Before the NCAA season begins, it’s time for the now-annual venture into the murky world of NCAA scoring for those who might want to know a little more about what’s actually going on behind that bonkers 9.950 that just got thrown. Fair warning: you’ll be happier if you don’t
Composing a routine
- At minimum, an NCAA routine must include 3 A-valued elements, 3 B-valued elements, and 2 C-valued elements.
That is a basic standard that most college gymnasts are able to achieve comfortably. I give you permission not to worry about it. Gymnasts must also fulfill a series of special composition requirements, each worth 0.2. On floor, those four requirements are
1 – CHANGE FOR 2023 One acrobatic pass featuring 2 saltos. The 2 saltos can be directly connected to each other or indirectly connected to each other within a single tumbling pass, but they must appear in the same line of acrobatic skills. Now, needing a combination is not new. What is new is the definition of an acrobatic pass, which is now defined as “one or more acro elements, one element must be a salto valued at a C or higher.” So the combination now must have at least a C salto in it. We don’t see too many people doing a front lay + front lay middle pass anymore, but that wouldn’t fulfill the requirement for 2023.
2 – Three different saltos within the exercise. Because the majority of gymnasts perform three tumbling passes, one of which must be a combination pass, they tend to have four different saltos in their routines anyway, easily fulfilling the minimum requirement of three.
Some will not have four, either because they are performing a routine with just two passes, or because they are repeating a skill in one of the passes, but they must have at least three different salto elements at some point.
3 – The final tumbling pass element must be at least a C. This isn’t actually the extent of the expectation because NCAA floor has an additional up-to-level deduction (see “composition deductions” below) that requires the final pass to be either a D element or a C element done in bonus combination, so that ends up being the real requirement. You can’t just do an isolated C as your final pass.
It’s still not much of a problem. This requirement exists to prevent people from opening huge, getting all their bonus, and then going, “My last pass is a back tuck, suckasssss.” (Which would also get a distribution deduction for not spacing out the difficulty.)
4 – Passage of dance elements. This requirement will be familiar for elite watchers. In NCAA, gymnasts must perform two dance elements (one of which has to hit 180 degrees) either in direct connection or in an indirect dance passage connected by that prancing that pretends it’s ballet but isn’t.
The difference between NCAA and elite in this regard is that we see many, many more gymnasts in NCAA opt for the direct connection of dance elements because, unlike in elite, they can receive connection bonus for those dance combinations.
Missing any one of these requirements is a 0.2 deduction from the start value. A gymnast with a routine that includes 3 As, 3 Bs, and 2 Cs, and that fulfills the four requirements above will begin with a 9.40 start value.
From that 9.40, gymnasts attempt to get to a 10.0 start value by earning up to six tenths of bonus. Bonus is earned in two categories.
1) Skill value – Each D element earns 0.1 in bonus, and each E element earns 0.2.
A double-flipping element (or any E-value tumbling element) in the final pass receives an extra 0.1 of bonus in addition to the typical skill value bonus.
2) Connection value – There many methods through which gymnasts can receive connection bonus on floor. Many.
Direct acrobatic connections
A+C = 0.1
A+A+C = 0.1
B+B = 0.1 (as long as the skills are different)
B+C = 0.2
A+D = 0.2
C+C = 0.3
Indirect acrobatic connections
A+A+C = 0.1
A+D = 0.1
B+C = 0.1
C+C = 0.2
Dance or mixed connections
B+D = 0.1
C+C = 0.1
D salto + A jump = 0.1
A+C+A+A (salto/salto/dance/salto) = 0.1
C+D = 0.2
To earn the full six tenths of bonus, at least one tenth must come from each category (skill value and connection value), so gymnasts can’t load up exclusively on one category or another.
In an extra twist on floor, at least one of the tenths of bonus must also come from dance elements (leaps, jumps, turns) either for combination or skill value, so it can’t all be from tumbling.
But, as long as you get your six tenths of bonus, and fulfill all the requirements above, you’ve got your 10.0 start.
On floor, gymnasts must perform both forward and backward tumbling at some point (otherwise it’s 0.1 off), and there are several “up to level” composition deductions that routines must avoid on floor.
1) The routine must include either one E element, or two D elements (at least one of which must be acrobatic). Otherwise, 0.10 off.
2) The final pass must end with a D salto, or C salto in a combination that earns bonus. Otherwise, 0.10 off.
3) Gymnasts are allowed to perform only two tumbling passes if they wish (instead of the traditional three), but there are special composition rules regarding routines with only two passes. In two-pass routines, one of the passes must be at least a D salto, and the other pass must be either a D salto or garner 0.2 in CV. This is how NCAA prevents gymnasts from just filling up on dance elements. Gymnasts must perform at least two passes.
CHANGE FOR 2023
For 2023, college gymnastics has removed the requirement that one of the tumbling passes must include THREE acro flight elements. This is informally known as the Haleigh Bryant Rule because of that time in 2021 when Bryant was doing front handspring + double front, front layout + rudi, and front handspring + front 2/1, none of which had three elements in it. That highlighted the absurdity of the rule, because try to tell me Bryant’s routine isn’t up to the competitive level, but Lisa Front Layout is.
Now for an example, let’s check out Ragan Smith’s 2022 floor routine to see how it gets up to a 10.0 start value:
1 – One combination pass, featuring 2 saltos.
Smith’s second tumbling pass here is a back layout 1.5 directly connected to a front layout to fulfill this requirement.
2 – Three different saltos within the exercise.
The first tumbling pass is a double tuck, the second pass has a back 1.5 and front layout, and the third pass is a double pike, accounting for four different saltos.
3 – The final tumbling pass must end with at least a C element.
The final tumbling pass is a double pike, which is a D element.
4 – Passage of dance elements.
Before her third tumbling pass, Smith performs a switch side directly connected to a wolf jump full, which fulfills the need for a dance combination.
1 – Forward and backward tumbling.
Smith’s first pass is a backward element, the double tuck, and the front layout in combination in her second pass meets the need for forward tumbling.
2 – The routine must include either one E element, or two D elements (one of which must be acrobatic).
This routine includes two D elements, the opening double tuck and the finishing double pike.
4 – The final pass must end with a D salto, or C salto in a combination that earns bonus.
The final tumbling pass is a double pike, which is a D salto.
Smith’s opening double tuck is a D element, which earns 0.1 in skill bonus.
Her second pass is a combination pass with a back layout 1.5 to front layout, which is a C+B combination for 0.2 in bonus, bringing her to a total of 0.3.
Her dance combination before the third pass is a switch side to wolf jump 1/1, which is a C+C dance combination for 0.1 in bonus, bringing her up to 0.4.
The final pass is a double pike, which is a D skill for 0.1 in skill bonus, which also earns an additional 0.1 for being a double flipping element as the final pass, bringing her up to a total of 0.6 in bonus, added to the 9.4 base score, for a start value of 10.0.
Here are the major skill values you’ll want to know for floor. Note: Links go to the elite skill database, and some elite skill values are different from college.
Leaps and jumps
Split leap – A
Split leap/jump ½ – B
Split leap/jump full – C
Split leap/jump 1.5 – D
Switch leap – B
Switch ½ – C
Switch full – D
Switch side – C
Switch side 1/2 – D
Switch ring – C
Straddle jump/½ – B
Popa – C
L hop full – B
Wolf jump 1/1 – C
Full turn – A
Double turn – C
Triple turn – D
L turn – B
Double L turn – D
Y turn – B
Double Y turn – D
Illusion turn – A
Wolf turn – B
Double wolf turn – D
Front tuck – A
Front pike – A
Front layout – B
Front 1/1 – C
Rudi – D
Front 2/1 – E
Double front – E
Double Arabian – E
Back layout 1/1 – B
Back layout 1.5 – C
Back layout 2/1 – C
Back layout 2.5 – D
Back layout 3/1 – E
Double tuck – D
Double pike – D
Full-twisting double tuck – E
Full-twisting double pike – E
Double layout – E
Whip – A
The most important thing you need to know about NCAA deductions is ‾\_(ツ)_/‾. Keep that in mind at all times.
Unlike in elite, where gymnasts are expected to stick tumbling elements (“Because of……” he trailed off), NCAA gymnastics has retained the controlled step on tumbling passes, which gymnasts are permitted to do without deduction. The very best passes will be ones in which the gymnast could clearly stick the pass if she wanted to but takes an intentional presentation step back as part of a controlled extension.
This does, however, open up a giant can of ambiguity as to what constitutes a controlled step (no deduction!) versus an uncontrolled step (deduction!). How do you, as a viewer, know the difference?
My rule of thumb is to watch the plant leg (the leg that’s not stepping) during the landing and subsequent step. If that plant leg remains completely stationary, I call it a controlled step for no deduction. If the plant leg is forced to slide as well, then the landing is not under control. Very commonly, you’ll see a little slide from the plant foot, and that should be an equivalently little deduction of .05.
In practice, deductions for slides/bounces backward on back tumbling (or forward on front tumbling) tend to be extremely forgiving in college gymnastics, and the disconnect between the lower scores we think floor routines should receive and the higher scores they actually do receive is most often due to minimal deductions taken for an uncontrolled slide on a landing that stays in bounds.
We get into clear 0.10 territory when a gymnast lands short of fully completing the flip and has to take a step (step forward on back tumbling, step back on forward tumbling) because that step is the only thing standing between her and eating it. In that case, the incomplete finishing of the salto and body position is deducted as well as probably .10 for the landing step, so it’s going to start adding up to .15 or more in deductions for that landing.
Incomplete finishing is relevant not just in terms of a flip but in terms of a twist as well. Gymnasts are supposed to finish twisting elements with their feet facing in from of them, the same direction as the head. If those feet aren’t fully around, or end up landing staggered, that can be deducted for an incomplete twist. And if the twist is more than 45 degrees off, it must at least be deducted, if not downgraded as a skill. You don’t see a downgrade on tumbling skills happen too much in NCAA, and really only when gymnasts are 90 degrees or more short of the intended twist.
While we tend to think about landings for tumbling passes, they matter for dance elements as well, and an uncontrolled bounce at the end of a dance combination is a deduction, just as it would be at the end of a tumbling pass.
Tumbling form and amplitude
The form in the air counts too. Sometimes. On double tuck or double pike skills, the legs are expected to be together without a cowboy or straddle or splay, and a landing with staggered legs (even a stuck one) is supposed to receive a deduction. On twisting skills, the legs and feet are also expected to be straight and together, with no crossing or helicoptering, no soft knees or flexed feet. All of these are opportunities for .05s.
Caveat: gymnasts can and do get away with all of these errors, as long as they are small.
In regards to form and height, a significant point of separation between the best floor workers and everyone else arises in direct combination passes. Gymnasts are expected to truly lift into that second forward skill in a direct combination, rising up higher and having greater amplitude than the first element.
In many cases, that second skill ends up being flat and doesn’t rise very far off the floor at all. Watch for this particularly when a front layout is the second element in a combination out of, say, a back layout 1.5. You’ll often see gymnasts have to arch themselves around like a little boomerang to get their feet to the ground first. That front layout needs to rise higher than the back 1.5, or it should receive a deduction.
On that note, the amplitude of tumbling passes. There’s no specific height expectation to go by, but the idea is that the gymnasts are truly setting and rising up, not just out, giving themselves enough height to complete the skill comfortably. The best way of evaluating whether a gymnast got enough amplitude on a pass is often through the chest position that ensues on landing.
On no topic are there more insider-gymnastics fights than about what the appropriate chest position on landings should be.
Here are three examples of chest positions on landing. The first one I would call chest up, the second one I would call medium, and the third one I would call chest down. In NCAA, it’s likely that only the third one would be hit by the chest-position police with a real-life deduction.
Let’s be honest, there aren’t a ton of deductions being applied in NCAA floor routines, so when chest-position deductions are applied, it’s primarily happening in extreme cases along with other deductions because the gymnast landed well short of completing the skill. Unbalanced, knee-eater landings. That’s when they’re losing real value.
Leaps and jumps
In the rush of tumbling passes, don’t forget about the dance elements, which are often the most-deducted parts of floor routines. If you every find yourself asking, “Those landings were all amazing! How did she get a 9.825?” the answer is going to be the dance elements.
As on beam, look for the full 180-degree angle in splits, legs fully extended and at minimum parallel with the floor, toes pointed and continuing the line made by the leg. Otherwise, small deductions will be taken. In general, the expectations are higher for hitting the actual leap positions on floor because…you get to do it on a floor, not on a beam.
An extra little complication to evaluating dance elements on floor is the topic of finishing position, particularly an indistinct landing position. It’s not just about hitting the 180-degree mark in the air. It’s also about fully rotating any twisting that the skill entails.
Let’s take the ever-popular, over-performed switch side + popa combination. The switch side needs to display a distinct 1/4 turn, and the popa needs to display a distinct full turn, landing exactly where you would expect the gymnast to be after 1.25 total turns.
It can’t be a switch 1/3-ish, followed by a straddle 7/8s, that ultimately lands…somewhere? Each individual skill landing has to be crisp, defined, distinct, and correct.
Here’s an example—for a routine that received 10s from some judges, so they clearly didn’t have a problem with it—where the straddle split positions look fine but the landings are…where?
It’s closer to a switch side 1/4 to straddle 3/4. But it’s not quite that either. It’s indistinct. In between the intended elements. The landing position is supposed to be clear, neither under nor over, in order to show full control of the elements and each one completed correctly. This example is unlikely to get deducted because she ultimately twists past where she’s supposed to end up when finishing the combination rather than coming up short, but by the letter of the law, the second element should have been credited as a straddle 3/4, meaning she wouldn’t get combination bonus here, and therefore wouldn’t have dance bonus in her routine and wouldn’t have a 10.0 start. That’s not what happened in real life.
And then there’s artistry. Up to three tenths of artistry deductions can be taken on floor in NCAA, in addition to a potential missing-synchronization deduction of .05. Can being operative here.
The deal with artistry on floor is that there’s no accounting for taste, so there’s no deducting for taste. You can’t deduct a routine for artistry simply because you don’t like it, or the music is stupid, or she’s an adult woman being made to act like a whiny 6-year-old clown for some reason. If the gymnast commits to the theme with full effort and full dynamic performance and engages the viewer, the routine warrants no artistry deductions, even if it is not your cup of tea. Your cup of tea is irrelevant. At least for scoring purposes. Your cup of tea is very relevant when we come back here to the live blogs and drink it together.
You can, however, deduct a routine for artistry when presented with a lack of effort, lack of investment in a style or a character, posing, stalling, smiling all the time which is nothing, elite dead face, or no intent to hit a beat. That’s where artistry deductions come in. But because NCAA gymnastics is so audience-engagement-based, we don’t see dead routines quite as much as we do in elite. We see dumb routines to be sure, but not so much dead routines. It happens, especially with new ones who aren’t used to it yet, but there is significant time and effort placed on performing something actively engaged in NCAA.
Unfortunately, there’s still quite a large contingent in NCAA that thinks smiling = performing. Paste that smile on, everyone will talk about how much “personality” you’re showing, and no one will take any artistry deductions because apparently this is a toddler pageant and not a real sport. A smile in and of itself is not artistry. It can be part of the character if tonally consistent, but the difference between a routine that avoids artistry deductions and a routine that incurs them should never be the number of teeth shown.
So, are serious deductions actually being taken for artistry at the top level of NCAA? I don’t think so. The scores are all too high to expect they include artistry deductions as well as the form deductions mentioned above.
Although one thing to keep in mind is not holding the ending pose. There are some who will take the .05 every time if the gymnast immediately goes into salute-celebration mode from the final piece of choreography like it’s an element connection. They have to hold the ending pose for at least one second.
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