Even the most hardcore gymnastics fans sometimes forget how exactly you calculate RQS or what the procedure is for qualifying to regionals. We’re here to help and give you that gentle reminder. Or if you’re on the other side, thinking, “9.8725 is not a real score!” … We’re here to help with that too. From the format of meets, routine requirements and scholarships to ranking, scoring and qualifying, we’ve got you covered.
- Gymnastics 101
- The Balance Beam Situation’s NCAA Gymnastics for Beginners
- Gymnastics Dictionary:
- NCAA Women’s Gymnastics 2016 & 2017 Rules Modifications
- College Gym Fan’s guide to the rule modifications
- NCAA frequently asked questions
- National Letter of Intent official site
If you’re not in the top 36 teams at the end of the season, no NCAA Regionals berth for you. Unlike other sports, rankings aren’t determined by a vote or poll of the top coaches but instead the Regional Qualifying Score system is used.
During the preseason, the first rankings come out. These are normally based on the previous year’s results, prospects of the new incoming freshmen, and holes that the graduating seniors left. This rank is determined by a coach’s poll — the only poll of this type that happens all season.
After the season begins, new rankings come out every Monday on Road To Nationals. For about the first six meets, the rankings are solely based on the averages of the team scores. So, say the Gym Dogs scored a 196 in their first meet and a 196.5 in their second meet. This would mean that their average after two meets would be 196.25, and they would fall in order with other teams that scored below or above that score.
After roughly six meets, rankings change to the RQS system. The RQS system is more complicated, but allows for teams who have had a bad meet or two (or are overscored at a meet) to throw out those scores so that they don’t affect their rankings in the long run. To calculate RQS, first take the top three away scores. Then take the next three highest scores — home or away. Finally, drop the highest score of the six and average the remaining five.
The first couple of weeks of using the RQS system should be taken with a grain of salt, though, because some teams may not have had three away meets or had a couple of low scoring totals at the beginning of the season that they haven’t been able to drop yet. Once, things even out, the RQS system is pretty accurate in ranking the top teams in the nation and determining seeding and placement in post-season competitions. The system is the same for individual rankings as well as team’s individual event rankings throughout the season.
Once the season ends and conference championships are completed, NCAA regional seeds are determined. If your team is in the top 36 in the country in D-I gymnastics, they are guaranteed a spot at one of the six regional locations. To determine where each team goes, RQS scores and rankings are used. The Nos. 1, 12, and 13 teams are grouped together, Nos. 2, 11 and 14 travel to the same site, Nos. 3, 10 and 15 will compete against each other, Nos. 4, 9, and 16 will go to the same location, Nos. 5, 8 and 17 are in the same group, and Nos. 6, 7 and 18 are together. Then the remaining teams ranked No. 19-36 are evenly distributed throughout the six locations geographically.
A perfect team score for any given competition is 200 (five scores out of a possible 10 points count times four events). A good score for a team is 196+, meaning the team averaged a 9.8 for each routine. 197 — averages of 9.85 for each routine — is a great score and something that all top teams should be producing by the middle of the season. A 198 — averages of 9.9 for each routine — is the coveted team score in collegiate gymnastics, a score every team shoots for at every competition.
Individually, the scoring system is pretty straight-forward. Every gymnast starts from a 10.0. Throughout the routine, the judges deduct points, tenths, and even hundredths for mistakes in execution. Once the routine is over, the final score is tallied and the result is posted. For a D-I program like Georgia, anything in the 9.7 range would be considered only OK whereas a 9.8 would be considered an average score. 9.9s are great scores, usually meaning the gymnasts only had one or two very minor mistakes in their routine like a single step or flexed foot. However, every gymnast shoots for the perfect 10.0.
During a routine, the judges will take deductions throughout the routine for flaws in the execution of the skills. Execution is the form or technique of a skill. Things like steps on landings or flexed feet can range from .05-.1 off, depending on the severity of the mistake. Large steps can count off as much as .3 in deductions. Falling is more costly and counts off half a point from the gymnast’s total score. On bars, missed handstands are normally .05-.1 of a deduction, depending on the amount of degrees away from vertical the gymnast was.
Every once in a while, you’ll be enjoying a meet and someone does what you think it great routine, but the score is posted and seems low. One of the reasons for this could be start value. Start value is the starting score that the judges will take deductions from. Originally, every collegiate routine starts from a 9.5 and .5 or more worth of bonus is added to the routine to make it start from a 10.0. Gymnasts can gain bonus from connecting two skills together, or doing a certain difficulty of skill. Almost all D-I gymnastics routines start from a 10.0, but if the gymnast messes up and doesn’t hit her connections during a routine, it can hurt her start value. Some gymnasts are so good that they can throw in more than .5 worth of bonus and start from more than a 10.0. Although she won’t be able to earn anything more than a perfect 10, this will aid her if she misses a connection during her routine.
Vault is a little different since there isn’t a routine but just one skill performed. On the event, each vault has a specific start value depending on the difficult of the move. Most of the vaults you’ll see at a given collegiate gymnastics meet start from a 10.0, but there are some that are only worth 9.7, 9.9 or 9.95. However, like the other events, you can’t go above a 10.0. Some gymnasts do vaults harder than a 10.0 start vault, but they will only be scored out of 10.
At a small, regular season duel meet, there are two judges per event. Each judge will come up with a score for the routine and then they are averaged together to get the final mark. At larger, post-season competitions such as SEC championships or NCAA regional or national championships, there are four judges per event. Each of the four judges comes up with a score for the routine, the high and low scores are dropped, and then the remaining two are averaged for the final mark. At NCAA event finals, there are six judges on each event. Each judge comes up with a score, the high and low are dropped, and the remaining four are averaged for the final mark.
At the SEC and Pac 12 Championships, all eight teams compete for the title. No matter the team’s previous scores or ranking, any team is able to take home the trophy on any given night although it’s much more likely for a team in the night session to walk away with the title. In the Big 10, the format is the same but the lead-up is slightly different as there is a qualifying meet the weekend before where all 10 teams compete to determine seeding and which teams go at night versus the afternoon.
For the NCAA Regional Championships teams must be in the top 36 in the rankings to qualify for a spot to compete. As described above, the teams are placed in one of six locations for their regional competition and then the six teams compete with two bye rotations for the title. Once regionals are over, the top two teams will continue on to NCAA Nationals.
So now we’ve got our 12 teams that have qualified to the NCAA national championships. However, these teams aren’t just split up and the winner takes all. First there is a preliminary round where the twelve teams are split into two groups of two (according to the regional they were in) and placed in two sessions where they will compete to qualify to the Super Six finals. In each session, the top three teams will qualify to the Super Six where they will compete for the national title. During the Super Six championships, the team with the highest team total at the end of the night is your new national champion.
Event champions will be those with the highest scores on each of the four events between the combined preliminary sessions. To determine first- and second-team All-Americans, take the top four gymnasts — including ties — on each even from each subdivision. The next four scores from each subdivision — places 5-8, including ties — will become second-team All-Americans. During prelims, the top all around gymnast from both sessions combined will be named the NCAA all around national champion.
Starting in 2016, the individual event final competition will be eliminated to make way for live television broadcasts of prelims and the Super Six finals.
Twelve Scholarships: Each Division I gymnastics team is granted 12 scholarships for its athletes. Often times, teams are much bigger than 12 members, though. The girls not on scholarship are called walk-ons and are equal members of the team, getting free team-issued apparel the opportunity to travel to competitions and even compete. They just have to pay for their own education. Most times (but not all), walk-on athletes on a team are from the state where the university is located simply because it’s cheaper for them with in-state tuition and other aids granted for students learning in their home state. Check out our breakdown of some of the top teams’ scholarships and the number of openings they have in the future here.
Four-Year Guarantee: In the past, schools awarded one-year scholarships that were renewed on a year-to-year basis, with some coaches yanking scholarships from underperforming athletes. However, recent changes have brought in multi-year scholarships. Coaches can now award two-, three- and four-year scholarships to athletes and are only able to reduce or not renew the scholarship if there is a disciplinary problem or medical issue. But just because an athlete gets hurt doesn’t mean they will lose their scholarship.
Medical Retirement: If a scholarship athlete comes to the very difficult decision that her body has had enough and she is too injured to continue with her career, she is allowed to medically retire and still receive a fully-paid education. Not only does this free up one of the team’s 12 scholarships but it allows the gymnast, who might be far from home, to stay at that university and finish up her degree free of charge. If a gymnast does medically retire, though, she must still contribute to the program in some way, whether it’s working in the front office or helping coach so as to keep the benefits provided for her.
Redshirting: Every gymnast has five calendar years to complete four seasons of eligibility. A non-medical redshirt season, one where the gymnast does not compete at all (not even a single routine), is taken for a variety of reasons deferring (for the Olympics, etc.), or lack of contribution (more commonly seen in football). If a gymnast redshirts, she “gains” a year of eligibility and can come back, if she chooses, to compete a fifth year. In rare cases, gymnasts are awarded a sixth year by the NCAA because of special circumstances (Utah’s Corrie Lothrop and Kyndal Robarts and UCLA’s Peng-Peng Lee are recent sixth-year seniors). For severe injuries or illnesses, the gymnast must meet the following requirements to be eligible for a medical redshirt, called a medical hardship waiver:
- The injury must occur during one of their four seasons in college or during their senior year of high school.
- The injury must be season-ending.
- The injury must occur before the second half of the season.
- The gymnast must not have competed in more than 30% of the season or three meets — whichever is greatest.
Transferring: Any gymnast that wants to transfer must receive written-permission from her athletic director before contacting another school. Once she is granted permission, she then must be accepted at the university through the admission process. Also, the new school does not have to match the aid offered by the gymnast’s previous school, meaning they do not have to guarantee her a scholarship if she had one at her previous school. Athletes who transfer must sit out one year of competition, but many qualify for exceptions which allow them to start right away. Transferring within conferences, such as within the SEC, results in having to sit out a year of competition. Before getting written permission, a gymnast is allowed to write to another school stating she is interested in transferring, but the other school is not allowed to discuss transfer options until permission is granted. This cuts out the opportunity for schools to continue recruiting gymnasts after they have officially signed with a team.