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College Gym News | April 13, 2022

How the NCAA college gymnastics championship works

Florida gymnastics' Trinity Thomas breaks down her perfect 10 performances, previews NCAA Championships

Most sports fans have heard of March Madness or the College Football Playoff, which use a simple bracket where if a team wins, it advances to the next round while a loss means a trip home. Gymnastics is both similar and a whole lot different. There are so many moving parts and small details that it can get pretty confusing pretty quickly. That’s where this guide comes in. Every question you ever had about the NCAA gymnastics championships is answered below, including some you never thought to ask in the first place.

How do I watch the 2022 NCAA gymnastics championships?

Every round of the gymnastics postseason will be streamed or broadcast on TV with regionals appearing on ESPN+, national semifinals on ESPN2 and the team final on ABC. Find the schedule below or visit CollegeGymNews.com/Schedule for video and live score links, previews and more information. We're following the championships live here on NCAA.com.

Nationals - Fort Worth, Texas

All times ET.

  • Semifinal One: 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 14
  • Semifinal Two: 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 14
  • Team Final: Noon on Saturday, April 16

When is the NCAA gymnastics postseason?

The postseason begins after conference championship weekend, starting with three days of competition for NCAA regionals from March 30 to April 2. There are four regional hosts, and nine teams and qualified individual gymnasts compete at each site. Round one of regionals on Wednesday features a dual meet between the two lowest ranked teams. The winner of that meet advances to round two on Thursday, which includes two quad meets. Seven of the eight teams that compete in round two essentially have a round one bye with round one serving as the equivalent of basketball’s play-in games. The top two teams from each of those round two sessions advance to the regional final on Saturday. The top two teams at that meet advance to nationals two weeks later.

The NCAA national championships have been held in Fort Worth, Texas since 2019 and are scheduled to be there through at least 2026 in an effort to establish a long term site similar to the College World Series in Omaha for baseball or in Oklahoma City for softball. This year’s meet will be held on April 14 and 16 with the semifinals on Thursday and the team final on Saturday. Similar to regionals round two, the national semifinals consist of two quad meets where the top two teams advance to the national final. On the final day of the 2022 season, the national champion will be crowned.

How does the regionals selection process work?

Regional locations are determined through a bidding process where universities submit a bid for regionals in chunks of four years. The four 2022 NCAA regional hosts are Auburn, N.C. State, Oklahoma and Washington. Future hosts include Denver, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and UCLA (2023), Arkansas, California, Florida and Michigan (2024), Alabama, Penn State, Utah and Washington (2025), and Arizona State, Kentucky, LSU and Oregon State (2026).

Each regional will feature nine teams and a varying number of individuals. The competitors are announced during the NCAA gymnastics selection show. In 2022, selections will be announced on Tuesday, March 22.

Thirty-six teams qualify to regionals using national qualifying score rankings. NQS is determined by taking a team’s top six scores, three of which must be away, dropping the high and averaging the remaining five. The top 16 teams by NQS are considered to be seeded. For placement, teams ranked Nos. 1, 8, 9 and 16 are seeded into one regional, Nos. 2, 7, 10 and 15 are in another, Nos. 3, 6, 11 and 14 in the third and Nos. 4, 5, 12 and 13 in the final regional. If there are host conflicts based on how teams finish the regular season, “the lowest seeded host in the group will be exchanged with a non-host that holds a spot not greater or less than two seeded positions (and preferably one position) when possible,” according to NCAA postseason rules. However, in 2019 Oregon State had to be shifted three positions due to conflicts in the first two adjusted scenarios. Teams outside the top 16 are placed geographically where possible.

As for teams slated to compete in round one of regionals, technically any unseeded team could be tabbed to compete—but it typically works out where teams ranked Nos. 29 to 36 are distributed to each of the four regionals. However, there was controversy in 2021 when No. 26 N.C. State was selected to compete in round one while No. 29 Kent State skipped straight to day two. The Wolfpack ultimately got the last word, as it made it all the way to the regional final, finishing fourth.

How does selection work for individuals?

The top 12 all-arounders and top 16 individual event specialists on each event make it to regionals. Individuals from teams competing in round one are included in the list of individual qualifiers in case their team doesn’t advance to round two. No alternates are named for regionals or nationals for individual qualifiers. For the team that advances out of round one, its individuals’ spots are not filled.

These individuals are placed at the four regionals geographically. To determine the session in which they compete in round two, the NCAA outlined the following parameters: “To ensure the top-seeded teams have the least number of individuals competing with them, the committee will pair the highest-ranked all-arounder at the site with the lowest-seeded team (or lowest NQS team at the site first, then proceed to the seeded teams), the next highest all-arounder with the next lowest-seeded team, etc. to ensure the top-seeded teams have the fewest number of individuals competing with them, which maintains integrity of the bracket and fairness for both teams and individuals.” Essentially, the top-ranked all-arounder in a region will be paired with the “worst” team based on seeding and/or NQS.

The selection committee does its best to distribute individuals geographically. However, there are sometimes funny scenarios that come into play. In 2021, George Washington gymnast Deija Chamblis, who qualified to regionals on vault, was assigned the Salt Lake City regional with five other vaulters and 16 total individuals when the Athens regional was only assigned two vaulters and 10 total individuals—with only two gymnasts placed in session one and the other eight in session two.

How does qualification to nationals work for teams and individuals?

The team process is pretty straight forward. Two teams square off in round one of regionals with the winner advancing to round two. Round two features two quad meets. The top two teams from each of those sessions advance to the regional final where the top two teams advance to nationals. At nationals, the top two teams from each semifinal, which consist of four teams, advance to the team final. The winner of the team final is the national champion.

Because only eight teams advance to nationals, a lot of outstanding individuals are left behind. This is remedied with an individual qualification process, which is a bit more complicated. All individual competitors compete and qualify for nationals out of the two round two sessions at regionals. Results are combined over the two sessions to determine the top finisher not on a qualifying team in the all-around and on each event. But, keep in mind that taking out teams for the “not on a qualifying team” clause doesn’t just include the teams that make it to round three on Saturday. It also includes those teams that don’t qualify out of the Saturday session, so individual qualifiers won’t be known until after all competition at a regional concludes Saturday night.

Confused? Here’s an example: Say the combined top five on bars from Friday’s meets at the Athens regional are 1. Maggie Nichols (OU), 2. Marissa Oakley (UGA), 3. Emi Watterson (Cal), 4. Mei Li Costa (Brown) and 5. Mollie Korth (UK). Georgia and Kentucky, and Oklahoma and California qualify out of their respective sessions to Saturday’s competition. The individuals will then have to wait to see which of those four teams qualify for nationals to determine which names to take out of these individual standings.

In this example, say Oklahoma and Georgia advance as full teams, meaning you would take out all Oklahoma and Georgia gymnasts in Friday’s combined individual event and all-around standings, meaning Emi Watterson (Cal) would earn a trip to nationals on bars.

Simply put, combine the event and all-around results for the two Friday sessions, wait until competition concludes Saturday and scratch through every name of a gymnast from a team going to nationals, and the top individual on each event and in the all-around advances.

This results in four all-arounders and four individuals on each event qualifying to compete at the national championships. Individuals can qualify on multiple events, but if a gymnast qualifies as an all-arounder, she doesn’t also take an individual event spot.

When are individual national champions crowned?

Individual national titles for the four events and the all-around are awarded based on the results of the two semifinal competitions. To determine winners, results from the two sessions are combined and those with the highest scores are crowned the national champions. Ties aren’t broken for these titles, so sometimes the outcome will result in six national champions on bars, which is exactly what happened in 2017.

Due to the nature of score building in the sport, it may seem like gymnasts competing with teams are at more of an advantage to win an individual national title than those gymnasts that qualify to nationals without their team. However, solo individuals have won titles in the past, including Auburn’s Derrian Gobourne on vault in 2019, Denver’s Nina Magee on floor in 2016 and most famously Kentucky’s Jenny Hansen, who won the national all-around title three consecutive times from 1993 to 1995.

All-American status is determined by taking the top four, with ties, on each event and the all-around from each session at the NCAA national championships for the first team and fifth through eighth from each session for the second team. Gymnastics also awards regular season All-America honors, which look at the NQS rankings after the conference championships conclude and are determined in a similar way—the top four with ties on each event and in the all-around are named to the first team and places five through eight are named to the second team.

The national championships used to host a third day of competition for event finals, where the top eight individuals on each event with ties qualified to compete for the national title. The final year event finals were contested was 2015, and fans mourn the loss as it often provided an opportunity for gymnasts to throw more difficult skills, mingle with friends on other teams and overall have more fun at a competition than they might during a team competition where risking anything out of the ordinary might result in a lower team finish.

What about ties for teams and individuals? Are those broken?

Ties aren’t broken for the team or individual national titles, but they are broken for pretty much everything else during the NCAA gymnastics championships. If the two regional round one teams tie at the end of the competition, it will be broken by counting all six scores per event instead of dropping the lowest score. If a tie still exists, the top and bottom scores for each event are thrown out and the remaining four are added to get a full team score. In round two, team ties are broken the same way as in round one.

Any ties in the individual all-around are broken by looking at the highest single event score, then the next highest and so forth until the tie is broken. If there is still a tie, all four judges’ scores will be counted and averaged for all four events. For individual event ties, all four judges’ scores will be counted and averaged. If a tie still exists, the head judge’s score will be the tie breaker. If a tie still exists, the individual with the higher NQS will advance.

Team ties during round three, as well as the national semifinals, will be broken the same way as in rounds one and two while individual ties are not broken.

Perhaps the most famous tie during the postseason came in 2014 when both Florida and Oklahoma tied for the national team title with scores of 198.175. It was the Sooners’ first national title in program history and the Gators’ second of an eventual three in a row. Oklahoma went on to win in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

What determines things like rotation order for teams and individuals?

Rotation order for nearly all postseason rounds is done by a random draw. However, round one of regionals simply has the team with the higher NQS competing in Olympic order—vault, bars, beam, floor—while the second team competes the inverse, like in a traditional dual meet—bars, vault, floor, beam.

The draws for 2022 are the following:

Regionals round two:

Event Team
Vault Team with second-highest NQS
Bars Team with third-highest NQS
Beam Team with fourth-highest NQS
Floor Team with highest NQS
 

Regional final event:

Event Team
Vault First-place team from round two, session one
Bars Second-place team from round two, session one
Beam Second-place team from round two, session two
Floor First-place team from round two, session two

National semifinals: 

Event Team
Vault Winners from regionals with seeds 1 and 2
Bars Second-place teams from regionals with seeds 3 and 4
Beam Second-place teams from regions with seeds 1 and 2
Floor Winners from regions with seeds 3 and 4

National team final event:

Event Team
Vault First-place team from semifinal two
Bars Second-place team from semifinal two
Beam Second-place team from semifinal one
Floor First-place team from semifinal one

Seeding for regionals is determined by NQS ranking with the top four teams considered No. 1 seeds, teams ranked fifth through eighth second seeds, teams ninth through 12th third seeds and teams 13th through 16th fourth seeds. The remaining 20 teams are distributed geographically to the best of the selection committee’s abilities, while also trying to avoid things like conference rematches, for example.

Individual qualifiers for regionals are typically placed geographically and with teams based on the above criteria. Essentially, the top-ranked all-arounder in a region will be paired with the “worst” team based on seeding and/or NQS. The nationals draw for individuals is done in a similar way.

How does scoring work for the NCAA championships?

Each routine on bars, beam and floor starts with a base start value of 9.4 and builds up to a 10.0 through various skill connections, bonus and difficulty. On vault, each skill is worth a certain value based on its entry style and flight element. The most common vault—a laid-out Yurchenko full—starts from a 9.95 while a Yurchenko one and a half and double start from 10.0.

In the team competition, up to six gymnasts are allowed to compete on each event with the five best scores counting toward the event total. Each event total is then added together for the final team score. In the postseason, teams will be aiming to score at least a 49 on each event with scores of 49.500 or higher considered excellent. The top teams will be aiming for total scores in the mid-to-high 197s with a 198 or better being the gold standard.

While judges use the same Code of Points during regular and postseason competition, the number of judges does change: During the regular season, two judges score routines on each event and those two scores are averaged for the gymnast’s final score. At regionals, four judges score each routine with the high and low scores dropped and the middle two averaged. At nationals, six judges score each routine with the high and low dropped and the middle four averaged. There are also two line judges on the floor exercise who watch for gymnasts to step out of bounds.

Common deductions include uncontrolled landings (from half a tenth to up to three tenths depending on the size of the step or hop), missed handstands (must be within 10 degrees of vertical to avoid deduction) and falls (an automatic half point off). There are also neutral deductions for things like stepping out of bounds on floor or finishing a routine over the time limit, which are each one tenth off the final average score (rather than taken by each judge).

What sort of strategies do teams and individuals use?

There’s no defense in college gymnastics, so the offensive game is crucial. The most successful coaches utilize the Code of Points to their advantage, whether that’s constructing a 10.0 start value floor routine that only contains two tumbling passes or knowing that an equipment malfunction warrants an automatic redo of the routine (whether or not said malfunction affected the gymnast’s performance).

Coaches must submit all lineups (i.e., which gymnasts will be competing and the order in which they’ll be competing) prior to the start of the rotation. There is a one-tenth neutral deduction to the team score if the athletes compete out of order, so coaches cannot tweak lineups once the rotation has started except in cases of illness or injury.

Judges are typically reluctant to give really high scores early in the rotation, preferring to save the best scores for last (there have been exactly two lead-off 10s in college gymnastics history, from UCLA’s Grace Glenn on beam in 2020 and Michigan’s Reyna Guggino on vault earlier this year). Individual qualifiers at regionals and nationals compete at the end of each rotation after the team, so they can potentially benefit from score building.

Because scores tend to rise as the rotation progresses, coaches want a consistent and reliably high-scoring gymnast in the lead-off position to set a confident tone for the rest of the lineup and provide a strong starting score for the judges to build upon. Typically the gymnast with the highest scoring potential anchors the lineup. However, some coaches will put the strongest performer second to last or even mid-lineup in hopes that a subsequent gymnast’s relatively weaker performance will get a more generous score than it might otherwise.

At the end of a routine, you may see a gymnast’s teammates and fans chanting “Ten!” or flashing 10 with their fingers (even if there were obvious mistakes in the performance). The judges are human, and so there is a certain psychology to maximizing scores: If a judge is waffling over how much to take for a particular error, a crowd enthusiastically cheering could be enough to sway them toward a lesser deduction.

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