Amy Donaldson: Gymnastics needs to evolve to thrive in changing college sports world
“Coaches, in general, try to hold on to what they know,” Marsden said. “In men’s basketball, coaches were against the 3-point shot and the shot clock. In volleyball, 70 percent of them were against going to rally scoring. The changes that have made those sports better and more fan-friendly and more entertaining, the coaches were against. I don’t know how we’re ever going to get there if we’re waiting around for the gymnastics coaches as a whole.” That’s because differing priorities and philosophies make consensus almost impossible.
While some see taking the championships off of college campuses as a mistake, others see it as an opportunity to expose communities that may not have a college program to the product.
One thing most coaches agree on, however, is that officials need to do more to keep fans connected to what’s happening on the floor. It needs to be easier for a casual fan to watch and keep track of whose winning and why.
As for Marsden, he’d like to see no more than four teams on the floor at any time with scoreboards that keep fans informed on which teams are winning and by how much.
“I’d go five up, five count,” he said of the rule that drops the lowest score of one of the six gymnasts. “Make gymnastics look more like other sports. I would count everything, no mulligans.” He said it needs to be fast-paced and simple to understand.
“We’ve held on to this idea that we’re unique in some way and we’ve got to give as many people as possible an opportunity to be on the floor for finals,” he said. “It just doesn’t work.”
Faehn said the ability of fans to follow the scoring is critical — and easily fixed.
“There is not a running scoreboard,” she said, admitting that even with her understanding it can be baffling to her. “The fans are confused, I’m confused, and you just don’t know what’s going on. It would be one of the simplest things we could do to help our fans understand what we’re doing and make it more enjoyable.”
The issues aren’t insignificant. With the recent legal challenges to age-old NCAA rules and traditions, it could be a matter of survival.
“You’ve got to create an environment that is fan-friendly because it’s really important in this day and age, with, who knows where college sports is going to go, with the lawsuits against the NCAA, the mega conferences, the possibilities in football, we don’t know what college athletics is going to look like in 10 years,” Marsden said. “If gymnastics wants to be a player in that again, we’ve got to emphasize our strength. And that’s the performance and the ability to draw a crowd.”
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