CGN Roundtable: Alternative Postseason Formats

The 2021 season is going to be anything but normal, and the odds of teams actually experiencing a typical postseason are low. That’s where we come in. Inspired by Greg Marsden’s tweet from a couple weeks ago, we decided to discuss some of the potential postseason modifications NCAA gym could make for the 2021 season.

How would you change the NCAA postseason format to accommodate COVID safety protocols?

Elizabeth: I love the idea of a postseason bubble. However, unless the NCAA forks over the money to cover the team hotel and venue costs, it’s not really feasible for a non-revenue generating sport like gymnastics. Otherwise, any sort of real bubble isn’t practical because I can’t see teams quarantining for 14 days before things begin. I think the most realistic change, if one had to occur, would be to limit the teams at each meet to two, perhaps set up two sets of equipment and confine the teams to their hotel rooms and the arena. But I can’t see the majority of teams agreeing to less teams qualifying to postseason competition either.

Emily M: I can’t see a bubble working, given that these are student-athletes who have academic responsibilities. Even if classes are all virtual in late March and April, I just don’t see the NCAA going that route, especially for a non-revenue sport. I’m not fully sold that this is feasible, but I’d love to see regionals be truly regional in 2021, rather than seeded with the non-seeded teams distributed regionally like usual. It cuts down on air travel, at least. Regionals could then be a series of duals, like the play-ins. It’d be weird, yes! And the nature of the competition would be different, since it’s not seeded. But it would also be interesting and could be very fun. 

Mary Emma: I like the idea that Emily M suggested by making regionals more regional. Instead of going strictly by seeding (i.e. teams ranked 1, 8, 9 and 16) like we have now, you could group the teams into seeding groups (teams 1-4 would be No. 1 seeds, teams 5-8 would be No. 2 seeds etc.), and one team from each group can go to each regional. That would balance it better (so you wouldn’t have the issue of too many top 10 teams at the same regional), and would probably keep teams from having to fly across the entire country for the most part. 

Rebecca: I don’t want to see any conference meets with more than four teams to a session this year to avoid crowding in the arena and the hallways. If that makes your conference numbers weird, I say treat earlier sessions as play-ins for later ones. Imagine a full weekend of Big Ten conference meets, with seeds 7-10 facing off on Friday night, the leader advancing to meet 4-6 on Saturday and the champion of THAT making finals against 1-3 on Sunday. Fun, no?

Also, no more corrals. Since we’re looking at empty or almost empty arenas anyway, teams and non-spotting coaches can go sit in marked-off areas of the stands instead. I also want to eliminate the part where everyone marches out onto the floor and stands in lines together for distancing and because it’s boring and everyone hates it, and I think spitting into your grips should be grounds for immediate team disqualification..

Tara: I agree with Emily M about a bubble potentially being hard to pull off. The NCHC (National Collegiate Hockey Conference) is currently doing a bubble for hockey, but it’s just in December and there are likely limited classes going on for member institutions. If classes are all virtual anyways, it could definitely work, but if people have in-person classes, it could be trickier. Otherwise, a more regional approach would be better than sending teams across the country based on seeding. The new format is already better since there won’t be any meets with more than four teams. For meets with multiple sessions, increasing the time between them to allow for adequate cleaning would be ideal. 

Katie: I agree with Elizabeth in terms of the bubble. Although many classes may be virtual, this may not ring true for the few engineering/science majors. However, I think we could make regionals more of a regional approach and set the perimeters to being a bus ride away rather than flying cross country if needed. This also has the potential of allowing more Big Ten schools to make the top eight rather than the typical SEC-dominated nationals. However, I could also see them eliminating regionals and determining the postseason based off of regular season results. Another option would be to limit the amount of regional qualifying teams. 

The NCGA is a particularly interesting situation with three teams in the NCGA-East having already canceled their seasons. Would you change up the traditional NCGA postseason format because of this? If so, how?

Elizabeth: At the very least, it might make more sense to determine the nationals teams by looking at the overall standings by SAS rather than qualifying at regionals like the teams typically do. Take the top four teams at the end of the regular season and have one session of competition to determine team champion, as well as individuals. Or even still, determine individual national champions this year by looking at those with the highest overall SAS at the end of the regular season.

Emily M: I’m not convinced more DIII seasons won’t be cancelled, but assuming it stays as-is, I think I’d keep the postseason the same. It might mean some east teams that wouldn’t be in the picture will qualify to nationals, but that’s a fun opportunity. Is that completely fair to west teams? Probably not, but nothing in this pandemic is fair.

Mary Emma: I went back and forth on this one, but I think I agree with Emily M here. Just have the format stay the same. It would likely result in a few teams making it that wouldn’t have otherwise, but that’s part of the fun. It’s great experience for those teams and could push them to the next level.

Rebecca: Once upon a time, the NCGA-East was also considered the Division III portion of the ECAC. Since the other two ECAC divisions are in shreds, I say have one combined ECAC championship for all three groups. Also, let Centenary compete at NCGA nationals even though it’s not a member to pad the numbers. Who cares any more?

Tara: Like Emily M, I’m not convinced more DIII seasons won’t be cancelled. If that happens, I could see condensing the east and west into one conference for 2021 or at the very least combining the standings and using that to determine qualifiers. If it remains at the three, I agree with Emily M and Mary Emma that it wouldn’t have to change–it would be a good experience for those who might not otherwise experience nationals. 

Katie: I agree with Emilly M and Tara that it’s very likely more of the DIII seasons will be cancelled. With this being said, I think it may be best to go off of the regular season rankings to determine the top four for the championship or have a bowl-type finish with must-win dual meets before the final. This all depends on how many teams end up competing. 


How would you tweak the USAG teams’ postseason format, if at all? Keep in mind that these teams and USAG in general don’t have nearly the same budget as larger DI programs.

Elizabeth: As much as I hate to say it, I think limiting the number of competition days would be smartest. Maybe even have one single final day. With the Ivy League (four teams), West Chester, Bridgeport and Seattle Pacific (discontinued) already not competing in 2021, we’re already down seven of last year’s 13 eligible teams anyway. Send the top four teams to nationals, plus any remaining top individuals and determine all the titles in one competition.

Emily M: I agree with Elizabeth. USAG nationals is a long meet. One interesting wrinkle: We suspect that some teams choose not to compete at USAGs, but are eligible by scholarship count. We also suspect that scholarship math is especially odd this year. It’s possible some teams we haven’t seen before will opt into USAGs, although committing to nationals itself is a financial burden. 

Mary Emma: Like with NCGA nationals, I think I would still keep it the same. It would definitely result in teams making it that wouldn’t have otherwise, but like I said above, it would be great experience for them. I do get that it would be more realistic and budget friendly to limit the number of teams, but a selfish part of me wants to see a team, like Centenary, get to compete against its DI counterparts.

Rebecca: Because of the very lax individual qualification rules, usually anyone halfway competent ends up at USAG nationals anyway, so I’m not too worried about this. A single day of team competition might be the best plan, though I insist on event finals because it’s the absolute best day of the season.

Tara: It pains me to say this, but eliminating event finals would be smart. I love event finals, but deciding them based on prelims like the NCAA does now would shorten the event at least for this year. I think I would keep the team competition the same and have two qualifying sessions with a team final after that, but I could also picture having a single day with less qualifiers like Elizabeth mentioned. 

Katie: I think the best way to change the postseason format would be to limit the number of teams competing. I think it becomes more competitive if they do one day of team competition with the top four and stick with event finals the following day. 

Should individual national titles be awarded at all if the postseason format is modified to include less teams or has to be competed under different circumstances?

Elizabeth: If something happens where there can’t be a “normal” regionals qualification process or less teams make nationals, I think so. It just wouldn’t be fair if the full scope isn’t able to vye for the title. However, I can also see the NCAA awarding titles no matter—fans will just put asterisks next to them in the record books. Honestly, I kind of prefer the national champion to be named by looking at overall season NQS since that is a better judge of consistent excellence rather than who hits a great routine on the day.

Emily M: Yes, award the titles! It’s going to be a wonky season no matter what. Look at how many football games have been canceled or the number of players that have opted out. And that’s football—outdoor, cash cow football. An indoor non-revenue sport? Prepare for chaos and lack of institutional drive to make the season go smoothly. Every national title winner in every NCAA sport will have an asterisk for the 2020-21 season. (Yeah, even football. Say Ohio State takes it. People will talk about how the Big Ten season started late. It’s every sport. And an asterisk isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It simply indicates a change to the norm.) Why not have some out-of-left-field winners if it comes to that? It could be a lot of fun. 

Mary Emma: The NCAA should still award titles exactly the same way as it always has. Yes, there will always be an asterisk next to the 2021 season, but lots of sports have done the same thing. As Emily said, there’s still going to be an NCAA football champion, even though it won’t be a complete season like we’re used to. The 1980 and 1984 Olympics were each boycotted by several prominent countries, but everyone was still awarded medals like they would have if every country competed.

Rebecca: Of course, but there should be a plan for keeping individual qualifiers away from the other competitors because they add so many different routes of exposure compared to a team that pretty much shares germs every day. The “we’re adopting you into our team for the day, we’ll cheer for you and share our stick item with you, how cute, right??” model is not a good plan for a pandemic.

Tara: This is an easy yes for me. An individual title shouldn’t mean any less just because the format got modified. It’s not stopping anyone else from awarding titles. 2021 might always have an asterisk next to it, but titles should still be awarded. If it really comes down to it and gets whacky, I would award them by NQS like Elizabeth said. (honestly, maybe this should have been done in 2020, too.)

Katie: I agree with all of the above when it comes to event titles. Event titles give gymnasts, who may not be on a NCAA national championship caliber team, the opportunity to become a national champion. These athletes deserve recognition for their talents and performances. I think an asterisk would be fine next to the title, but an individual title should most definitely be rewarded.

READ THIS NEXT: CGN Roundtable: On Our Preseason Poll

Article by Elizabeth Grimsley, Emily Minehart, Mary Emma Burton, Rebecca Scally, Tara Graeve and Katie Walsh

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