U. well aware of 'cradle to grave'

Published: Thursday, Jan. 20 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

The idea is to separate truly special performances. Not all judges have adjusted yet, so scoring is far from uniform, and coaches, athletes and fans will all eventually have to start considering 9.7s and 9.8s as strong scores.

The change may benefit teams like Utah, which has always believed in strong execution of any skills its gymnasts compete; other top programs have preferred to throw every skill available and expect to score highly if the athlete doesn't fall. Now, execution errors can add up.

In another attempt to standardize scoring, a dozen national "assigners" have been implemented to send judges to meets. The system is voluntary this season but will be mandatory next year to keep chances of favoritism to a minimum. Utah has used a national assigner for the past couple of years and had two home-state and two visiting-state judges for meets not involving in-state teams.

NOT SURE: Because scoring is changing, it's hard to discern relative strengths of teams. Two-time defending NCAA champion UCLA has had two 197+ scores (197.30, 197.05) and No. 1-ranked Utah has had one (197.675 when hosting UCLA), but no other teams in the country have come close — Michigan's 196.025 is the next-highest. UCLA also scored 194.50 at Oregon State, and Utah had 196.575 at Utah State last week.

Despite the tighter scoring, USU's 193.85 in hosting the Utes was its highest season-opening score in at least six years, and Southern Utah's 195.525-195.10 upset over Denver Tuesday was its highest ever so early in the season. And BYU's 195.575-192.575 win last week over SUU moved the Cougars into ninth place in the NCAA rankings, which at this point in the season are done by high score.

E-mail: lham@desnews.com

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