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It’s that time of year for a new collegiate sport to take the spotlight gymnastics.

The fall sports have faded out and basketball has been ongoing since late November. While women’s sports like basketball have surged, the women of NCAA gymnastics are cashing in.  

The NCAA recognized gymnastics as a championship sport in 1982, but the high-flying tumblers have remained in the shadows until recently. Collegiate gymnastics is now reaching larger audiences and holding prime time TV broadcast slots. 

Many have been exposed to elite gymnastics through American dominance in the Olympics. Gymnastic icons like Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles have inspired a generation of girls. Elite gymnastics is different from college gymnastics, and the two often didn’t mix because of the rigid training regimen that elite gymnastics requires. Now, more and more elite level gymnasts have opted to compete in collegiate gymnastics. Star gymnasts from the US Olympic team like Suni Lee, Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum competed for their colleges after taking their turns in the Tokyo Olympics. 

Elite gymnasts in the college world have brought new eyes to the collegiate gymnasium. We must acknowledge the work collegiate gymnasts like Katelyn Ohashi have done to drive attendance and viewership. Her floor routines went viral and brought a new excitement to an already thrilling sport. While it is fun, the competition is still stiff and now at an all-time high. Gymnasts like Ohashi and her UCLA teammates have worked hard to increase the level of competition in college. It’s a different kind of gymnastics than many are used to because the gymnasts are now working as a team to reach perfection.

College gymnastics is also more accessible in this day and age. Previously, you could only catch Simone Biles every four years for a few weeks on NBC. The college gymnastics season comes around every winter, with colleges competing once a week. Fans also have access to viewing college gymnastics in person because the competition is local to them and the cost of attendance is cheap, if not free. Seeing that level of gymnastics in person is no joke, and I urge you to go. Others, like myself, can settle for the TV broadcast.

If you’re looking to tune in to catch a meet, there’s a few things you may want to know. 

The Rules of Gymnastics

Colleges go head-to-head in weekly matchups within school conferences and also compete in multi-team meets, with exhibitions often taking place before conference matchups. The teams compete in the usual four events – vault, floor, beam and bars. The four rotations are similar to what you may have seen on the Olympics. Each gymnast takes their turn performing on the designated apparatus before rotating to the next event. Teams never perform on the same event at the same time. 

Each team features a lineup of six gymnasts competing on each rotation, but only five out of the six scores count. The lowest score gets dropped on order to maximize the team’s points, often making the sixth gymnast in the lineup the anchor. Two judges score each gymnast, with the average of the two scores being recorded as the official score for that gymnast’s routine. The objective is to get as close to 50.00 points per rotation and 200.00 point overall.

In addition to the team competition, there are also individual awards for the top-performing gymnasts. Each team features some gymnasts that compete in all four events who compete for an individual all-around award, while other gymnasts are specialists who compete for an event award. 


Each team’s meet scores and individual event scores for the season are calculated to determine the teams that advance into the postseason regionals. The NCAA uses national qualifying score rankings (NQS) to determine which 36 teams will compete in regionals. The NQS is calculated by taking each school’s top six scores (including a required minimum of three away scores), dropping the highest score and averaging out the rest. So while your team may lose a meet, you can still hope for a big score, especially if your team is on the road. 

There are required skills for each individual event. For example, each gymnast must execute at least two tumbling passes while competing in the floor routine. A tumbling pass occurs when a gymnast starts in one corner of the floor and throws a series of flips/skills across to the other corner. Not meeting the required elements will hurt their score. The scoring for individual routines is based on the starting value of the vault/routine, with judges deducting from there. Deductions can occur due to big mistakes like falling off the bars or beam, or from small mistakes like a toe not being pointed or a taking a step upon landing. 

The competition level is so high that casual viewers like myself can’t see why a judge would ever a deduction. 

Major Players 

Like any other sport, there are teams that reign supreme. In recent years, Oklahoma and the University of Florida have been the big dogs of college gymnastics. Oklahoma has won three out of the last four championships, with Florida right on their heels. UCLA has been a big name for years, hosting many well-known names in gymnastics. Utah, Georgia and Alabama are the original kings from the genesis of college gymnastics back in the 80s. 

Individually, there are a number of women who will be collecting 10s throughout the season. So watch out for Leanne Wong, Ragan Smith, Kara Eaker, Jordan Chiles and more. 

Many conferences have committed to showcasing the talent of their gymnasts with broadcast spots dedicated to gymnastics. The SEC branded its gymnastics segment as Friday Night Lights for SEC fans to tune into every Friday during the regular season. You can also stream other meets from other conferences on ESPN, and make sure to check the entire NCAA gymnastics schedule on the NCAA site. 

There was a market for seeing gymnastics more frequently than every four years, and college gymnastics fills that role perfectly. The accessibility to such high level competition is awesome. And I mean literally awesome, because watching someone move their body through the air seemingly effortlessly is awe inspiring.

There’s no other feeling than awe.

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