The Balance Beam Situation

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WTF Is College Gymnastics Scoring – Floor

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

Routine requirements

  • At minimum, an NCAA routine must include 3 A-valued elements, 3 B-valued elements, and 2 C-valued elements.

That is a 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 floor, those four requirements are

1 – One acrobatic combination, featuring 2 saltos. The 2 saltos can be directly connected to each other or indirectly connected to each other within a single tumbling pass, but they must appear in the same line of acrobatic skills.

2 – Three different saltos within the exercise. Because the majority of gymnasts perform three tumbling passes, one of which must be a combination pass, they tend to have four different saltos in their routines anyway, easily fulfilling the minimum requirement of three.

Some will not have four, either because they are performing a routine with just two passes, or because they are repeating a skill in one of the passes, but they must have at least three different salto elements at some point.

3 – The final tumbling pass must end with a C element. This is another of our requirement lies. NCAA floor has an additional up-to-level deduction (see “composition deductions” below) that requires the final pass to feature either a D element or a C element done in bonus combination, so that ends up being the real requirement. You can’t just do an isolated C as your final pass.

It’s still not much of a problem. This requirement exists to prevent people from opening huge, getting all their bonus, and then going, “My last pass is a back tuck, suckasssss.” (Which would also get a distribution deduction for not spacing out the difficulty.)

4 – Passage of dance elements. This requirement will be familiar for elite watchers. In NCAA, gymnasts must perform two dance elements (one of which has to hit 180 degrees) either in direct connection or in an indirect dance passage connected by that prancing that pretends it’s ballet but isn’t.

The difference between NCAA and elite in this regard is that we see many, many more gymnasts in NCAA opt for the direct connection of dance elements because, unlike in elite, they can receive connection bonus for those dance combinations.


Missing any one of these requirements is a 0.2 deduction from the start value. A gymnast with a routine that includes 3 As, 3 Bs, and 2 Cs, and that fulfills the four requirements above will begin with a 9.40 start value.


Bonus

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.

Final pass
A double-flipping element (or any E-value tumbling element) in the final pass receives an extra 0.1 of bonus in addition to the typical skill value bonus.

2) Connection value – There many methods through which gymnasts can receive connection bonus on floor. Many.

Direct acrobatic connections
A+C = 0.1
A+A+C = 0.1
B+B = 0.1 (as long as the skills are different)
B+C = 0.2
A+D = 0.2
C+C = 0.3

Indirect acrobatic connections
A+A+C = 0.1
A+D = 0.1
C+C = 0.2

Dance or mixed connections
B+D = 0.1
C+C = 0.1
D salto + A jump = 0.1
A+C+A+A (salto/salto/dance/salto) = 0.1
C+D = 0.2

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.

In an extra twist on floor, at least one of the tenths of bonus must also come from dance elements (leaps, jumps, turns) either for combination or skill value, so it can’t all be from tumbling.

But, as long as you get your six tenths of bonus, and fulfill all the requirements above, you’ve got your 10.0 start.


Composition deductions

On floor, gymnasts must perform both forward and backward tumbling at some point (otherwise it’s 0.1 off), and there are several “up to level” composition deductions that routines must avoid on floor.

1) The routine must include either one E element, or two D elements (one of which must be acrobatic). Otherwise, 0.10 off.

2) One of the tumbling passes must include THREE (count ’em, three) elements, including at least one salto of C value. Otherwise, 0.10 off.

**This became an issue early last season when Haleigh Bryant’s three tumbling passes were front handspring + double front, front layout + rudi, and front handspring + front 2/1, none of which had three elements in it. That highlighted the absurdity of this rule, because try to tell me Bryant’s routine isn’t up to the competitive level, but Lisa Front Layout is.

3) The final pass must end with a D salto, or C salto in a combination that earns bonus. Otherwise, 0.10 off.

Gymnasts are allowed to perform only two tumbling passes if they wish (instead of the traditional three), but there are special composition rules regarding routines with only two passes. In two-pass routines, one of the passes must be at least a D salto, and the other pass must be either a D salto or garner 0.2 in CV. This is how NCAA prevents gymnasts from just filling up on dance elements.


Example

Now for an example, let’s check out Haleigh Bryant’s resolved routine from later in the season to see how it fulfills the requirements and gets up to a 10.0 start value.

Special requirements

1 – One combination pass, featuring 2 saltos.
Bryant’s second tumbling pass includes a front layout to front 1.5 (rudi), which fulfills this requirement.

2 – Three different saltos within the exercise.
Bryant performs a double front in the first pass, a front layout and a rudi in the second pass, and a front layout 2/1 in the third pass—four different saltos.

3 – The final tumbling pass must end with a C element.
The final tumbling pass ends with a front 2/1, which is an E element.

4 – Passage of dance elements.
Following her second pass, Bryant performs a switch leap 1/2 directly into a straddle jump full (Popa), which is her dance combination

Composition deductions

1 – Forward and backward tumbling.
After her dance combination, Bryant performs an isolated layout stepout, which doesn’t earn her anything in bonus but is necessary to show both backward and forward tumbling in the exercise, since all of her actual tumbling pass elements are forward. Without that rando layout stepout, she would be deducted 0.1 for composition.

2 – The routine must include either one E element, or two D elements (one of which must be acrobatic).
This routine includes two E elements, the opening double front and the final front 2/1, which is more than is necessary.

3 – One pass must include THREE  elements, including at least one salto of C value.
Bryant solved the problem by adding a front handspring to beginning her second pass, making it a front handspring + front layout + front layout 1.5—a three element tumbling pass. You know, because adding the front handspring really made this one difficult enough to be competitive.  

4 – The final pass must end with a D salto, or C salto in a combination that earns bonus.
Once again, the final tumbling pass is a front 2/1, an E element.

Bonus

Bryant’s opening pass is a double front, the double front being an E element that earns her 0.2 in skill bonus.

She then goes into her front handspring + front layout + front layout 1.5. The front layout is a B and the front 1.5 is a D, so she gets 0.2 in bonus for the combination and an additional 0.1 in skill bonus for a D element, bringing her total bonus up to 0.5.

The leap combination with switch leap 1/2 to a straddle jump full is C+C, for 0.1 bonus, also ensuring that at least one tenth of her bonus comes from dance elements and bringing her up to 0.6 total.

The final pass is a front handspring into front 2/1, another E element that earns her 0.2 in skill bonus. Because this final pass is an E, she receives an extra bonus 0.1 for having a sufficiently difficult final element, which brings her up to 0.9 in bonus, three more tenths than is necessary for her to achieve a 10.0 start value.


Skill values

Here are the major skill values you’ll want to know for floor. Note: Links go to the elite skill database, and some elite skill values are different from college.

Leaps and jumps

Split leap – A
Split leap/jump ½ – B
Split leap/jump full – C
Split leap/jump 1.5 – D
Switch leap – B
Switch ½ – C
Switch full – D
Switch side – C
Switch ring – C
Straddle jump/½ – B
Popa – C
L hop full – B
Wolf jump 1/1 – C

Turns

Full turn – A
Double turn – C
Triple turn – D
L turn – B
Double L turn – D
Y turn – B
Double Y turn – D
Illusion turn – A
Wolf turn – B
Double wolf turn – D

Acro skills

Front tuck – A
Front pike – A
Front layout – B
Front 1/1 – C
Rudi – D
Front 2/1 – E
Double front – E
Double Arabian – E
Back layout 1/1 – B
Back layout 1.5 – C
Back layout 2/1 – C
Back layout 2.5 – D
Back layout 3/1 – E
Double tuck – D
Double pike – D
Full-twisting double tuck – E
Full-twisting double pike – E
Double layout – E
Whip – A


Deductions

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 floor, that means landing control, chest position, tumbling form, leap form, and leap control.


Landing control

Unlike in elite, where gymnasts are expected to stick tumbling elements (“Because of……” he trailed off), NCAA gymnastics has retained the controlled step back on tumbling passes, which gymnasts are permitted to do without deduction. The very best passes will be ones in which the gymnast could clearly stick the pass if she wanted to but takes an intentional presentation step back as part of a controlled extension.

This does, however, open up a giant can of ambiguity as to what constitutes a controlled step (no deduction!) versus an uncontrolled step (deduction!). How do you, as a viewer, know the difference?

My rule of thumb is to watch the plant leg (the leg that’s not stepping) during the landing and subsequent step. If that plant leg remains completely stationary, I call it a controlled step for no deduction. If the plant leg is forced to slide as well, then the landing is not under control. Very commonly, you’ll see a little slide from the plant foot, and that should be an equivalently little deduction of .05.

Landing errors are more heavily deducted when gymnasts are discernibly bouncing or hopping back with both feet—if that plant leg is lifting off the ground and is pulled back by the momentum of the landing, or if there’s significant distance traveled after hitting the ground. That’s when we get into the 0.10 zone and greater, depending on the size of the hop, bound, or airplane ride, but deductions for bounces back on landing—rather than clear and obvious steps—also tend to be pretty forgiving in practice.

We get into clearer 0.10 territory when a gymnast lands short of fully completing the flip and has to take a step, even a small step, because that step is the only thing standing between her and a fall. In that case, the incomplete finishing of the salto is deducted as well as the landing step, and it’s not just going to be a piddly 0.05.

Incomplete finishing is relevant not just in terms of a flip but in terms of a twist as well. Gymnasts are supposed to finish twisting elements with their feet facing in from of them, the same direction as the head. If those feet aren’t fully around, or end up landing staggered, that can be deducted for an incomplete twist. And if the twist is more than 45 degrees off, it must at least be deducted, if not downgraded as a skill. You don’t see a downgrade on tumbling skills happen too much in NCAA, and really only when gymnasts are 90 degrees or more short of the intended twist.


Tumbling form

The form in the air counts too. Sometimes. On double tuck or double pike skills, the legs are expected to be together without a cowboy or straddle or splay, and a landing with staggered legs (even a stuck one) is supposed to receive a deduction. On twisting skills, the legs and feet are also expected to be straight and together, with no crossing or helicoptering.

Caveat: gymnasts can and do get away with all of these errors, as long as they are small.

In regards to form, a significant point of separation between the best floor workers and everyone else arises in direct combination passes. Gymnasts are expected to truly lift into that second skill of the combination, rising up to at least the same height as the first skill, ideally higher.

In many cases, that second skill ends up being flat and doesn’t rise very far off the floor at all. Watch for this particularly when a front layout is the second element in a combo. You’ll often see gymnasts have to arch themselves around like a little boomerang to get their feet to the ground first. The body should stay completely straight throughout that skill, and when it doesn’t, it’s a sign that the skill wasn’t high enough, and it’s a deduction.

On that note, the amplitude of tumbling passes. There’s no specific height expectation to go by, but the idea is that the gymnasts are truly setting and rising up, not just out, giving themselves enough height to complete the skill comfortably. The best way of evaluating whether a gymnast got enough amplitude on a pass is often through the chest position that ensues on landing.


Chest position

On no topic are there more insider-gymnastics fights than about what the appropriate chest position on landings should be.

Here are three examples of chest positions on landing. The first one I would call chest up, the second one I would call medium, and the third one I would call chest down. In NCAA, it’s likely that only the third one would be hit by the chest-position police with a real-life deduction.

Let’s be honest, there aren’t a ton of deductions being applied in NCAA floor routines, so when chest-position deductions are applied, it’s primarily happening in extreme cases along with other deductions because the gymnast landed well short of completing the skill. Unbalanced, knee-eater landings. That’s when they’re losing real value.


Leaps and jumps

In the rush of tumbling passes, don’t forget about the dance elements, which are often the most-deducted parts of floor routines. If you every find yourself asking, “Those landings were all amazing! How did she get a 9.825?” the answer is going to be the dance elements.

As on beam, look for the full 180-degree angle in splits, legs fully extended and at minimum parallel with the floor, toes pointed and continuing the line made by the leg. Otherwise, small deductions will be taken. In general, the expectations are higher for hitting the actual leap positions on floor because…you get to do it on a floor, not on a beam.

An extra little complication to evaluating dance elements on floor is the topic of finishing position, particularly an indistinct landing position. It’s not just about hitting the 180-degree mark in the air. It’s also about fully rotating any twisting that the skill entails.

Let’s take the ever-popular, over-performed switch side + popa combination (tangent: one of the easiest, best ways to spice up NCAA floor composition would be to make the switch side a B). The switch side needs to display a distinct 1/4 turn, and the popa needs to display a distinct full turn, landing exactly where you would expect the gymnast to be after 1.25 total turns.

It can’t be a switch 1/3-ish, followed by a straddle 7/8s, that ultimately lands…somewhere? Each individual skill landing has to be crisp, defined, distinct, and correct.

Here’s an example—for a routine that received 10s from some judges, so they clearly didn’t have a problem with it—where the straddle split positions look fine but the landings are…where?

It’s closer to a switch side 1/4 to straddle 3/4. But it’s not quite that either. It’s indistinct. In between the intended elements. The landing position is supposed to be clear, neither under nor over, in order to show full control of the elements and each one completed correctly. This example is unlikely to get deducted because she ultimately twists past where she’s supposed to end up when finishing the combination rather than coming up short, but by the letter of the law, the second element should have been credited as a straddle 3/4, meaning she wouldn’t get combination bonus here, and therefore wouldn’t have dance bonus in her routine and wouldn’t have a 10.0 start. That’s not what happened in real life.


Artistry

And then there’s artistry. Up to three tenths of artistry deductions can be taken on floor in NCAA, in addition to a potential missing-synchronization deduction of .05. Can being operative here.

The deal with artistry on floor is that there’s no accounting for taste, so there’s no deducting for taste. You can’t deduct a routine for artistry simply because you don’t like it, or the music is stupid, or she’s an adult woman being made to act like a whiny 6-year-old clown for some reason. If the gymnast commits to the theme with full effort and full dynamic performance and engages the viewer, the routine warrants no artistry deductions, even if it is not your cup of tea. Your cup of tea is irrelevant. At least for scoring purposes. Your cup of tea is very relevant when we come back here to the live blogs and drink it together.

You can, however, deduct a routine for artistry when presented with a lack of effort, lack of investment in a style or a character, posing, stalling, smiling all the time which is nothing, elite dead face, or no intent to hit a beat. That’s where artistry deductions come in. But because NCAA gymnastics is so audience-engagement-based, we don’t see dead routines quite as much as we do in elite. We see dumb routines, to be sure, but not so much dead routines. It happens, especially with new ones who aren’t used to it yet, but there is significant time and effort placed on performing something actively engaged in NCAA.

Unfortunately, there’s still quite a large contingent in NCAA that thinks smiling = performing. Paste that smile on, everyone will talk about how much “personality” you’re showing, and no one will take any artistry deductions because apparently this is a toddler pageant and not a real sport. A smile in and of itself is not artistry. It can be part of the character if tonally consistent, but the difference between a routine that avoids artistry deductions and a routine that incurs them should never be the number of teeth shown.

So, are serious deductions actually being taken for artistry at the top level of NCAA? I don’t think so. The scores are all too high to expect they include artistry deductions as well as the form deductions mentioned above.

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