It's the gymnastics postseason, so Utah Coach Greg Marsden is making news.
Last year, Marsden protested usage of a judge for the NCAA finals who was a member of the University of Georgia's women's gymnastics booster club. He didn't win, but the judge was heavily scrutinized on Utah's home floor, where the meet was held.In 1987, Marsden was named coach and national administrator of the U.S. team a week before the NCAA finals. He only kept the post until December.
In 1986, the last time Utah won a national championship, its sixth straight, Marsden protested the types of spreaders being used on the uneven parallel bars at the University of Florida, where the NCAA meet was held. He'd called to find out what equipment would be used and was told one thing, had his gymnasts practice on it, then got to the meet site and found something different. He won that protest.
This season, Marsden has feuded with area judges, saying they're scoring lower than those in other regions, meaning it's harder for local teams to have high national and regional qualifying scores.
He also says Utah doesn't receive as much benefit from a new scoring emphasis as other schools. He says judges used to award .2 point for virtuosity; this year, they're giving almost everyone that .2 but taking it away in obviously bad routines. It means higher overall scores but no longer rewards truly unique routines.
He's argued animatedly with judges after at least three meets this season, saying he must protect his athletes. Rumors have spread through the gym community that he's out of control. He's heard them. One coach heard that the NCAA is sending a meet referee to Saturday's Midwest Regional at Utah (4 and 7 p.m.) who can stand up to Marsden.
Thursday he charged, "There's the same type of subtle manipulation of scores going on nationally as internationally." It is not, he said, the gift exchanging that he witnessed and participated in during the 1987 World Championships when he coached the U.S. team. It's more a regional bias that makes it necessary for postseason judging panels to be made up of officials from several regions to ensure validity, Marsden says.
Other coaches, notably Arizona State's John Spini, have protested judges and judging before without being heavily chastised. "When I do it, it's a national scandal," says Marsden.
"I've just been frustrated," Marsden says. "I don't know where to vent that frustration." He says there is no body that regularly evaluates judges' performances, other than peer groups.
"I don't think I've done anything on the floor that goes beyond anything ethical. Part of my responsibility is to represent the interest of my athletes, within reason," he says.
He acknowledges his complaints may have the opposite affect, penalizing the Utes, but, he adds, "It's just the nature of athletics. You complain about officials or scoring, but it comes down to, if you do a good job, you'll have the chance to be at or near the top. It's hard for officials to take that away from you."