The use of local judges during regular-season gymnastics meets probably can't be avoided because of travel costs and availability of qualified people, but University of Utah Coach Greg Marsden would like to see more stringent guidelines adopted for postseason competition. And the University of Georgia, where controversy broke out recently regarding a school booster club member who is also a judge, might just agree with Marsden while still defending the individual judge.
Marsden recently learned that an elite-level judge whose work he respects and who is scheduled to be among the 17 officials for the NCAA Championships at Utah April 22-23 is founder and an active member of the Georgia "10.0 Club" and a Georgia graduate.In Marsden's opinion, that's a conflict of interest, and though he says the scores of judge Marian Dykes of Atlanta would not reflect favoritism in the finals because she's competent, he says that for the sake of the sport's appearance, she and other similarly affiliated officials should not work regional or national competitions.
It would be better if they were excluded from all meets involving schools to which they have ties, but that's not possible in many areas. But for nationals, judges are chosen by coaches and committees because of merit being chosen means they're among the best and they're flown to the site anyway. With the whole country to choose from for nationals, "There are plenty of good officials who are not affiliated," Marsden says.
Marsden is a member of the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Sport Committee, which chooses judges for nationals upon recommendation by conference coaches. The committee was unaware of Dykes' attachments to Georgia until Marsden recently received a copy of an article that appeared in the Athens (Ga.) Daily News. It criticized the use of boosters in Georgia's home meets.
After reading the article, Marsden and the Sport Committee discussed the matter by telephone, and the other committee members preferred not to disqualify Dykes for the nationals because NCAA rules say nothing specifically about booster club members or school graduates. They do prohibit school employees, students or coaches from officiating. Marsden helped write the rule and says now it should have been broader, but it wasn't thought of at the time.
"I was astounded," Marsden said of his reaction to the committee's refusal to do something.
Saying the integrity of a sport with subjective judging is at stake, Marsden wrote NCAA executive committee members asking them to review the situation. Those letters were probably received early this week, he said. He's had no response so far.
He says he'll do nothing further and won't be upset if the NCAA doesn't remove Dykes as a judge for this national championships.
"To me, it's a philosophical thing. Something needs to be cleared up in our sport," Marsden said, stressing his respect for Dykes, who judged last year's NCAA finals that were won by Georgia over Utah.
"I don't think it's fair to Georgia because, in the minds of some, their (1987) championship will be questioned. I can tell you, it (favoritism) didn't happen," he said.
In a telephone interview, Georgia's assistant athletic director for women's sports, Liz Murphey, agreed that something should be done for postseason competitions. After three weeks of controversy in Athens, she says, "The mood is to go more to bringing in outside officials," although she added it would be difficult to find out all judges' personal preferences.
Murphey says, however, she doesn't see the conflict because she knows Dykes and doesn't think she would weight her marks for Georgia. Murphey says Georgia's home scores are close to the ones the Bulldogs get in away meets and Dykes' marks don't seem out of line with those of other judges.
The writer of the story is Gary Jones, assistant sports editor of the Daily News. He admits he's not knowledgeable about gymnastics (Murphey says she's also new to the sport) but looked into the matter after hearing a judge was a Georgia booster and that Georgia had won 49 straight home meets.
He used Dykes as an example, he said by telephone, because she was the closest to his readership's location. "She's the most visible judge at Georgia gymnastics meets," he said. His article concerned itself with regular-season meets. He said there are other SEC examples where favoritism could occur, such as a coach whose spouse is a judge.
At Utah, Marsden has always played it safe. Former Ute gymnast and assistant coach Anne Marie Jensen is one of the state's top judges and is Utah's meet director, but Marsden has never let her judge a Utah meet. Ex-Ute gymnast Linda Kardos is also an elite judge that does not work Utah meets.
Marsden said he doesn't know why Dykes wouldn't disqualify herself for nationals (Jones said she told him she sees no conflict), but, Marsden added, citing the prestige of being selected, "I don't blame her for wanting to. That's like saying to me, `Do you want your team at the national championships?' That's what I work all year for."