If the decision to drop the Temple men's gymnastics team after the 2014 season is not overturned, men's NCAA gymnastics will comprise a not-so-sweet 16 teams. And since only a handful of those programs have the maximum 6.3 scholarships, there are large talent gaps within a very short list. The result? Too many dual meets throughout the regular season are more predictable than San Diego weather.
But since the men's coaches voted several years ago to ditch the 10.0 in favor of FIG scoring, the margins of victory have created another problem. Unlike women's NCAA gymnastics, where upsets are an interesting part of the 10.0, watered-down formula, few men's dual meets are decided by tenths of a point.
Last weekend Oklahoma defeated Air Force, 440.700-412.200. Stanford downed Bay Area Rival Cal, 435.200-426.350. Penn State topped the West Point Open by more than 10 points. The only close result was Michigan's 437.500-436.050 victory over Illinois and Ohio State (tied for second) at the Windy City Invite. Granted, the Wolverines did not have Sam Mikulak in the lineup. Host Illinois-Chicago finished sixth, 42 points behind the winner. UIC will travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan in a dual meet in March. Can the Flames, who probably train just as long and hard as any team, improve 42 points in two months and torch the Wolverines?
Men's NCAA coaches opted for the FIG rules to help the international effort of the U.S. But that decision actually applies to an extremely small percentage of the approximate 300 competitors among the 17 college teams. Throw in the bad public relations of the weaker teams getting clobbered by the fully-funded ones, and it becomes evident that the current NCAA men's rules are serving less than half of the remaining programs. For the bottom half of the ranking list, it's like playing against your older brother; you can never win.
The theory that Olympic-caliber collegiate gymnasts such as Mikulak would suffer under a simpler system is unfounded. But it certainly would limit the wear-and-tear throughout an exhausting January-to-April season. U.S. championships are in August, the worlds in October. Is that not long enough to train a harder version of each routine?
Men's NCAA gymnastics must redefine itself through inclusivity. Illinois coach Justin Spring tried to just that last season with a match-play dual meet against Minnesota. But he had a hard time convincing many of his coaching colleagues to rally behind it. If match play is not the answer, then a return to the 10.0—and easier routines—would level the playing field.
If every team had the ability to score the occasional 10.0, meets would inherently become more competitive and interesting. Maybe spectators would see an upset. Maybe gymnasts would see fewer injuries. Maybe the Air Force A.D. would form a different opinion of the Falcon gymnastics team if it lost to the Sooners by 2.85 instead of 28.50.
It is obvious that men's NCAA gymnastics needs to retain every program it can. And one way to ensure that is to give every team a fighting chance. Simpler routines and a return to the 10.0. That's the way to go with so few teams remaining.