore.

Go to RTN right now and sort via average instead of RQS. It’s not that different. Certainly not different enough to justify a whole system. Simply require teams to compete in a certain number of road meets to prevent home-stuffing schedules, and then use the average.

If you’d like to still drop a high score…I guess fine? It would prevent teams with one random giant home score from using that to pad their averages, but that doesn’t actually happen a whole lot. The teams with silly, giant home scores tend to get them…at every home meet.

I don’t love the idea of dropping a low score because I think teams should have to deal with the consequences of having weak meets. Weak meets aren’t good, and they should be reflected in your ranking. You don’t get a do-over. Suck it up.


I’m a more recent convert on the all-scores-counting front. I do enjoy the variation in stakes that comes from dropping a score, with the gymnasts not always competing with the same level of pressure or the same amount riding on their routines, but in continuing the theme of not getting a do-over, you don’t get a do-over. You don’t get to say, “That mistake doesn’t count.” It happened. We all saw it.

Competitions should be determined by which team’s lineup performs the best on the day, not which team’s choice-of-five-out-of-six routines performs the best on the day.

Forcing teams to count all routines (and therefore any and all falls) makes the threat of upsets far more real, which is good for the sport. It means that results are less predetermined and that weaker teams have a more realistic shot at upsetting far better teams. The idea that LSU would go to Missouri and could actually, you know, maybe lose makes for a more engaged fan experience. Upsets are good. Inevitable winners are bad.

Not to mention, counting all scores would make everything much clearer for broadcast purposes.

Typically, the case for all scores counting involves a 5-up, 5-count format, but I see no reason to reduce the actual amount of gymnastics we get to see (my main beef with elite’s 3-up, 3-count format), especially with the SEC Network showing how it can be done in a high-tempo fashion in a reasonable time frame.

Yes, by counting six scores per event, all of the total scores would increase, but…so? Do we care? That’s not a reason not to do it. Too often, the argument against improvements is along the lines of, “You’d have to rewrite the record books” (that’s a favorite line of DD Breaux’s), like that’s a thing that matters. Good. Rewrite them. They were getting moldy.

The other main argument I’ve heard against all scores counting is that, in the event of a gymnast getting injured during a routine or Kramarenko-ing vault or something, her team would be automatically out of the competition. To which I say….yeah. That would suck. Welcome to sports.

But, in the interest of concessions, it wouldn’t be that hard to add in a reasonable injury-replacement rule as they have done in men’s NCAA gym if someone gets injured mid-routine and would end up scoring a 1.000.

So…if a gymnast gets injured mid-routine and cannot continue, rather than having to count a 1.000, teams can add a replacement gymnast to perform at the end of the rotation with an automatic 0.5 deduction. There. Done. Easy.


No contact at all before sophomore year of high school. No visits (official or unofficial) before junior year of high school. No verbal offers of scholarship before junior year of high school.


My two main side-eyes against the uneven bars right now concern the lack of same-bar releases and the shortness of many of the highest-level routines (hi, you’re doing three skills). So, here we go.

1) Routines without a same-bar release start from 9.950

I like this better than simply requiring a same-bar release because it forces a strategic decision and risk assessment to be made.

On vault, the question of whether to go for the Y1.5 or stay with the Yfull (each decision with its own pros and cons) has revitalized the event and made it the most interesting to watch in terms of lineup decisions instead of the most boring. By allowing gymnasts to perform routine without a same-bar release, though with a very small penalty, we’d add that same strategic intrigue and decision-making to bars. Make the coaches earn their money.

2) Downgrade the double layout and full-twisting double tuck to D

In general, I’d like to see a few more skill values on bars match their elite counterparts, especially the skills that are nearly ubiquitous in NCAA and are expected for NCAA-level gymnasts, like the giant full.

But most of all, I’d like to see the common dismounts, DLO and double tuck 1/1, become D instead of E. With them as E skills, it becomes far too easy for gymnasts with those dismounts to get their 0.5 bonus. They can do it in very few skills, making the routines too short and basic.

3) Transitions from low to high must involve flight

You’re a grown-ass adult. Get to the high bar like one.

4) Downgrade the overshoot-not-to-handstand from C to B

It’s fugly. And that’s more than reason enough.

I don’t want to get rid of it entirely (as elite has done) because I don’t need this to become elite where there are only two transitions from high to low. You’re free to do the skill, but you certainly shouldn’t be rewarded with connection bonus for forcing that nonsense upon us. Downgrading the skill to a B takes care of that problem.


1) Obviously, acrobatic series must display rebounding action in one direction

Using aerial + back handspring as an acro series is a cheap cop-out, and I hate it. That’s not an acrobatic series. It’s neither a series nor particularly acrobatic. Aerial + I’m slowly bending so you have to give me series credit + back handspring is nothing. It’s two separate skills.

Even worse, it doesn’t display the proper amount of fall-risk. Falls are good; they make competitions more interesting. The rules should force teams to risk falls, not create loopholes for them to avoid falls.

2) Dismount gainer pike or gainer layout 1/1 to side of beam, start from 9.950

Much like not doing a same-bar release on bars, performing one of the less complex gainer dismounts on beam is an exercise in evading deduction risk as these dismounts are much more commonly stuck than their peers.

You’re free to do it, but your routine is not going to be evaluated at the same level as a routine dismounting with a double tuck.

Another option here is simply to say that all B/C dismounts (not directly connected out of a D acro) make routines start from 9.950. The only complication there is that I take no issue with the 2/1 dismount out of a round-off, which is currently a C. That dismount can stay, so I’d actually be fine with bumping the 2/1 up to a D if we’re moving to discourage all C dismounts.

3) Like, maybe start deducting for lack of 180-degree splits?

Just spit-balling here.


1) No E pass, start from 9.950

I think anyone who watched this NCAA season would recognize that floor scores are way, way too high. They’re out of whack compared to every other event, particularly vault. (E.g., the #20 RQS on vault this year was 49.055, while the #20 RQS on floor was 49.205. Beam was 49.095, and bars was 49.145.)

By saying that routines without E passes start from 9.950, I recognize we’d make a heavy majority of floor routines start from 9.950, which is good. That would effectively bring the scores back into line with vault, where a heavy majority of routines currently start from 9.950. Particularly in a 10.0 system, one event shouldn’t be scoring that much higher than other events.

2) Routines must show 180-degree cross split

That should be the most basic expectation for gymnasts at this level.

Currently, leap series must include a 180-degree split in cross or side position, leading to a lot (and I mean a lot) of switch side + popa combinations, especially for gymnasts who aren’t so much with the dance elements. Gymnasts should have to show a cross split. If they can’t do that correctly, they shouldn’t be able to get a 10.

3) Routines must include a forward element, a backward element, and a double salto, all in tumbling lines

Floor exercises should include a basic display of the breadth of tumbling, and gymnasts should be evaluated on their proficiency in all of these areas, not just a variation on the same tumbling pass three times in a row.

4) Can we do something about the wedgies and the visible underwear/private areas?

I’m not in favor of instituting actual rules to govern people’s appearances.

My view is, look however the hell you want. I’m probably going to make fun of it later, but it’s your right as a person to dress like a damn fool if you want to. Cover your body in temp tattoos, wear a billion ribbons, dip your face in glitter. I can say something about it (and will), but I can’t do anything about it and shouldn’t be able to. You do you. I don’t get to dictate what you do with yourself.

But at the same time, just…have some self-respect and tape your booty away. Please. For me.

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