People love thinking about the question “What if?” And that’s especially true of the gymternet. What if Simone Biles hadn’t gone pro? What if Maggie Nichols hadn’t fallen on beam at NCAA prelims her freshman year? What if Courtney Kupets never tore her Achilles? (The second time? Both times?)
In this week’s roundtable, we’re discussing all those what ifs and more. What do you think would have happened if these scenarios played out differently? Let us know in the comments or on social media! Also, is there an NCAA gym “what if” that you think about a lot? One that keeps you up at night? Let us know about it as well!
What if Simone Biles didn’t go pro and instead went to UCLA as planned?
Elizabeth: The most obvious answer to this question is that Biles would have dominated NCAA gym, scoring perfect 40s every week. However, I actually think it would have played out a bit differently. I see Biles as being more of a MyKayla Skinner type, bored with watered down routines and with too much power to ever really stick anything. Can you tell me you see her being able to stick a double-twisting Yurchenko when she already has too much power on an Amanar? Plus, she didn’t have to continue upgrading this quad but did anyway because she’s the type of gymnast that needs a challenge to keep things interesting. I could see bars and beam, funnily enough, being her highest scoring with the power events being harder to control for 10s.
Kalley: I think it would have been really interesting to watch Simone in NCAA because I think we would have seen a mix of higher difficulty and of her simplifying routines. The obvious thing I wonder about is whether or not she would have done an Amanar (I think she absolutely would have) and what difficult floor tumbling she would have kept in her routines. I agree with Elizabeth that she would have followed the MyKayla Skinner playbook and played around with difficulty to keep from getting bored. She would have brought an extra level of star quality to an already star-studded team, and I imagine that she would draw in a lot of new-to-NCAA fans as well.
Katherine: Eh, she might have made the vault lineup or something, but I don’t think her impact would have been huge. As if! Of COURSE she’d have been in the all around from the first week of her freshman season, bringing much of her elite difficulty as MyKayla Skinner did right away. I think she would have been fine on execution too, given her strength in that vein as it is. Maybe she’d have some issues with power on the landings, but I somehow think she’d figure that out pretty quickly. She’s Simone. She’d be great.
Mary Emma: I think she would have dominated. I know a lot of people argue that she would have had trouble in NCAA, since its main focus is on execution rather than power, and a lot of elites who depend on power to score well in elite tend to not do as well in NCAA. But I don’t think that would have been the case with Simone. Yes, she is so dominant in elite mainly because of her difficulty, but she also has some of the best execution in the world as well. While I don’t think she would have brought her full difficulty to NCAA, I’m sure she would have still had some of the most difficult routines in the country.
Tara: Oh, she definitely would have dominated. I know we talk about her pushing the boundaries of the sport a lot, but she also has some of the best execution as well. Maybe she’d have too much power, but I can definitely see her being one of the best in the country had she gone the NCAA route. As others mentioned, I think we would have seen some of the more difficult gymnastics in her NCAA routines (like Skinner), while still watering it down enough to compete every weekend for a full season.
What if Maggie Nichols hadn’t fallen on beam during NCAA prelims her freshman year?
Elizabeth: I think the main outcome would be that having nationals canceled this year would have sucked even more. She would have won the all around title her freshman year and likely still won the next two years, giving her three consecutive with a chance to be the first to win four in a career.
Kalley: I don’t think that fall impacted Maggie or her NCAA gym career too solidly one way or another. It would have been special to see her go for a four-peat, absolutely, but she’s still MAGGIE NICHOLS. Her career is one that will be the bar against which others are compared for years and years to come. Plus (and this may be an unpopular opinion), it’s nice to be reminded that even the greatest athletes in the world are human and can make mistakes. Somehow it makes the wins feel even sweeter.
Katherine: She’d have won the all around and yes, tried to go for that four-peat, but I honestly don’t think this would have changed too much in the grand scheme of things. Maybe the disappointment from that fall was what propelled her to get a 10.000 on the event in Super Six and she wouldn’t have otherwise, but she gets 10s all the time under more favorable circumstances. Either way, OU was fine to qualify to the next night and then win, so I don’t think it would have mattered beyond the results of the all around.
Mary Emma: She would have likely won the all around that year. It would have also made the all around fight in the second session of nationals less interesting because it would have been much harder for Alex McMurtry to catch her.
Tara: She would have won the all around title and had a chance at a four-peat. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think it hurt her too much at all (and she still bounced back to serve the team well in the Super Six). Considering the current circumstances, the four-peat would be out of the question anyway. Thanks, corona. Did it give her a drive to do better? Probably. Either way, she’s cemented herself as one of the top NCAA gymnasts of all time.
What if Courtney Kupets didn’t tear her Achilles her junior year?
Elizabeth: This is the one I think about a lot if we’re being honest. I grew up a Georgia fan, and watching Kupets tear her Achilles on that double Arabian, what, a meet after the redshirt cutoff and having to miss nationals was incredibly upsetting. I stand by the fact that she is the greatest college gymnast of all time—don’t @ me Maggie and Kyla stans—and if she hadn’t gotten hurt, she would have scored even more perfect 10s and won four all around titles.
Kalley: Ugh, I have such a hard time with injuries like this. Courtney Kupets was one of the absolute greatest gymnasts in NCAA history, and it was devastating to see that happen to her. But like I mentioned above with Maggie, I don’t think it really had an impact on her career as a whole. But you have to think that nothing is more motivating for an athlete like that than the drive to come back after an injury, so I’d imagine the success that followed was fueled by that fire.
Katherine: Like I discussed with Maggie’s beam fall, maybe Courtney’s success her senior year came as a result of the motivation she felt after ending her junior year like this. She’d certainly have been great regardless, but she surely felt a desire to make up for what could have been. Maybe a perfect 40 would have come later in her junior year if she hadn’t been hurt. Either way, we already talk about her as the GOAT now, so it probably just would have cemented her status even more.
Mary Emma: This is a hard one for me to answer because I didn’t follow NCAA gymnastics at the time. I suppose she would have continued doing what she had been doing, dominating the rest of the season and winning multiple titles at nationals.
Tara: Echoing Mary Emma here in that it’s hard for me to answer this when I didn’t follow NCAA gymnastics closely (note to self, go back and watch more meets from that time period). I’m sure she would have dominated like she was pre-injury.
What if the 2020 season hadn’t ended early?
Elizabeth: I was the one who included this question and even I think it might be too soon. But we’re discussing it anyway. If the 2020 season hadn’t ended early, Oklahoma would have won its fifth NCAA title and second in a row. I’d also like to think Ross would have finally won the all around title (but think more realistically Nichols would have) and she and Nichols would have both passed the perfect 10 record but still tied for the most—because I’m all about ties and everyone winning when it’s deserved. We also would have seen Minnesota make nationals with Michigan and Alabama along with other perennial faves, and Georgia would have missed out for the first time since 2010 (sorry, Gymdogs). Oh, also Utah would have finished second and UCLA would have “underperformed” its unrealistic expectations, making delusional Bruins fans call for Chris Wallers’ head after one year.
Kalley: I am heartbroken for all of the teams due to how this season ended, but I feel especially sad for Minnesota. The Gophers were in the middle of one of the most incredible seasons they have ever had, and it kills me that they didn’t get to end it at nationals. I was lucky enough to witness so much of their story in person this year, and that makes it feel even more devastating. Michigan was finally showing its potential and would have challenged for a Four on the Floor spot. I could see Utah legitimately challenging for the title this year, although I maintain it would have been Oklahoma and Florida’s to lose. Ugh, FLORIDA. How excited were we to see its redemption arc play out at nationals? I can’t talk about it. I believe Lexy Ramler would have been beam champion and once again would have been a serious threat for the all around title.
Katherine: I think LSU had a lot more to give. Florida probably still would have won SECs (the real title, not the “regular season” one), but I definitely think LSU would have showed up at nationals a lot stronger than people thought it could be. I had it in Four on the Floor in my preseason predictions, and I stand by that. It would have been there with Oklahoma, Florida and UCLA. Oklahoma would have won, followed by UCLA (another hot take), Florida, then LSU. In non-nationals happenings, I think either Maggie or Kyla would have passed the 10 record, but not both…not sure why, it just seems too good to be true.
Mary Emma: Too soon y’all, too soon. Since this is all hypothetical, I think everything would have turned out exactly how I wanted it to. Florida would have upset Oklahoma for the title in a tight race until the very end. Utah and Michigan would have had their best meets of the season in the semifinals to be the other two teams in the finals. Minnesota would have made nationals, and Lexy Ramler would have upset Ross and Nichols to become the all around champion. Finally, Taylor Houchin would have qualified for nationals and capped off her career with a stuck vault to finally score that elusive perfect 10. Is this the most likely scenario? No, but I don’t care because it’s the one I want.
Tara: I have many thoughts. Florida absolutely had the fire and drive to upset Oklahoma for the national title, which would have been a tight race between those two teams. Utah and Michigan were both in major grooves when the season got called off, and I think both of them had a lot more to give. Maggie Nichols and Kyla Ross would have scored more 10s, and we would have known for certain if either would pass the record for that total when given the opportunity to finish out the season. Speaking of those two, of course the all around would have been tight, with them plus the likes of Lexy Ramler and Maddie Karr.
What if Oklahoma won the 2014 championship outright?
Elizabeth: This one’s interesting because it was Florida that went on to win the next year’s title. I think Oklahoma winning outright would have set it on a path to win in 2015 over the Gators (despite the Sooners finishing third in reality). I say this because Oklahoma is a team that thrives on winning and doesn’t mind bragging about it (did you see its photoshoot background this year?). I realize it still won in 2014, but tying for a win is different than winning outright.
Kalley: I don’t know that it would have changed much, to be honest. Oklahoma is a team that is unabashedly obsessed with winning, so if anything I think it could have boosted that drive and built more confidence. Ultimately, though, Oklahoma was already well on its path to being the powerhouse it is now, regardless of that outcome.
Katherine: It would have further cemented Oklahoma as the new queen of college gymnastics. I think with the tie, people might have been more likely to see it as a fluke since it took another year for it to win again. Regardless, I think Florida still would have won in 2015 because they were motivated by not winning the year before, like Oklahoma going into the 2019 season. #PZTSF
Mary Emma: This one is a bit hard for me to say. I suppose the Sooners would have been more likely to take the title in 2015, since they would have been riding on momentum that Florida wouldn’t have had.
Tara: It would have made that win even more meaningful for the Sooners, being that it was their first national title and they would have won it outright. That being said, I think it would have further solidified Oklahoma’s place at the top, even if Florida still went on to win in 2015. In fact, if Oklahoma won it outright, it may have given Florida even more drive to reach the top again in 2015. Regardless of the outcome, Oklahoma was well on its way to the top anyways, and nothing could have changed that.
What if Rhonda Faehn never left Florida?
Elizabeth: Absolutely nothing against Jenny Rowland, but I kind of feel like she’s been coasting on the success and foundation Faehn built up before leaving. Because of this, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Florida’s last championship and Faehn’s last year at the helm both occured in 2015. While Florida’s been a great program in the years since, it’s not quite at the same level, having a number of misfortunate misses in the postseason that held it back. So what if Faehn didn’t leave? We would have seen at the very least more competition with Oklahoma at the top and more likely another national title.
Kalley: I have a feeling this is a question Faehn asks herself often. The dynasty she helped build is one of the strongest that exists in NCAA gym—just look at the recruits still coming in—so it’s interesting to think about what that would look like with her still at the helm. I am not going to pretend to have any knowledge of hers vs. Jenny Rowland’s coaching style, though, so I don’t know if the performance of the team would have been different.
Katherine: She’d have had another few years of impressive success with the Gators. If she hadn’t gone to USAG, she’d have a more likely future in coaching and we might have seen her take over for another program (Michigan or Nebraska, perhaps). Her skin would have probably thanked her, too. Also, shameless plug for an upcoming column I’m writing where I’ll explore this a bit deeper…stay tuned!
Mary Emma: Well, she wouldn’t be ostracized from coaching for one. I think she would have continued the Florida success that the team had under her last few seasons. With Oklahoma becoming so strong recently, we will never know if a Florida under Faehn would have been able to challenge for the title, but I think it would have been close.
Tara: She would have continued her success at Florida. She pioneered the success of that team and she would have continued to see it through. I think she’d likely still be coaching today, whether it be at Florida or elsewhere.
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Article by Elizabeth Grimsley, Kalley Leer, Katherine Weaver, Mary Emma Burton, Tara Graeve
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