CGN Roundtable: Design Your Ideal Conferences

We love talking about which schools we wish had gymnastics teams and which fun conferences that would produce. But what would you change about the way the conferences are now? Would you add Oklahoma to the SEC? Add Centenary to the rest of Division III? Impose a limit of four teams per conference? We discuss in this week’s roundtable.

What are your thoughts on the current conferences?

Elizabeth: I think some improvements can be made. I won’t get into too much detail because there are other questions that ask about this, but there’s definitely some imbalances that could be corrected (the Big 12 is a glaring one). I also don’t love some of the mega conferences we have, especially after covering the MAC championship a couple years ago and nearly dying because of how long it was.

Kalley: I think most of the conferences are fine, but some could definitely do with more balance in the number of teams. This mostly bothers me when a conference is too small (Big 12, MRGC) but there are issues when it’s a large conference too, pending on how conference championships are structured.

Brandis: Overall, I am fine with the way the conferences are aligned. I like that, for the most part, the conferences reflect those of other sports, which makes it easier for the casual fan to understand the impact of winning or losing a conference dual meet or championship.

Emily M: Our four Power 5 conferences in gymnastics—that’s Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC—make sense as-is, because, like Brandis said, mirroring other sports makes sense. It’s the gym-only conferences that are weird to me. MRGC works, although their schedules are usually boring since they have duals against each other team twice. The MIC is an oddball, with two DI, two DII and lonely Centenary at DIII. EAGL is also alright, but let’s just get a full ACC situation going and round out the Power 5!

Mary Emma: For the most part, I like how the conferences are structured. There are a few strange alignments—such as the teams in the Big 12 being nowhere near each other, but for the most part, they make sense. 

How would you rearrange the conferences if you could (without adding any new teams)?

Elizabeth: My short answer is I want conferences to be more regional. I would definitely make some major changes to the Big 12. Yes, Denver has gotten better recently, but that meet is always so boring. It’s more difficult because the Big 12 is a thing in other sports, but pretending that’s not the case, I’d get rid of the Big 12 completely, add Denver back to the MRGC, add West Virginia to the EAGL and split up the Big Ten into teams that are more mid-western to include Iowa State and Oklahoma (with maybe Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State and Illinois?) and the other half including the rest (Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota).

Kalley: Echoing Elizabeth here, but I would make them more regional and eliminate conferences that are too small or just don’t make any sense.

Brandis: Since they are both so small, I would love to see the Big 12 and the MRGC combine to form one larger conference. While at first there would be a big gap in potential between the top and bottom teams of the conference, I see the possibility for some of the bottom teams to elevate their level of competition within just a few years. The prospect of getting to compete against some elite level teams could be an asset in recruiting.

Emily M: I’d like to see teams utilize associate conference membership, like many hockey teams do, for example, rather than having gym-only conferences. SEMO could be an associate MAC member, and Utah State could compete with the Big 12. It wouldn’t be completely clean, but I think it has potential.

Mary Emma: I’d want to see the conferences with seven teams add another team to have eight. That way, conference championships can be split into two sessions instead of one big session with three byes. So SEMO or Illinois State could be affiliates of the MAC and either WVU or Temple could join the EAGL. I also think I’d eliminate the Big 12 and distribute the teams to other conferences that make more sense geographically. So WVU to the EAGL, Denver to the MRGC, Iowa State as an affiliate of the Big Ten and Oklahoma either as an affiliate of the Big Ten or the SEC. 

What are your dream conferences to add college gym?

Elizabeth: I know someone else is going to say they want ACC gymnastics, so I’ll contradict my previous answer and say I want real Big 12 gymnastics. Give Nebraska and Missouri back to the conference, add a Kansas team, add a rival for Oklahoma in Texas or Oklahoma State…

Kalley: If the Big 12 would actually add other schools or gym programs to that conference, then I would absolutely love to see it. Kansas is near the top of my list when it comes to schools where I want to see a gym program added. 

Brandis: I’ll say it—the ACC! There are so many good club programs across the east coast, so schools like Boston College, Florida State, Miami and Virginia would have no problem finding solid gymnasts to fill their rosters.

Emily M: It’d be neat to see more non-Power 5 FBS conferences join the gymnastics party—the MAC is currently the only conference in that category that sponsors gym. I’m talking The American (Cincinnati! Houston! SMU! Tulane! And Temple is an AAC full member, by the way.), Mountain West (We already have Air Force, Boise State, San Jose State and Utah State—throw in either Reno or UNLV, and let’s go!), Sun Belt (App State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State—lots of potential here for non-premium tier DI competition).

Mary Emma: If you know me at all, you know I’m a big proponent of ACC gymnastics. I would love to see teams like Duke, Clemson, Florida State or Virginia adding gymnastics so the conference can sponsor the sport. I would also like to see the Ivy League sponsor gymnastics so that its four teams can have their own conference instead of competing in the ECAC.   

How would you mix up the DII or DIII teams?

Elizabeth: The MIC to me is messy: two DI teams, two DII teams and Centenary—who I always feel bad about being separate from all the other DIIIs. I kind of wish we had a DII-only conference to make conference champs more fun. It wouldn’t work great travel-wise, but maybe that just means we need to add more DII teams. Problem solved.

Kalley: There just aren’t enough DII or DIII teams to structure conferences how I’d like, but it’s always felt strange to me that they are intermingled. That said, I’d love to see more programs, so let’s solve that problem by adding more teams! 

Emily M: More. Teams. West. Of. The. Mississippi. That’s a start, and would solve some Texas Woman’s and Centenary weirdness.

Mary Emma: It wouldn’t make as much sense geographically, but I’d like to see the DII teams have their own conference and have Centenary join the rest of the DIII teams. Alternatively, I’d add a few more DII teams to make two DII conferences—east and west, and then I’d add a few more southern DIII schools which would form a new DIII conference with Centenary. 

Do you like that DIII is mostly on its own or do you wish there was a mix?

Elizabeth: I think I do like that it’s on its own because it’s not like it’s stopping DIII teams from competing against DIIs or DIIIs. Plus, it makes it easy for conference champs to have a purpose and act as a qualifying meet to nationals.

Emily M: I think it makes sense! DIII nationals is its own special, exciting thing, and I like that. 

Mary Emma: I like having DIII on its own. It allows DIII teams to have a competitive environment, which makes things a lot more exciting. Plus, like Elizabeth said, plenty of DIII teams have meets with DI teams. They can have their own separate thing and national exposure at the same time.

What’s one absolutely wild proposal you’d make to the current conference configurations or how conference championships currently work?

Elizabeth: I know most gym fans wouldn’t like this because the fan base as a whole is very “we love participation ribbons,” but my dream is for a conference like the SEC to treat its conference championship more like baseball, for example. So only, yes, only, four teams would get to compete at conference, and regular season results would matter to find out who gets there (I don’t want to hear your “anyone can win on the day” whining because no one has ever won SECs from the afternoon session). Or, if you want to continue to pout, have some qualifying meets the day before. More gymnastics is always a good thing.

Brandis: In the spirit of adding more gymnastics, I would love for some of the larger conferences, like the Big Ten and SEC, to run their conference meets with prelims and finals sessions like the NCAA championships does. The first day would have multiple sessions of teams competing, with the four top teams advancing to the final day of competition. This would give fans an extra day of gymnastics to watch, as well as give the teams the opportunity to compete in a postseason meet that mimics the schedule of NCAAs. A win-win!

Emily M: Hard agree with the above suggestions about making conference meets more exclusive. But I want a tournament. Yep. Let’s have head-to-head, must-win meets! WHY NOT?! I know, there’s no “defense” in gymnastics. I don’t care. I like the regionals play-ins, and I want more nail-biter, edge-of-your-seat meets like that. I know most people will hate this idea, but I will die on this hill.

Mary Emma: I’m going to echo what everyone said above and say I’d like to see conference tournaments like we have for other sports. Regionals recently moved to a more tournament-like format, why not conference championships as well?

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Article by the editors of College Gym News

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