The 2021 college gymnastics season begins in just four days. And as with all great ideas, the question on everyone’s mind is, “so…are we really doing this?”
We are. But it’s going to be a little (emphasis on little) different. Here’s a rundown of how it’s supposed to go, and what parts are going to be the weirdest this year.
The SEC teams will open action on Friday with a four-meet slate, all against each other. The SEC is basically attempting to conduct 3/4 of a normal season, with 8 regular season meets against the other SEC teams leading up to the SEC Championship. Typically, these teams would have more like 11 meets before the conference championship, but this year they’ve scheduled a couple built-in weeks off—I guess in case too many team members are in the hospital and meets have to be rescheduled?
But, we’re seeing conferences/teams adopt very different approaches to COVID in their scheduling for this bonkers season because there’s no national guidance whatsoever.
Some, like Oklahoma, have gone full steam ahead and scheduled what looks exactly like a normal season with competitions scheduled every weekend featuring a number of in-conference and out-of-conference opponents. Oklahoma is also among the teams that has continued selling tickets to its meets, though most schools will be operating without allowing the chin-mask rabble into arenas this year.
Today, the Big Ten announced its own conference-only schedule beginning next weekend and featuring 9 meets for each team leading up to the conference championship. So that’s more or less a normal season as well except without competition in the first weekend, much like what the EAGL is planning.
Basically, some days this season are going to look exactly like a normal year (Friday, January 22 is already shaping up to require too many screens) while other days will be total ghost towns since so many of the non-money athletic programs have packed it in this winter and most schools are limiting in some way (there will be barely any meets at all on Friday, February 5).
Speaking of limiting, the Pac-12 has yet to make any kind of actual schedule announcement but has thrown out bits and pieces of what looks like it will be a more abbreviated plan than the other major conferences, beginning in later January (although Utah does have meets scheduled for the first two weekends). The California requirement to isolate within your immediate household for 14 days after any out-of-state travel will make the concept of having road meets particularly interesting.
In the “not having a season” department, we have the Ivy League teams, as well as West Chester, Alaska, Southern Connecticut, Brockport, Cortland, Ithaca, Ursinus, and we think probably Bridgeport because is that even a university anymore (?). Meanwhile the DIII teams in Wisconsin/Minnesota have been shut down until at least February 1, so we’re still waiting to see what happens there.
Most teams are scheduling only within conference or within general geographical region, which will lead to some necessary repetitiveness of opponents. For instance, West Virginia and Pittsburgh will go through a stretch of three consecutive dual meets against each other. In West Virginia’s 10-meet schedule, there are just four different opponents—Oklahoma, Denver, Iowa State, and Pitt.
Times of competitions will also be a little different this year, though not as different as I would like because lots of teams are still bunching on Friday nights, unhelpfully—this was your one chance to be better! But, both Iowa State and Minnesota are scheduled to host some Friday mid-afternoon meets that we wouldn’t usually have because that’s the middle of a work day.
Rankings will change for this season only. Typically, a team’s best six scores are used for its NQS ranking, at least three of which must be away. The highest score is dropped, and the remaining five are averaged.
Not for 2021. This year, only the best four scores will be used, at least two of which must be away, and no scores will be dropped.
That means only four meets this season will end up counting—pretty interesting for a team like Oklahoma that’s still planning to have twelve. Sooners, you can really just chill through most of them. The idea here is to allow an opportunity for those schools that end up having a paltry schedule because of state rules or “oops, we all got COVID” to still qualify to any alleged postseason competitions.
The are any number of problems regarding competitive equity with this modified NQS, but that’s just sort of the deal with this messed-up season in every way. With the gamut running from “EVERYTHING IS FINE” to “you aren’t legally allowed to train as a team indoors and your meet is tomorrow good luck,” there’s fundamentally no chance for competitive equity anyway.
It seems like it’s going ahead QUESTION MARK. Conferences are confirming their schedules through their conference championships in late March.
The general concept is that there will still be a postseason. One would think there would need to be some major planning adjustments and arrangements for that many athletes from different teams to be in these four regional locations. But you know. Nationals remain scheduled for Fort Worth on April 16th and 17th, and Utah, Missouri, and West Virginia are still slated to host regionals, though the fourth intended regional host New Hampshire has withdrawn from hosting, which means a new host will need to be found. You know, at some point.
The NCAA instituted exactly one rules adjustment for COVID in women’s gymnastics, changing open stretch from 30 minutes to 20 minutes. SO THAT FIXED IT.