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 actually going on behind that bonkers 9.950 that just got thrown. Fair warning: you’ll be happier 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.
That is a very basic standard that college gymnasts are able to achieve quite comfortably. You don’t have to worry about it. Gymnasts must also 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.
By far the most common acrobatic flight series you’ll see is the back handspring + layout stepout (loso) series.
It’s the classic NCAA series, and you’re probably sick of it, or will be.
You’ll notice I put “directly connected” in quotes in the above rule because of snottiness. An acrobatic series should have to be directly connected and generate rebounding speed in one direction. But that is not actually required.
Rather, forward + backward series may also be used to fulfill this requirement, the most common of which is the front aerial + back handspring series. Everyone has decided to agree that this also counts as a directly connected acro series, despite being just two different acro elements performed in the vague vicinity of one another.
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 about 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, and it has started to eradicate this series from beam routines because it means if you’re going to do this series, you have take some more risk elsewhere in the routine to get your 10.0 start value. And who wants to do that?
Because of this rule, we’re starting to see more people go for side aerial + back handspring instead of front aerial, which is at least a little better because it generates speed in a single direction, even if ending a series with a back handspring is still a cop out and not really what we mean when we talk about risk-taking acrobatic series.
The dismount cannot be part of this acrobatic series if it’s going to fulfill the requirement. The series must finish on the beam.
2 – A dance OR dance/acro combination.
Typically, this requirement is fulfilled by a combination of two dance elements, like a switch split + split jump.
Starting in 2020, this requirement was changed to allow gymnasts to fulfill it with a combination dance + acrobatic series as well, as long as the dance element is a C. We haven’t seen many take advantage of that yet.
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 backup plan—typically 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.
Yeah, beat jumps count. While one skill in a dance + dance 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 elements to meet the requirement. As with #1, a dismount cannot be part of this series. It has to finish on the beam.
3 – One dance element showing 180-degree split. This goes hand-in-hand with #2, as most gymnasts will get this out of the way as one of the elements in their dance combination.
Add this to the list of areas where gymnerds feel the judges tend to be too forgiving. Judges 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 the full 180-degree position in that very same 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.
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 9.40 start value.
From that 9.40 start, gymnasts attempt to get to a 10.0 start value by earning up to six 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 many methods through which gymnasts can receive connection bonus on beam. Many.
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)
B acro + C dismount = 0.1
Dance/mixed connections (dismount combos only eligible in final instance)
A+D = 0.1
B+C = 0.1
B+D = 0.2
C+C = 0.2
C+C dismount = 0.1
A+C = 0.1
Series bonus (dismount combos not eligible)
B+B+C = 0.1 series bonus in addition to acrobatic connection value 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. Gymnasts still get the 0.1 skill value bonus, but no combination value.
To earn the full six 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, but there is one key point to it. If a gymnast does not earn any connection bonus from her acrobatic flight series (i.e., she’s performing a back handspring + layout stepout or front aerial + back handspring), the routine must include another D acro (or E dance) element somewhere else, otherwise it will receive a .10 deduction. That element cannot be directly connected to the dismount, a rule introduced to discourage the overused side aerial + layout full dismount, which previously fulfilled up-to-level.
Routines must also include a backward acrobatic element and a forward/sideward acrobatic element at some point. Miss either, and lose .10. This tends to become an issue for gymnasts who have Ol’ Dead Back and can’t do back handsprings anymore.
Now lets go through a very typically composed routine example routine to see how all those rules work in practice.
1 – One acrobatic series – Baumann performs the back handspring + layout stepout series. She receives no connection bonus for this, but it does fulfill the special requirement.
2 – A combination of dance elements or dance/acro elements – Baumann opens her routine with the classic switch split to split jump, which fulfills this requirement.
3 – 180-degree split – That opening switch split reaches 180 degrees (like actually!) and fulfills this requirement.
4 – Full turn – The regular-type full turn at 0:43 checks this box.
5 – Dismount, minimum C, or B in combination – Baumann dismounts with a round-off + back 1.5 dismount, a C-value dismount, fulfilling #5.
Baumann does not receive connection bonus for her acrobatic series, so in order to meet the up-to-level requirement, she is compelled to include either an additional D acro element or E dance element. Baumann does both. The E-valued switch leap with 1/2 turn is an E dance element that avoids the wrath of up-to-level, as does the D-valued side aerial later in the routine.
Baumann fulfills the forward/sideward and backward acrobatic expectations with that side aerial (forward/sideward) and the layout stepout series (backward)
Baumann opens with the switch leap + split jump combination, which is a C + B dance combination earning 0.1 in bonus.
She follows that with her back handspring + layout stepout, which receives no connection value but does still receive 0.1 in skill-value bonus because the layout stepout is a D. So that brings Baumann up to 0.2.
The next element, the switch leap with 1/2 turn, is an E skill, which earns 0.2 in skill-value bonus, bringing Baumann up to 0.4.
The lone side aerial following the full turn is a D skill, worth another tenth in skill-value bonus, bringing Baumann to 0.5.
Finally, the round-off into the back 1.5 dismount is a B acro element directly connected into a C dismount, earning 0.1 connection bonus and bringing Baumann up to the necessary 0.6 bonus, added onto her 9.4 base score, giving her 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 – E
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
Gainer 1.5 tucked or straight (side) – D
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 Level 10 code of points, except it obviously doesn’t. There is a tremendous amount of subjectivity remaining in NCAA scoring, including an unwritten understanding regarding which deductions from the Level 10 code actually count and which ones magically don’t for the purpose of scoring NCAA routines. The standard is, “We take the Level 10 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 actual code of points we’re supposed to follow and instead discuss the reality of what I see getting taken from meet to meet.
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 it’s NCAA scoring. That 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 few seasons where clearly only .10 was taken for a large bend at the hips where the gymnast leans way over and nearly has to grab the beam.
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), and 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 taking minor deductions 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 any time 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 exactly parallel to the beam.
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 elements, 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 looking like helicopter rotors.
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, 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.
College sticks. A “college stick” occurs when a gymnast realizes that there’s no way in the holographic universe she’s going to be able to hold her landing under control, so she just pretends like she already showed the stick and you missed it. Like when your parents would ask whether you washed your hands before dinner and you were like, “…yes.” It’s really awesome acting. The gymnast will land and then pretend like her absolutely necessary step is just a post-routine celebration like all the cool kids do following their definite sticks that happened. This is not a stick.
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.