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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31 thoughts on “Explained: The New NCAA Championship Format”

  1. Very helpful. Not sure how I feel about top 2 in each session vice top 4 scores, no matter which session, but I am guessing the variation in scoring across sessions is what causes that to be a non-starter.

    And while less AA individuals is maybe not ideal–potentially those who would have been second in AA might finish as a top-non-qualified-gymnast on at least one event. But maybe you know: What if gymnast A gets the AA spot by being the top AA qualifier not on a team. She was also the top VT scorer not on a team, do they now go to gymnast B the second best VT scorer not on a team? What if gymnast B was tops on VT (with gymnast A’s AA advancement) and FX, which one takes priority? Do they get to choose as I am guessing they do not compete AA at Nationals (or maybe they do?)? If gymnast C is the top qualifier on UB and BB, do they get to go for both or only one so there are the 4 EF gymnasts advancing or does a second place person get the nod on an event to make up the numbers?

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  2. thank you spencer!

    i can’t believe they retained geographic seeding (2nd stupidest part of the old format) and didn’t even get the 1-16 seedings right for super regions (3rd stupidest part of the old format). ugh. the play-ins being geographically picked is particularly dumb.

    one step at a time i guess.

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    1. (this was my comment above lol i wasn’t logged in)

      actually the 1-16 seedings ARE right, i didn’t pay full attention. i thought the #5 team would be the highest ranked team in its group, but it’s not. then seeding is right – the #1 team needs to lose to BOTH #8 and #9, while #5 needs to lose to both #4 (a better team) and #12 OR #13. it’s a more fragile proposition.

      geographic seeding is still ridiculous though. they are barely even geographic. two of the hosts are from SEC!

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      1. Its right for a normal tournament. Because those are usually head to head with one team (or person) advancing.

        Here since its all at once and two teams advance, its less about who you lose to and more about who you can’t lose to. For example is 5 has a bad day losing to 4 doesn’t matter, but it just has to better than whatever 12 does. Where on the other hand, if #1 has a bad day it has to be better than #9, a harder task.

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      2. i get this point but if #1 messes up, both #8 and #9 need to have a hit meet to benefit from it. only one of #12 or #13 needs to hit to benefit from a #5 miss. i would still prefer to be #1, it’s double the chance of my miss not mattering because someone else missed too.

        additionally, NCAA gymnastics has a huge gap between the top ranked teams and everyone else. the difference between #1 and #8 last season was more than one point in RQS. in reality the top 4ish teams are not affected by any format change in regionals.

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      3. What if in the Regional with the No. 1, 8, and 9 seeds, it’s :

        1. OU or UCLA
        8. Alabama
        9. Georgia

        This meet would be at Georgia. You know Bama and UGA are going to go all out to beat each other and if the landings aren’t there for the top seed on Day 3…

        The No. 4, 5, 12, and 13 teams could be:
        4. LSU (host)
        5. Utah
        12. Kentucky
        13. Washington
        The battle between Utah/Kentucky would be great and despite being a host LSU is pre-season considered to be the weakest among the Top 4…

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  3. What’s the reasoning for continuing the geographic placements, instead of just seeding the top 36? As others have said the geographic approach seems unfair, so there must be some reason to do it, howeve flawed it is.

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    1. In theory, I think it’s so that teams don’t have to travel as far, but in practice it never seems to work out quite right (see Central Michigan having to go to Tuscaloosa last year when Columbus was way closer).

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    2. it would work if regional hosts actually followed any sort of geographic pattern. if they divided the country in four regions and every school was in the same region all the time i’d actually be on board with geographic seeding. if they are going to have placement based seeds, it needs to be from top to bottom.

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  4. There should be three groups: teams 1-16 are seeded. Teams 17-28 are geographically distributed straight to the second day of regionals. Teams 29-36 are geographically distributed to the play-in meets.

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    1. Still going to have issues with that as one region will likely be much stronger than others historically are. I mean 2019 already has this issue. LSU and Georgia are essentially the same region, but yet these two teams are hosting. So it doesn’t make sense to call them regionals. The best thing to do would just assign teams 1-28 as seeded to a regional. Then do the best to seed 29-36 to a region as best as possible, with 29 getting first choice and so forth.
      Otherwise, what needs to happen is that there are actual, consistent regions every year and the host has to come from a state in that region. i haven’t taken a look at the actual colleges in the states in the regions below. However, South Carolina is in the South and doesn’t have any team, for example.
      4 Geographical Regions(State in region without NCAA gymnastics currently)
      North East Region: 9 states +DC= (ME) NH (VT) NY DC MA RI CT NJ (DE) MD PA WV
      South Region: 10 states= NC AL AR (TN) FL OK (SC) (MS) TX GA LA KY VA
      Central Region: 8 states= (ND) (SD) (KS) MO MN NE WI IO IL (IN) MI OH
      West Region: 8 states= (HA) AK WA OR CA (NV) UT AZ ID (WY) (NM) CO
      I can go further and list the number of college teams in each region to see how balanced these regions are. Some conferences would actually be split up for regionals. Missouri would be in the central region away from the rest of the SEC. Big 12 teams (Denver, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Iowa State would all be in split into the 4 regions the way I have it.

      I don’t know …just a start toward making it more fair in terms of “actual” regions.

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      1. The only thing about this is your actual regions would have nearly all of the historic top 8 teams (aside from UCLA and NE) in one region, which obviously isn’t fair and is a huge boost to those outside the southern region. Which is maybe a reason this random “regional” format came to exist. I agree with other commenters in making the non play-in teams all be seeded based on actual rankings and getting away from geography entirely

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      2. Utah is not in the South.
        Utah is in the proposed West region.

        Also, the proposed regions would just be for hosting purposes.

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  5. But what if there’s a tie in EF at Regionals? If 5 gymnasts get a 9.9 on Vault and tie for 1st place, which 1 of the 5 would advance to Nationals? I hope NCAA has considered EF tie-breaking procedures that actually make sense.

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    1. Here are the tie-breaking procedures for specialists:

      “Ties for advancing event specialists will be broken by counting all four scores on the event. If not broken, the head judge score will be the tiebreaker. If a tie still exists, the advancing individual will be the one with the higher NQS.”

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  6. Are there historic SuperSix instances where a team that had qualified third in a Semi went on to win the National Title? Of course, now that can no longer happen since only two teams from each Semi will move on to compete in the new Final Four format.

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    1. Yes. In 1995 Utah was 3rd in the first session behind Georgia and Michigan after having a disaster UB rotation (48.125). They then went on to win the Super Six.

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  7. One more idea/comment. Let’s continue on with the Stanford example posted above. Say Stanford wins their play-in round (Thursday), advances to Semis on Friday and fails to make the top two in that round. Would their entire team be ineligible in sending a gymnast qualifying in the AA/event specialist spot? This would be particularly damning to certain teams/individuals (for example if this had happened to Ebee last year and *cough cough* Michigan’s recent disasters at regionals)

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    1. regional finals on saturdays are another round entirely. stanford would be eligible to advance individuals to the regional final, and from there they’d need to qualify to nationals.

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      1. actually no, i read it wrong, individuals don’t do regional finals. so, individuals advance from regional semis to nationals and all teams that didn’t qualify to nationals are eligible, not only those who made it to regional finals.

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  8. Your constant posts in favor of this mess of a new system are like the arguments used by Trump voters to justify why they voted for him instead of Hillary. Just replace “but her emails” with “but those byes,” which you seem to think are so bad that they justify completely upending a format that has worked plenty well for 25 years. Shame.

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    1. I like the idea of a 4 team final. However, I don’t think the old system was awful. I would propose that there be three semi finals at nationals of 4 teams each. The winner of each final goes to team finals. Then the next highest scoring team would join them. To make it fair, the team prelim scores can be combined with either the regional score, or added to the team’s RQS to determine which team gets the wild car spot.

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