The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Explained: The New NCAA Championship Format

We’re five days away from the start of the NCAA season, so even though you’ve valiantly put off understanding the new championship format for as long as possible (and I’m so proud of you for it), it’s time to buckle down and do the thing.

The new postseason format instituted for 2019 is an improvement over the previous system in many ways, most notably because of the elimination of those bloated and interminable six-team meets with bye rotations. It still has its faults and problems from the previous format that have gone unresolved, which we’ll all be sure to complain about at every possible moment, but it’s a step. So here’s how it will go.

The season itself will progress as before. The teams will compete every weekend, they’ll all get overscored, you’ll be furious about it, and everything will be fine and normal. Following the conference championships, the top 36 teams will still advance to the elimination meets, as per usual, while the season ends for everyone else. After that, it gets new and different.

ELIMINATION ROUNDS

Previously, the 36 advancing teams would be divided among 6 regional sites—6 teams at each site—for a single day of elimination competition from which the top 2 teams at each site advanced to the national championship.

This year, the 36 advancing teams will be divided among 4 regional sites—9 teams at each site—for three days of elimination competition after which the top 2 teams at each site will advance to the national championship.

The four regional sites this year are LSU, Georgia, Michigan, and Oregon State.


ROUND 1

At each regional site, the 7 best-ranked teams automatically advance to the second day of competition. The first day of competition (Thursday, April 4) is reserved solely for a single dual meet at 3pm local time between the 8th- and 9th-ranked teams at the site, with only the winner advancing to the next day.

This will get rid of 4 teams and leave us with 32 teams still alive.

Example: I spent Saturday doing a mock postseason with last year’s final RQS rankings (or…I mean…I went to a…club…or something…is that what the cool gays do?). The Oregon State regional ended up being comprised of UCLA, Alabama, Nebraska, Oregon State, Arizona State, BYU, Illinois, Stanford, and Southern Utah. As the 2 lowest-ranked teams in the group, Stanford and Southern Utah would face off in the Thursday dual, while the other 7 teams would sip cocktails at the hotel, laughing about how little competing they had to do that day, and wait for the next day to get their postseasons started.

This move introduces an extra day of competition for those lower-ranked teams over a potential marathon weekend—but has also been welcomed as a visibility boon for those teams. Previously, no one was watching your New Hampshires or Marylands at regionals because those teams weren’t going to advance to nationals and there were five other teams demanding attention from both fans and broadcast directors. Now, those schools will be the stars of a whole day of postseason competition.

Because those teams ranked around #30 are integral to the elimination format now, we’re all going to spend a ton more time talking about them, both in the postseason and leading up to it.

A downside to how this is being implemented (besides being on a Thursday in the middle of the afternoon, not great for real human adults with lives and jobs) is that we’re still doing geographical placement of unseeded teams—now the teams ranked 17th-36th—into each regional site, at the discretion of the committee. That means the 8th- and 9th-best teams at each site may not actually be among the lowest-ranked postseason teams overall. They’re just going to be the two lowest-ranked teams that happen to be geographically distributed to that location.

Does that make sense? Kind of? Example: In my mock postseason, Stanford (ranked #26) had to participate in that play-in as the 8th-best team in the Oregon State regional, but Penn State (ranked #29) did not have to participate in a play-in as the 7th-best team in the Michigan regional—simply because geographical placement resulted in some uneven distribution of teams.

There will be unfairness complaints.

ROUND 2

At this point, 8 teams will remain at each regional site, and things get real. On the second day of elimination competition (Friday, April 5), all 8 teams compete in two separate quad meets, one at 2:00pm local time, the other at 7:00pm local time.

The 2 best teams in each quad meet will advance to the next day, while the other 2 teams will be eliminated. Overall, the 32 teams still alive at the beginning of the day will be trimmed to 16 teams by the end of Round 2.

Because we have a new distribution of teams into these regional competitions, we also have a new seeding procedure. The teams will be placed into the second-round meets as follows.


SITE #1
Session 1

Seed #8
Seed #9
Unseeded team
Unseeded team

Session 2
Seed #1
Seed #16
Unseeded team
Winner of Play-in


SITE #2
Session 1
Seed #5
Seed #12
Unseeded team
Unseeded team

Session 2
Seed #4
Seed #13
Unseeded team
Winner of Play-in


SITE #3
Session 1
Seed #7
Seed #10
Unseeded team
Unseeded team

Session 2
Seed #2
Seed #15
Unseeded team
Winner of day 1


SITE #4
Session 1
Seed #6
Seed #11
Unseeded team
Unseeded team

Session 2
Seed #3
Seed #14
Unseeded team
Winner of day 1


As before, these seedings may need to be adjusted slightly if there are any conflicts with host teams being drawn into regionals with other host teams.

Potential problem: No guidance has yet been given as to how the committee is deciding the session placement of the unseeded teams within a regional site (it’s not like you can go by geography—it’s the same place). Which unseeded team gets the easy session and which gets the hard session?

Example: Going back to my mock Oregon State regional example, which would be site #4, we know that Session 1 would include #6 Alabama and #11 Nebraska, and we know that Session 2 would include #3 UCLA, #14 Oregon State, and the play-in winner—but Arizona State, BYU, and Illinois would be unassigned to a session. Right now it just seems like the coaches on the committee are supposed to go, “Hmmm, I think Illinois should be in this one. For reasons.”


ROUND 3 (Regional Final)

Now, we have just 16 teams remaining (4 at each of the 4 sites). At each site, those four teams will compete against each other in a quad meet at 7:00pm local time on the third day of regional competition (Saturday, April 6).

The 2 highest-scoring teams in each of these 4 quad meets will advance to the national championship, while the other 2 teams will be eliminated. That leaves us with 8 total teams advancing to nationals—2 from each of the 4 sites.

So, if everything goes based on seeding the day before (and let’s hope it doesn’t), the regional finals will be as follows:

SITE #1
Seed #1
Seed #8
Seed #9
Seed #16

SITE #2
Seed #4
Seed #5
Seed #12
Seed #13

SITE #3
Seed #2
Seed #7
Seed #10
Seed #15

SITE #4
Seed #3
Seed #6
Seed #11
Seed #14

Example: In our mock OSU regional, UCLA, Alabama, Nebraska, and Oregon State would compete on the third day (if everything went as seeded on day 2), with the two highest-scoring teams advancing to nationals.

Note that we haven’t really solved the problem of the #1 seed being rewarded with the most difficult task in trying to advance to nationals (having to beat the #9 seed), while the #5 seed is given a theoretically easier task (having to beat the #12 seed).

INDIVIDUAL COMPETITORS

The method for selecting individual competitors for the postseason this year is brand new and does address several among the multitude of problems we had with the previous system.

At the end of the regular season, the 12 best eligible all-arounders and 16 best eligible gymnasts on each event will advance to the postseason as individuals and will compete on the second day of regionals (Round 2), rotating with qualified teams as before.

This list of advancing individuals will not include gymnasts on the top 7 teams at each regional site—since they will already be competing with their teams in Round 2. It will, however, include gymnasts on the 8th- and 9th-ranked teams at each site, the teams that must compete in Round 1. That way, if a gymnast’s team is eliminated in the play-in meet on Thursday, she can still compete the following day with an opportunity to qualify to nationals in one of the individual spots.

Those 12 AAers and 16 individual gymnasts on each event (so 76 athletes total), will be distributed to each of the 4 regional sites. They’ll be assigned geographically as much as possible, but one of the improvements of the new system is that the list of qualified individuals will be based on national standings rather than regional standings.

(Reasoning: You might recall a couple years ago that the entire Air Force team advanced to regionals as individuals regardless of their rankings because Air Force was the only non-qualified team in that region eligible to send individuals. Now, advancing to regionals as an individual has nothing to do with how a gymnast ranks within her region. It’s just about how she ranks nationally. A necessary change.)

To determine which individuals advance to nationals, we take the all-around and event standings from Round 2, and remove the gymnasts who have advanced to nationals with a team. After those gymnasts are removed, the best remaining all-arounder and best remaining finisher on each event will also advance to nationals individuals. So, across four regional sites, that means a total of 4 AAers and 16 event specialists will qualify to nationals along with the 8 teams.

In terms of event qualifiers, this is a massive improvement. Previously, they had to win an event at regionals to advance to nationals. So, if you’re a beam specialist who happened to be drawn into the same regional as UCLA, you had to outscore the entire UCLA beam lineup to make nationals. Now, you just have to outscore everyone else not on a qualifying team.

This new system represents a change in priority of individual qualifiers away from AAers and toward event specialists. In previous years, 12 AA individuals would advance to nationals along with a smattering of event specialists (5 in 2018). Now, it’s just 4 AAers but 16 event specialists.

THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

At nationals, the semifinals will be conducted as they were before—in two sessions on the same day, to be held at 12pm and 6pm local time on Friday, April 19.

Except with 8 teams now advancing to nationals instead of 12, those two semifinals will be quad meets instead of six-team meets.

The individual qualifiers will rotate with teams during the semifinals, and all individual titles will be awarded based on scores achieved during the semifinal day.

The top 2 teams from each of the semifinals will advance to a four-team national championship, held on Saturday, April 20 at 6pm local time.

The winner is the winner.

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