Dueling Columns: Event Finals vs. No Event Finals

By Alicia Bettano and Caroline Medley

Forget rivalries between teams at nationals when there’s one brewing between gym nerds: event finals or no event finals? While nationals does award individual titles to individuals placing between first and eighth place on an apparatus, as of late, this recognition has been based on one’s performance at semifinals and awarded once the second session is over. Today we weigh the pros and cons of bringing back event finals or keeping the system as it is. For clarity, note that Caroline’s comments are in italics while Alicia’s are in regular script.

During semifinals in April, six gymnasts tied for first place on bars, four gymnasts tied for third on floor, and three gymnasts tied for third place on beam. These massive ties drew ire among gymnastics fans, some that believed having a separate event finals during the nationals weekend—and not during a meet that’s focused on an entire team making it to the coveted event finals should be brought back.

Bringing back event finals leads to great things for both the gymnasts and the fans. For gymnasts, it gives athletes some time in the limelight as individuals. A gymnast who excels at an event should be recognized for it. Depending on how those individuals qualify, we may be able to see some excellent gymnastics from someone who may not be from a top-ranked team. Excellent gymnasts come from all conferences and all divisions, and it would be a treat for fans and an incredible experience for the gymnast to perform in front of the largest stage in college gymnastics. It’s also great experience for gymnasts who may have fallen to the wayside because of another superstar on the team but have just as much to show on certain events. As fans, there may be less of a chance for a tie. Finally, it’s more gymnastics to watch! Who doesn’t want to hold on to the season a little longer?

Event finals are great, don’t get me wrong. I will never say no to more gymnastics. But think about how awesome our coverage was this year on ESPN. Online feeds for every event and a four-screen feed, and both semifinals and finals televised on an affiliate channel. Part of the deal in getting rid of EFs was in exchange for more and better television coverage (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but we’re rolling with it). In trying not to inundate casual viewers with too much of what might appear to be the “same thing over and over,” they agreed to give up a separate event finals day in return for improving coverage on everything else. We got live broadcasts! Live! I know we all like more gymnastics, but I think we like live gymnastics more?

Also, on the flipside of the ties issue, while correctly ranked routines is every gymnerd’s dream, the NCAA is always looking for ways to recognize and include more gymnasts in the postseason. Not having event finals has mostly resulted in ties, which automatically means more people get recognized! Spreading around the recognition to more gymnasts and more schools can never be a bad thing. (But also, gymnasts outright won two of the four event titles this year. The ties aren’t that bad.)

Okay, you do definitely make some good points, especially with the ESPN broadcasts which were stellar and absolutely raised the bar (pun intended). Live broadcasts were a dream, and I’m thankful we got it. While I love that the NCAA wants to recognize more gymnasts—and I do see your point on only two of the four events having massive ties—having seven people tied for a place? Sometimes it feels like it’s a sport that just rewards everyone. Not to say that all gymnasts shouldn’t be rewarded or recognized, they all should, but a seven-way tie is a little much. When 12 gymnasts are being given awards for a event when they needed eight, I think it’s time to look at the system. All of those seven routines certainly weren’t created equally. I’m glad more gymnasts are being recognized, but it feels a little cheap. There has to be a way that the NCAA gymnastics committee can work out spectacular live coverage of nationals along with a way to make event winners more fair (and maybe more competitive?).

Well, regardless of whether we have event finals or not, the possibility of ties always exists. Reducing the size of the field just changes the probability a bit; and honestly not by that much since the majority of the gymnasts that tie for places in the current process would be a part of the EF field anyway. Just look at Worlds 2015—a four-way tie for first place on bars even with the field reduced to eight gymnasts! Nobody’s clamoring to change that system either, just to change the judging. The ties problem has nothing to do with event finals or no event finals, but everything to do with inadequate ability of judges to rank and separate routines. Instead of getting event finals back (and probably losing some of the live coverage in the process), maybe efforts should be focused on more specific, accurate judging and more advanced judging systems. Even a simple video replay system would be an improvement. Bringing back event finals would be cool, but it isn’t a solution to this particular issue.

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