Judge's Inquiry

Judge’s Inquiry: What Got Worse and What Got Better With Judging in 2024

From the 10-nessee Collegiate Classic to the 10-less NCAA national championships, we’ve had a roller coaster of a year in judging for 2024, with a lot of opportunities for confusion and discussion. We added a new “finishing” deduction, which only seemed to increase confusion as to who was and wasn’t having the deduction applied. When reflecting back on this year and comparing it to the last one, what  haschanged? Rather than basing this purely on opinion, I decided to look at some data about scoring throughout the season and compare it to 2023 and 2022. 

Percentage of 9.9-Plus Scores by Week

The first question I had was about the number of high scores throughout the season. Theoretically, scores should improve over the course of a season, as gymnasts become more experienced, lineup strategies solidify, and athletes settle into their competitive rhythms. This should be especially true in the postseason, where we are only seeing the top programs and athletes competing for regional and national championships. I created a chart that shows the percentage of scores of 9.9 or above by week over the course of the season (2024 had an extra week compared to 2023, which is why you see the break in the 2023 and 2022 lines). 

Generally, each year the number of 9.9-plus scores do increase and build over the course of the season. While I would definitely agree that not all of these routines deserve to be a 9.9 or higher, it’s encouraging to see this trend over the course of the season and to know the judges are appropriately increasing scores with an increase in quality. 

Percentage of 10s by Week

Next I looked at the number of “perfect 10s” we saw over the last three years by week. This should also follow the same general trend as the graph above, with the number of perfect scores building as the season progresses. The graph below shows the percentages of routines that scored a 10.0 by week for the last three years.

This trend is much more variable but still generally trends up throughout the year with one exception: the postseason. In 2022, the number of 10s in the postseason was relatively similar to the number throughout the rest of the year. In 2023 (the red line), we saw a dramatic increase in the number of 10s at regionals and nationals as a percentage of total routines. This trend actually makes sense since there were fewer routines and almost all (if not all) the gymnasts who had gotten 10s throughout the season were competing. However, this season (the yellow line), we saw a slight increase in 10s throughout the year but without any 10s at nationals. By design, nationals should be where most athletes do their best gymnastics. Although we saw a big increase in 9.9-plus scores, none of these scores were 10s.

So why did the judges’ behavior change for the 2024 postseason? Maybe there is some hope for more accurate judging in the future since these postseason judges showed they’re capable of taking deductions, even on really great routines. At nationals, there is a six judge panel that is picked (allegedly) from the most experienced NCAA judges. Since there are six judges and the high and low scores are dropped, I think on some level judges are less worried about being “harsh” or “too low” with their scores since they know if the score really is inappropriate, it will be dropped. In contrast during the regular season, all scores count from each judge. With such small margins between schools and ranked teams, the pressure is even greater not to unnecessarily penalize an athlete by being overly judicious in scoring. My takeaway from this data is that having a four or six judge panel can improve consistency and accuracy in scoring, and I would love to see more multi-team competitions to financially make this possible with the number of judges available.

Quality of 10s by Week

Finally, I wanted to look at the quality of the routines that were receiving a 10.0 since I started rating 10.0 routines in 2023. The graph below shows the average star rating received (on a scale of one to five) per week for the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

Interestingly, the quality of the 10.0s is almost U-shaped, with the higher quality 10s generally received at the beginning of the season and during conference championships. Maybe judges expect scores to be lower than the beginning of the season, so they are more likely to deduct for small errors they might not deduct for in the postseason. 

The outlier in 2024 is in week three, in which we saw four gymnasts from the same competition (Tennessee Collegiate Classic) receive 10s that were of lower quality. If we exclude the 10s from that competition, the average quality rating for week three is a 4.0, which is the same as the previous two weeks. 

If we look at midseason trends, the quality of the 10.0s decreases while the number of 10s increases. This also makes sense if you consider there are more competitions, therefore more judges working, and a greater variability in expertise and experience level, resulting in poorer quality. 

So what does this all mean for judging quality in gymnastics? And how has it changed since last year? In my opinion, the postseason judging improved compared to last year, both by the numbers and anecdotally from watching the competitions. With the exception of the Tennessee Collegiate Classic, scores and judging really didn’t change much between 2023 and 2024. I honestly don’t expect to see any improvement in judging quality until the NAWGJ and the NCAA decide to make changes in how judges are assigned, compensated, and evaluated. Unfortunately, there is a lot of debate as to the best and most feasible way to do this. Until those changes are made, I think we will continue to enjoy these record-high scores as the top teams continue to push the upper limits of scoring. Once the proverbial genie is out of the bottle, it’s hard to put it back and reverse this trend. The rest of the teams, especially the postseason bubble-teams, will continue fighting for a postseason spot that may have more to do with the judges they are assigned than the athletes they recruit.

READ THIS NEXT: Judge’s Inquiry: Breaking Down Every Perfect 10 From Regionals

Article by Rhiannon Franck

Rhiannon Franck is a former national-rated NAWGJ women’s gymnastics judge with over 15 years of USAG judging experience and nine seasons judging NCAA gymnastics. Outside of gymnastics, Franck works at a university as a nursing professor and loves to travel.

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