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.
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, very basic and every routine you see in NCAA will have met this standard.
Gymnasts must also, however, fulfill a series of special composition requirements, each worth 0.2. On beam, those five requirements are
1 – One acrobatic series. This means two acrobatic flight elements, “directly connected,” with at least one of the elements being C value or higher.
The most common acrobatic flight series you’ll see is the back handspring + layout stepout series (or loso series).
It’s the classic NCAA series, and you’re probably sick of it. Or, you would be if there weren’t several other worse options.
You’ll notice I put “directly connected” in quotes in the above rule because while an acrobatic series on beam would have to be directly connected and generate rebounding speed in one direction in Spencer World, it doesn’t have to do that in Actual World.
Forward + backward series may also be used to fulfill the acrobatic series requirement, of which the most common by far is the front aerial + back handspring series.
Much to the chagrin of me, everyone has decided to agree that this counts as a directly connected acro series, despite not featuring continuous rebounding movement. In reality it is just two different acro elements performed in the vicinity of one another. Still, it can be used to fulfill the requirement.
Judges are supposed to deny credit when gymnasts make a real meal of the pause between the two elements in a forward+backward series, but they’re reticent in doing this unless they have to because the 2-tenth penalty for not having an acro series is so comparatively extreme. When everyone in a meet is scoring over 9.8 on beam, a 2-tenth penalty basically feels like awarding a fall, and judges are unwilling to do that in the case of what is a relatively minor pause in the grand scheme.
As a concession to people like me, when the front aerial is used directly into a back handspring like in the series above, it doesn’t receive any connection value—even though a D+B series would ordinarily gain 0.2 CV. It’s something. It means if you’re going to do the lame series, you have take some more risk elsewhere in the routine to get your 10.0 start value.
Because of this rule, we’re starting to see more people go for front aerial + layout stepout as a forward+backward series instead of front aerial + back handspring, which still shouldn’t be considered a series in my book because it’s not rebounding, but it does at least display a lot more risk.
The dismount cannot be part of an acrobatic series if it’s going to fulfill the requirement. The series must finish on the beam.
2 – A combination of dance elements. This is similar to the acrobatic series requirement (#1), but with leaps and jumps instead of acrobatic flight skills. Gymnasts must perform two leaps/jumps together, without pausing in between, one of which must be a C skill.
Among the most common leap series you’ll see in NCAA is the switch leap + split jump combination because it is the simplest way to fulfill the requirement that also earns connection bonus. Gots to get that bonus.
While one skill in the combination must be a C, there is no requirement for the difficulty of the other skill. That means you will see some gymnasts tack on fairly simple beat jumps and hitch kicks to meet the requirement.
Whether gymnasts get credit for their leap series is something else to watch with bated breath in evaluating beam scores. Everyone is one balance check away from starting from 9.8 because they didn’t get this dance combination requirement. This is why every gymnast will have a dance combo backup plan, something like an extra beat jump that they know they can throw in after their intended dance combo if there’s some question as to whether it will get credit.
3 – One dance skill showing 180-degree split. This goes hand-in-hand with the leap combination requirement, as most gymnasts will get this out of the way through one of the skills in the combo.
Add this to the list of areas where gymnerds feel the judges tend to be too forgiving. Judges will always award credit for this requirement as long as a gymnast attempts a skill showing a 180-degree split, even if that same judge is also taking a deduction for not hitting 180 degrees in that split. This is an inherent contradiction that we’ve all decided to live with.
5 – Minimum C dismount, or B dismount directly connected to a D acrobatic skill. The majority of gymnasts will perform a C dismount (the layout 1.5, the layout 2/1) or greater (the double tuck, the double pike), but the B dismount in combination is also popular, particularly in the side aerial + layout 1/1 combo. We get a lot of that.
Missing any one of these five requirements results in a 0.2 deduction from the start value. Any gymnast with a routine that includes 3 As, 3 Bs, and 2 Cs, and that fulfills the five requirements above will begin with a 9.50 start value.
From there, gymnasts attempt to get to a 10.0 start value by earning up to 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 number of formulae through which gymnasts can receive connection bonus on beam.
B+D = 0.2 (dismount combos not eligible)
C+C = 0.2 (dismount combos not eligible)
B+B+C = 0.1 (dismount combos eligible as long as dismount is C)
B+C+C = 0.2 (dismount combos eligible as long as dismount is C)
B+B+D = 0.2 (dismount combos eligible as long as dismount is D)
Dance/mixed connections (dismount combos not eligible)
A+D = 0.1
B+C = 0.1
B+D = 0.2
C+C = 0.2
A+C = 0.1
Series bonus (dismount combos not eligible)
B+B+C = 0.1 series bonus in addition to acrobatic CV bonus
Layout stepout and front aerial exceptions
As mentioned above with the front aerial, the layout stepout also does not earn connection value in a series with a back handspring despite B+D combinations typically receiving 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 gymnasts 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!
The “up-to-level” composition deduction is not quite as big a deal on beam as it is on bars, but there is one key point to it. If a gymnast does not earn any connection bonus from her acrobatic flight series, the routine must include another D acro (or E dance) element somewhere else in the set, otherwise it will receive a .10 deduction. This isn’t a huge issue for most of the top gymnasts.
Routines must also include a backward acrobatic element and a forward/sideward acrobatic element at some point. Miss either either, and lose .10. This tends to become an issue for gymnasts who have Ol’ Dead Back (it happens) and can’t do back handsprings anymore.
Let’s go through an example routine, where I’ll point out exactly how it meets each of the composition and bonus topics outlined above.
1 – One acrobatic series – Ross fulfills this requirement at the top of her routine with the traditional back handspring + layout stepout series.
2 – A combination of dance elements – Ross follows her acrobatic series with a switch leap to split jump combination, fulfilling the dance requirement.
3 – 180-degree split – The switch leap in the dance combination is the first skill in the routine that fulfills this requirement.
4 – Full turn – Ross’s next element is your tradition full turn. Done and done.
5 – Dismount, minimum C, or B in combination –Ross elects to go the “B in combination” route for her dismount, performing the side aerial connected to layout 1/1.
Ross does not receive any connection bonus for her acrobatic series, so to meet the up-to-level requirement, she is compelled to include an additional D acro element, which she does with the aerial walkover later in the routine.
She also fulfills the forward and backward acrobatic expectations with that aerial walkover (forward) and the layout stepout series (backward)
While the layout stepout series does not receive any composition bonus, the layout stepout is still considered a D skill for the purpose of awarding skill bonus, so Ross receives .1 in bonus for completing that skill.
Her next elements are the switch split + split jump in combination, which is a C+B dance combination, earning .1 in connection bonus.
The big point-getter for Ross in the routine is the aerial walkover + sissone combination, which earns .1 in skill bonus because the aerial is a D element in addition to .1 in connection for a D+A mixed series.
For her final tenth, Ross performs a side aerial in the dismount combination, earning another .1 in skill bonus.
And there she is with 5 tenths in bonus and a 10.0 start value.
Here are the major skill values you’ll want to know for beam.
Leap and jumps
Split leap – A
Sissone – A
Split jump – B
Split leap/jump ¼ – B
Split leap/jump ½ – C
Split jump ¾ – D
Split jump full – E
Straddle jump – B
Straddle ¼ – C
Straddle ½/¾ – D
Switch leap – C
Switch leap ½ – E
Switch side – D
Switch ring – E
Sheep jump – D
Hitch kick – A
Beat jump – A
Back handspring – B
Roundoff – B
Back tuck – C
Back pike – C
Layout stepout – D
Layout, pike down to two feet – D
Layout to two feet – E
Front aerial – D
Side aerial – D
Kickover front – D
Front tuck – D
Side somi – D
Front pike – E
Onodi – E
Rulfova – E
Arabian – E
Back tuck full – E
Gainer pike (end of beam) – C
Gainer full (side) – C
Front layout full – C
Back layout full – B
Back layout 1.5 – C
Back layout 2/1 – C
Back layout 2.5 – E
Double tuck – E
Double pike – E
Double front – E
Double Arabian – E
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 over the last couple seasons.
This is not an exhaustive account of deductions, but rather an overview of the main things to look out for. On beam, that means wobbles, splits, and landings.
Judges are given quite a bit of leeway in evaluating movements to maintain balance, anywhere from .05 to .30 for each one, with the emphasis on the lower end of that range because of NCAA scoring. It means there’s always quite a bit of controversy in terms of how strict they judges are actually being for these wobbles.
FYI, complaining is a HUGE part of NCAA gymnastics. It’s like the main thing. It’s awesome.
Small balance checks and barely perceptible leans when finishing skills are going to be .05 each. Wobble deductions tend to get into the .10 territory when a leg starts to move discernibly out away from the body to retain balance. These days, the higher end of the three-tenth range for a single wobble tends to be reserved for only the very largest breaks, the Olympic-winning backstroke to somehow magically stay on the beam as the leg flies up into the ceiling. Or, theoretically, a significant bend at the hips to maintain balance.
There’s some issue over the bend at the hips, though, because to me that constitutes a major break that should warrant multiple tenths taken, but I’ve seen routines in the last two seasons or so where clearly only .10 was taken for a large bend at the hips.
Actually grasping the beam to maintain balance is a flat .30 deduction. That’s why you typically won’t see the full .30 deducted for a major wobble in which the gymnast avoids grabbing the beam, to give her some manner of reward for the fight.
As always, falls are .50.
Leaps and jumps
Oh, split positions. The hill we’ll all die on. On elements requiring a split, which include not only switch splits and split jumps, but also the sissone and straddle elements like the switch side, gymnasts are expected to reach the full 180-degree angle in split, legs fully extended and parallel with the beam at minimum, toes pointed and continuing the line made by the leg.
Judges have the purview of taking up to .20 for an error in lack of split, though we mostly see .05 being taken for each split error unless it’s RILLLLLL bad. Missing the 180 position in either or both legs is a deduction. Watch the back leg in particular, which is the telltale leg.
Because gymnerds are the way we are, no deduction is deemed large enough for lack of split. We basically want to take full points for missing 180.
Judges should also be evaluating whether the knees are bent (bad) and whether the toes are pointed (good), and deducting accordingly, though the 180 position tends to be the main standard for NCAA deductions on split elements.
Those leg form deductions apply to acrobatic skills as well as dance skills, and in elements like back handsprings and layout stepouts, the judges are looking for a fully straight leg and pointed toes and should be taking a small deduction when that’s not the case.
Many other deductions can be taken on dance elements depending on the skill. A common one is a crooked position on a switch side. Some gymnasts will achieve 180 degrees on a switch side, but the 180 position angled in the wrong plane, which is a deduction. The 180 in straddle needs to be parallel to the beam.
The sheep jump is also typically a disaster in NCAA. A sheep jump is technically expected to show closure of feet to head and an open angle in the hips.
No one in NCAA does this—deductions on sheep form tend to be pretty charitable so there’s little incentive to get all Chinese about it—but those who really don’t come close to foot-head closure, show a leg separation, or maintain a closed hip angle can get deducted.
Evaluation of landing steps on beam tends to be the same as on bars. One added factor on beam dismounts is crossed legs on twisting dismounts, though I’m not convinced that’s being deducted as much as it should be. The legs should be straight and pasted together throughout those twisting layout dismounts, not helicoptering.
The best rule of thumb for landings 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.
College sticks. The college stick occurs when a gymnast hasn’t actually stuck a landing but has enough control to pretend she stuck the landing, trying to cover up the step by sliding into a salute at the same time. This tends to get .05 off, even if the step itself ends up being pretty large, to a degree that would normally warrant a full tenth.
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.
The new favorite talking point for judging in the 2019 season is the rule about pause deductions on beam, which has been revised as follows:
Theoretically, this is an excellent revision because beam routines are supposed to display continuous movement throughout—one cohesive passage of a routine. In the last couple decades, beam routines have trended toward skill + pause + skill + pause + arm wave + skill combination + pause + butt shelf + pause + dismount. Instituting harsh deductions to wean gymnasts off of that halting rhythm sounds awfully nice.
The problem is, these are JO-sized deductions, not NCAA-sized deductions. When most discernible balance checks are getting the .05 treatment in real life in NCAA, how are the judges then supposed to turn around and take .10 or .20 for a concentration pause? You know, the way less important mistake?
These are really poor deduction priorities.
And that’s why my instinct is that this will be like many other deduction clarifications that come along in NCAA every couple years, where the judges are strict about it for exactly 2.5 weeks and then decide it’s stupid and go back to giving everyone a 9.9, and no one talks about it ever again.
But we shall see.