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 most college gymnasts are able to achieve 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 you 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, and a forward + backward series may also be used to fulfill this 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 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.
The dismount cannot be part of this acrobatic series if it’s going to fulfill the requirement. The series must finish on the beam, but it doesn’t have to start on the beam, so a mount series counts.
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.
Whether gymnasts get credit for connecting this series is something else to watch with bated breath in evaluating beam scores. Everyone is one balance check between dance elements away from starting from 9.8 because they broke the combination. 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.
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 a 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, 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
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 6 tenths of bonus, and fulfill all the requirements above, you’ve got your 10.0 start!
Layout stepout and front aerial exceptions
Because of incessant complaining from people like me, the back handspring + layout stepout series and the front aerial + back handspring series are not allowed to earn connection bonus, even though B+D combinations otherwise receive +0.2. Gymnasts still get the 0.1 skill bonus for the layout stepout or front aerial, but no combination value.
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 in the routine to show sufficient risk, 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.
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 example routine from national beam champion Luisa Blanco to see how all those rules work in practice.
1 – One acrobatic series – Blanco performs a back handspring + layout stepout + layout stepout series of three elements to fulfill this requirement.
2 – A combination of dance elements or dance/acro elements – Blanco performs a switch split directly connected to beat jump right before her dismount, which is a two-element dance combination to meet this requirement.
3 – 180-degree split – That first switch split in the dance combination reaches 180 degrees (like actually!) and fulfills this requirement.
4 – Full turn – The regular-type full turn at 0:26 checks this box.
5 – Dismount, minimum C, or B in combination – Blanco performs a round-off into a double twist, which is a C dismount.
Blanco fulfills up-to-level because she receives connection bonus for her acrobatic series by performing two layout stepouts in the series. But, even if she performed only one layout stepout in that series and didn’t receive connection bonus, the routine would still fulfill up-to-level because she has that D-value front aerial elsewhere in the routine.
Blanco fulfills the forward/sideward and backward acrobatic expectations with that opening front aerial (forward/sideward) and the layout stepouts (backward)
Blanco opens with the front aerial, which is a D-value skill and therefore gets 0.1 in skill bonus.
She follows that with her back handspring + layout stepout + layout stepout, which receives 0.1 in skill bonus for the first layout stepout since it too is a D skill. She doesn’t get skill bonus a second time for the subsequent layout stepout because it’s a repeated skill, but she does get 0.2 connection bonus for connecting two D elements together, and then an additional 0.1 in series bonus for a three-element combination. So this series receives 0.4 bonus overall and brings her total to 0.5.
Her final tenth comes from the dismount combination, a round-off to back layout 2/1, which receives the special dismount bonus of 0.1 for being a B+C combination, bringing her up 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. Note: Links go to the elite skill database, and some elite skill values are different from college.
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 a movement 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 the judges are actually being for these wobbles. Is it a .05 kind of wobble? A .10 kind of wobble? A .20 kind of wobble?
Small balance checks and barely perceptible leans and shoulder drops when landing skills are going to be .05 each. Wobble deductions get into the .10+ territory when a leg starts to move out away from the body a little, or there is an arm wave to retain balance, or some twisting to the side, all of which are individual little .05s that can be added onto the balance correction itself. Twisting to the side as part of the wobble is a real tell. That’s when you know it should be more than just .05.
If a leg flies up above horizontal on the wobble, that should be .10 in and of itself along with any other of the above deductions that have occurred.
One of the greatest areas of…discussion…in beam deductions tends to concern wobbles with a break at the hips. If a gymnast has to bend slightly at the hips as part of the wobble, that can be as little as .05 (though probably added onto other .05 deductions like an arm wave), but for a true break at the hips where the gymnast has to bend over to horizontal, the judges are instructed that needs to be an outright .20, no question, no interpretation. The difference between a little bend and a break can be fuzzy and hip breaks are often evaluated very forgivingly.
These days, the higher end of the .30 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 six times.
Actually grasping the beam to maintain balance is a flat .30 deduction. That’s why you typically don’t see the full .30 deducted for a major wobble in which the gymnast avoids grabbing the beam (even if it is warranted, like with a bend at the hips way past horizontal) to give her some manner of reward for the fight.
As always, falls are .50.
While it is not a wobble, gymnasts can also get docked .10 for a concentration pause that is longer than two seconds before performing a skill. To me, that’s one of those deductions that exists in theory but isn’t really being taken every time it is warranted.
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), with 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 feet 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 all skills, not just dance skills, and the judges are looking for straight legs in elements like a back handspring and a layout stepout, as well as a front aerial (a bent knee on the lead leg of a front aerial is a common deduction), and should be taking .05 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 is angled in the wrong plane, which is a deduction. The 180 in straddle needs to be exactly parallel to the beam.
The smallest landing deduction the judges can take is .05. This is supposed to be reserved for only the very smallest of movements, like when a gymnast allllmost sticks but her momentum forces that little slide backward, or she has that tiny hop in place where the feet don’t even really come up but it’s also not a stick. That’s what the .05 is allegedly for, though in practice what constitutes very small movement tends to be evaluated quite loosely, especially for those teams going 9.9 for every routine, and a lot of things—even discernible steps—tend to get away with just .05 instead of a full tenth.
The written rule is that if it’s a clear step, it’s supposed to be a .10 deduction, and if it’s larger than a yard, it’s supposed to be .20 for each step individually.
Other landing deductions also exist on beam in addition to the steps themselves, like lack of control. If a gymnast steps once and then does that little move where she turns around and kind of bounces and salutes and never really stops moving, that can be a .05 in addition to the step.
The direction of a step can also be significant. If you see a gymnast land and lunge sort of diagonally, going off to the side toward the corner of the mat, that can be an extra .05 in direction in addition to the lunge.
The issue of landing with the feet apart is also a major point of contention on beam. The alleged rule is that a landing with the feet wider than hip width will be deducted .10, while a landing with the feet hip width or closer will be deducted .05 if the gymnast does not click her heels together Dorothy-style, but will receive no deduction if the gymnast does go Full Dorothy. This is often ignored and honestly…it’s not my biggest pet peeve. Bringing the heels together is stupid. This is an area where gymnastics judging could make a nod toward safety by ignoring a lot of this because having the feet at hip width apart is the safer, better landing.