The Popularity Issue in NCAA Men's Gymnastics

I read an article in International Gymnast Magazine this morning suggesting that the NCAA men should switch back to the "10.0" scoring system. The argument was basically that the current open-ended scoring is doing us no favors. It was stating that Oklahoma is simply crushing teams and switching back to the 10.0 format would give others a chance, therefore making things more interesting and increasing attendance at meets.

First off, I do agree that a 10.0 scale would be simpler for casual fans to understand. I think it would get a handful of people more interested, but ultimately it wouldn't be enough to move the needle a significant amount.

The problem is deeper than the scoring format. I'm willing to bet that changing back to 10.0 wouldn't increase attendance at my old home venue, Huff Hall (University of Illinois), by a lot. In fact, when the NCAA dropped the 10.0 scale following the 2007 season, attendance at NCAA Championships hovered around the same amount it had in the 90's, some recent years (2013 & 2014) it was even higher:

Attendance at men's NCAA Championships by year (stats courtesy of NCAA.org - http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/stats/gymnastics_champs_records/2016-17/2016men.pdf)

The true problem lies in how society views our sport and how little we as a community have done to change the casual sports fan's view. Other sports have made changes to appeal to fans like wearing more sleek, stylish uniforms or making regular season events mean more (i.e. regular season conference champions). These are some areas where men's gymnastics has fallen behind.

For example: social media accounts of many of the NCAA teams still tweet out "high bars" when referring to the SINGULAR bar used for men's horizontal bar. Are you kidding me? That would be like the New England Patriots' Twitter account calling Tom Brady the "thrower" as opposed to the "quarterback." We want outsiders to understand and watch our sport yet we can't correctly title an event? We think these intricate details like scoring are the reasons for the lack of attendance when in reality the people not attending couldn't care less about how the teams are scored.

USA Olympian John Orozco hit the problem right on the head in an interview with ABC News last year, saying, "In the Bronx, gymnastics isn’t a well-known sport to begin with. With all of these stereotypes and preconceived notions, everyone thinks it’s a girls sport and it’s feminine. And it’s not really what society says the norm is for men."

NCAA men's gymnastics is practically sponsored by preconceived notions. To squash these stereotypes there needs to be even more men's gymnastics content thrown around on the almighty social media that controls everything these days. There needs to be more ways to hook people into our sport and the cool things about it. Maybe one day people will recognize that somebody doing a double-flip with a full-twist over a metal bar and catching said bar is deserving of more attention.

What about fantasy sports? Fantasy football is singlehandedly saving the NFL right now. It might not start off as a big hit for men's gym because of the small fan base, but if done well it's something that could grow, as it did for major sports.

The point of this is to say that we need to search other avenues to grow NCAA men's gym. We need to focus on the obvious problems like calling an event by the wrong name and finding better ways to show off the athletes in our sport. I don't have the answers, I'm only hoping that this gets a couple people thinking about things we can do differently.

SIDE NOTE: While I don't fully agree with the point made in IG Magazine's article, I appreciate any attempt to start a dialogue about men's gymnastics. We need more articles, more exposure and more talk of the reasons why many don't give the time of day to NCAA gymnastics.

Created By
Logan Bradley
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Cover photo by Jess Frankl

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