After months of uncertainty and anticipation, the wait for the 2021 season—or at least team schedules—is finally over. The SEC announced its conference-only schedules this year, including two “bye weeks,” left empty to account for any postponements due to positive COVID-19 tests.
For a conference like the SEC, where each of the eight teams will compete against each other once and one select team twice, a conference-only schedule makes sense, and may even make for an interesting intra-conference competition for the regular season championship. It also makes sense considering what football went through this fall, where the majority of teams stuck to conference-only schedules. It works for football, and even for bigger gymnastics conferences like the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12, but isn’t necessarily the most logical choice for gymnastics as a whole.
Take Southern Connecticut. The team typically competes in the ECAC, which currently only has one other team scheduled to compete during the 2021 season after the Ivy League and West Chester canceled winter sports competition. SCSU and W&M aren’t exactly close to each other, and Southern Head Coach Byron Knox is already worried about being able to work any overnight trips into his limited budget for the upcoming year. All SCSU can hope for is day trips to close teams like Ursinus or LIU, or other teams willing—and having the budget—to visit Connecticut. If the other conferences around these teams switch to conference-only schedules, these teams will be left with few alternatives.
Gymnastics is an expensive sport, and teams were vulnerable even before the pandemic. With many universities merely trying to make ends meet and smaller institutions not having big revenue-driving football programs to rely upon to save them, budgets are tighter than ever. It would make sense for teams to be as economical as possible when it comes to setting schedules, travel and determining other expenses surrounding the season. If we’re being generous, only 30 teams are in prosperous conferences, like the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 or Big 12. That leaves the majority of NCAA teams in more precarious positions when it comes to budget and even staying afloat.
On the surface, conference-only schedules make sense because at first glance conferences seem to be mostly regional. Until you actually look at the geography. Why should West Virginia have to fly all the way to Denver for a conference meet when it could easily drive to Pittsburgh, George Washington, Maryland, Towson or even Penn State for a fraction of the cost? Should Rutgers have to travel to Iowa, Illinois and Michigan when it could stay close to home and compete against LIU, Temple and SCSU?
Even if you ignore expenses completely, do fans really want to see Oklahoma compete against Iowa State, West Virginia and Denver two, three or even four times in a season? Should William & Mary and SCSU be stuck only competing against each other for the entirety of 2021? Regional schedules would actually result in more interesting and unique matchups. When was the last time Centenary got to compete at LSU? Georgia could face off against UNC and N.C. State.
The MRGC, whose teams released their schedules a month or so ago, are doing a hybrid conference-only/regional schedule for 2021, competing a couple times each against the other three teams in the conference while also scheduling one or two regional meets against nearby teams, such as Washington or Oregon State. However, should the Pac-12 decide on a conference-only schedule like the SEC, these teams will have to readjust as well.
It all boils down to the main goal these teams and conferences wish to accomplish. Is it to actually save money or rather more the appearance of simplifying the season? Is it only to make it easier to reschedule postponed meets? Only time will tell how things shake out as meets are, as of now, set to kick off the second week in January.
Article by Elizabeth Grimsley
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