Before the NCAA season begins, it’s time for the now-annual venture into the murky world of NCAA scoring for those who might want to know a little more about what’s going on. Fair warning: you’ll be saner if you don’t.
For the full experience, be sure to check out of the first post on vault.
Composing a routine
- At minimum, an NCAA routine must include 3 A-valued elements, 3 B-valued elements, and 2 C-valued elements.
You don’t have to worry about this part. It’s very basic and every routine you see in NCAA will have been designed specifically to meet this standard, otherwise you wouldn’t see it in competition.
Gymnasts must also fulfill a series of special composition requirements, each worth 0.2. On bars, those four requirements are
1 – Two separate bar changes. This means that you can’t just start on the low bar, get up to the high bar, and then dismount. At some point in the routine, you have to transition from low to high, and from high to low.
2 – Two flight elements, not including the dismount. Flight elements include same-bar releases, as well as transition skills in which the body is not in contact with either bar at some point.
Gymnasts will typically fulfill this by using their two transitions (e.g., a bail handstand and a toe shoot; a Pak and a Shaposh), or by using one of those transitions skills along with a same-bar release. Gymnasts do not have to perform a same-bar release, and you’re supposed to have a really strong opinion about that one way or the other.
The two flight elements typically must be at least C-value skills, but one B-value skill can be used to meet the requirement as long as the other element is D- or E-value.
3 – A turning element, minimum C value. Turning elements normally make us think of pirouettes, but that does not have to be the case. Turning pirouettes do fulfill this requirement, but so does any skill including at least a 1/2 turn at any point. That means a skill like a bail handstand can be used to meet this requirement.
It’s not the spirit of the rule, but it does count.
4 – A dismount, minimum C value. This special requirement is a lie. NCAA gymnastics absolutely does not want you dismounting with an isolated C element, despite what the requirement says.
You can, but if the C-level dismount is preceded by two giant swings (as most dismounts are), you lose 0.1. Plus, if it’s not performed in a combination that earns bonus, you lose an additional 0.1. So basically, you can’t dismount with a C.
The requirement should just say a dismount, minimum D value, or C-value in direct bonus combination. That’s what it boils down to anyway.
Missing any one of these four requirements is a 0.2 deduction from the start value. Every routine you watch will have been composed to ensure that doesn’t happen. Any gymnast with a routine that includes 3 As, 3 Bs, and 2 Cs, and that fulfills the four requirements above will begin with a 9.50 start value.
From there, gymnasts attempt to get up to a 10.0 start value by earning five tenths of bonus. Bonus is earned in two categories.
1) Skill value – Each D element earns 0.1 in bonus, and each E element earns 0.2.
2) Connection value – There are a few formulae through which gymnasts receive connection bonus on bars.
C+C = 0.1 (but only if both elements show flight or turn, OR if both elements begin from the clear-hip, toe-on, or stalder roots)
C+D = 0.1
D+D = 0.2
To earn the full five tenths of bonus, at least one tenth must come from each category (skill value and connection value), so you can’t load up exclusively on one category or another.
But, as long as you get your 5 tenths of bonus, and fulfill all the requirements above, you’ve got your 10.0 start!
Up to level
Unless. There are several possible routine-composition deductions in NCAA routines, but the one you’ll hear me talk about the most during the season is the “up to level” deduction.
This deduction is a flat .10, taken from any routine that does not fulfill the standard of being “up to the competitive level.”
What does that even mean? Good question. On bars, a routine is considered up to the competitive level, and therefore avoids this deduction, as long as it fulfills ONE of the following areas.
1 – A same-bar release of D value (e.g., Jaeger, Gienger, or Tkatchev)
2 – A release element of E value (e.g., Ricna, Shap 1/2, or Bhardwaj)
3 – Two D releases (e.g., Bail handstand AND Shaposhnikova)
4 – Two E-level skills (e.g., Stalder 1/1 AND Double layout dismount)
Achieve any one of those, and you’re good.
“Up to level” is also where that 0.1 deduction for performing a C dismount without bonus connection that I mentioned earlier comes in. It’s classified as an “up to level” deduction.
Judges must display if they have taken an up-to-level deduction on a routine. So in a meet, if you see a card flashed that says “UTL” next to the start value, this is what has happened.
Let’s go through a straightforward example routine, where I’ll point out exactly how it meets the composition topics outlined above.
1 – Two bar changes – Finnegan includes a bail handstand directly connected to toe shoot in the middle of her routine, fulfilling the expectation of two bar changes.
2 – Two flight elements – Finnegan opens with a toe-on Tkatchev (Ray), and then performs the bail handstand, already finishing her two-flight-elements requirement about halfway through the routine.
3 – A turning element, minimum C value – Finnegan does not perform a pirouetting skill in this routine, but does not have to because the bail handstand qualifies as her turning element.
4 – A dismount, minimum C value – The double layout dismount is an E.
Up to level
Finnegan fulfills the up to level requirement in all four of the categories, even though you only need to meet one of the four.
1 – She includes a same-bar release of at least D value, the Ray
2 – The Ray is actually an E, so it gets this one too
3 – The Ray and the bail handstand are 2 releases of at least D value
4 – The Ray and the double layout dismount are 2 E skills.
The opening Ray is an E skill, so it earns .2 in bonus.
The bail handstand is a D skill, so it earns .1 in bonus. It is directly connected to the toe shoot, a C element, for an additional .1 in connection bonus (D+C).
The double layout dismount is an E skill, so it earns another .2 in bonus.
That brings Finnegan up to 6 tenths of bonus, though she needs only 5.
Here are the major skill values you’ll want to know for bars.
Shoots to high bar (toe, Stalder, etc) – C
Shaposhnikova (all entries) – D
Shaposhnikova 1/2 (all entries) – E
Bail handstand – D
Overshoot, not to handstand – B
Overshoot, not to handstand, connected out of D release – C
Pak salto – D
Bhardwaj – E
Straddle back to handstand – D
Cast handstand – B
Cast 1/2 – C
Giant circle – B
Giant 1/2 – C
Giant 1/1 – D
Toe circle – C
Toe 1/2 – C
Toe 1/1 – D
Clear-hip circle – C
Clear-hip 1/2 – C
Clear-hip 1/1 – D
Stalder circle – D
Stalder 1/2 – D
Stalder 1/1 – E
Giant forward – C
Giant forward 1/2 – C
Giant forward 1/1 – D
The most important thing you need to know about NCAA deductions is ‾\_(ツ)_/‾. Keep that in mind at all times.
NCAA pretends that it follows the JO code of points, except it obviously doesn’t. Not even a little. There’s a tremendous amount of subjectivity still remaining in NCAA scoring, including an unwritten understanding regarding which deductions from the JO code actually count and which ones magically don’t for the purpose of scoring NCAA routines. The standard is, “We take the JO code of points, and then just ignore all of it. The end. Here’s your score. Fetch.”
So, in these sections, I’m going to deviate from (deviate from = completely ignore) the code of points we’re actually supposed to be following and instead discuss the reality of what I see getting taken.
This is not an exhaustive account of deductions, but rather an overview of the main things to look out for. On bars, those main things are handstands and landings. If you sometimes feel like those are the only two areas that ever get deducted on bars routines, welcome to the club. We have jackets.
Falls are 0.50 each time. Pretty straightforward.
Sometimes, you will see a gymnast fall on a routine and then receive a number like 8.950 and you go, “Wait, the half point for the fall doesn’t account for that whole deduction-scape.” In these cases, the gymnast likely also lost connection bonus and/or skill value for falling on a compositionally critical part of the routine, so the start value was no longer 10.
The best rule of thumb for landings on bars is that small steps will get .05 off and larger steps/lunges will get .10 off. What defines a larger lunge is fairly ambiguous (psh, like you’re out there measuring someone’s “shoulder width”—you can’t even see it from your angle), but I like to think of it this way: If the step looks larger than that person’s natural walking stride would be, it’s a .10. If it’s a normal walking step or smaller, it’s a .05.
In general, hops will be punished more severely than steps because they demonstrate less control (two feet moving, rather than one foot moving and one foot planted), but very small hops, little bounces in place, and baby slides back with both feet will typically just get the .05 treatment, which is fine. A hop in place is not a stick and will be deducted, unless you’re a home team ranked in the top 10, in which case the judges will decide to go temporarily blind in the middle of your landing and treat hops in place and baby slides as sticks, even though they’re not.
In addition to stepping/hopping/lunging, there will be landing position deductions for issues like an egregious squat or piking way over in a lean to try to hold a stick. A stuck landing does not mean the landing is free from deduction, and leaning all around or doing the butterfly to try to stay planted are deductions. If the gesticulations are significantly wild, they can end up being a larger deduction (.10) than the small step they’re serving to avoid (.05).
Landing errors can go up to .30, though we tend to see that large of a landing deduction taken only in multi-step, I-do-the-triple-jump-now situations.
Gymnasts are supposed to be deducted for landing with their legs too far apart and staying there (they are supposed to land with their feet a little bit apart because of safety, then quickly bring their heels together on salute to show control). But, after about half a season of deducting for it, everyone basically forgot about that deduction— unless your legs are in a straddle split when you land.
Handstands are THE THING on bars.
When gymnasts cast to handstand in NCAA, we’re told the judges are expecting them to be within 10 degrees of vertical to receive no deduction. This “degree” stuff is super ambiguous (the human eye cannot tell the difference between 9 degrees and 11 degrees on a handstand), so the rule basically ends up as “y’all better be vertical.”
At least, if you’re not completely vertical, I’m going to sass about it in a live blog. None of this 10-degrees nonsense. OCD ain’t got time for that.
Below is a vertical handstand for no deduction in NCAA gymnastics.
Here is a handstand that comes up 10 degrees short.
This second handstand is basically going to look like a vertical handstand in real time and can escape without deduction, but any farther from vertical will receive a deduction on each instance.
Much shorter than vertical will get more severely deducted, but most of your “oh, she was a little short on that handstand” issues will be .05.
We tend to focus on the vertical position only when gymnasts cast to handstand, but it is equally important on pirouetting skills like a giant full. On those skills, watch the point at which the gymnast ceases turning. At that moment, the vertical position should still be maintained and rarely is. If the body position is closer to horizontal, that’s a major deduction.
Catching short of a vertical position on a bail handstand is another a pretty common NCAA deduction.
Judges are also likely taking for bent elbows on the catch in this case, but bent elbows are a significant point of argument when it comes to NCAA scores and don’t get taken as often as they might be.
Keep in mind that if the torso is perfectly vertical but there’s an angle in the hips so the feet aren’t vertical, that’s no good. The position is going to be judged by the feet.
There are many, many other little deductions that will (or more accurately can) be taken on bars, but one of the remaining significant ones is leg separations.
This often gets ignored in NCAA because the judges can’t necessarily see leg separations from the side view, also looking right up into the lights (you know, definitely the best position from which to judge things). But, the legs are supposed to be pasted together on pirouettes, transitions, and dismounts—basically for the entire routine unless you’re performing a release element with straddle or straddling up to handstand. If the legs lose contact with each other unintentionally, that’s a deduction—typically a small one unless we’re verging into crazy-legs territory, where one of the legs looks like it’s about to fly off.
So, if the legs flash apart for a second on top of the bar in the middle of a giant full, or you see daylight between them on a bail handstand or double layout dismount, or the two legs are in uneven positions in the air on a full-twisting double tuck dismount, those are all deductions.
As on vault, the knees are also expected to be straight on bars. Basically, the legs should be forming a straight line throughout the entire bars routine unless it’s during a tucked dismount.
Flexed feet is another point of contention when it comes to NCAA judging. Ideally, the feet should be pointed at all times during a routine. In reality, my impression is that flexed feet don’t get deducted if the feet are flexed on, say, a challenging same-bar release skill. But, if the foot flexion is pronounced and present throughout the routine, a small overall deduction will be taken.
Lack of amplitude is another key area of possible deduction. If a release skill or dismount is flat (e.g., a Tkatchev that clears the bar by only an inch or two, a Jaeger or dismount where the hips don’t rise above the height of the bar in flight), it should be deducted.
You’ll have observed that all the final scores in NCAA are still pretty high despite these potential deductions. So, a good rule of thumb is that for any single instance of any one of these deductions, the judges are probably only taking .05 unless it’s egregious.
Besides amplitude, another deduction you’ll see on releases relates to catching close. A gymnast intends to catch a same-bar release with extended elbows, maintaining the same rhythm through to the next element. Catching too close to the bar, typically with bent elbows, impedes that rhythm and typically shows up in a stall/pause or a muscled cast handstand out of the skill.
This can be hit pretty harshly, in terms of both the form errors that will inevitably ensue as the gymnast tries to get back on track, as well as the break in the rhythm. Bars routines should show continuous rhythm in the swing.
Being too close to the bar can be a problem on dismounts as well. Like on vault, the gymnast intends to go both up (hips over the height of the bar) and out (so that your foot—or face—doesn’t almost clip the bar). Coming terrifyingly close to hitting the bar on the dismount is a deduction because it’s terrifying.
Keep in mind a tendency in NCAA to judge holistically, taking into account the overall sense of a routine. If a judge sees a little bent elbow rhythm hesitation coming out of a toe-on skill, then some small leg separations in giant swings before the dismount, but nothing else to deduct, they may take all of that into account and simply say, “OK there were 2 or 3 things that are borderline deductions, none of which I HAVE to take as a pure .05, but that also combine to mean this wasn’t a 10. So, I’m going to give it 9.950.”
That’s the level of subjectivity we still have in NCAA gymnastics, which can be frustrating to those familiar with the elite code or who want specific receipts of all deductions to maintain transparency and continuity across all judges. It’s not going to happen any time soon. YOU’RE WELCOME.