Friday night will be a first for college gymnastics.
Minnesota and Illinois will experiment with a new competition format and scoring system in hopes of making the meet easier for fans to follow.
Both teams will compete head-to-head on the same event at the same time, but there’s a twist — the teams choose the order their athletes compete in spontaneously.
Both teams will field a gymnast, and whoever scores higher earns the team a point. Whichever team wins the head-to-head matchup in an event competes first in the next matchup on that event.
There are 30 routines among the six events, meaning there will be 30 head-to-head matchups.
The second team has the advantage of watching the first gymnast perform and can gauge how good its own gymnast needs to perform to score higher. The second team has 30 seconds to pick its gymnast.
But it’s all an experiment, so regular scoring will still be used to determine the winner of each event and the meet.
Gophers men’s coach Mike Burns said the current meet format results in a disconnection in the competition.
“It’s kind of like two different meets going on,” he said.
Burns said last Saturday after a 12-point win over Iowa that he didn’t even know how the Hawkeyes’ night went.
From a fan’s standpoint, scoring in college gymnastics can be confusing. Burns said many fans can distinguish better routines by watching the meet but cannot predict the score because they don’t know the routines’ starting values.
The Gophers have known about this experiment since last fall, and they simulated the meet during a practice in December to get a feel for the strategy.
Burns said the teams and judges talked last week about how the meet will unfold. If it goes well, the experiment may lead the College Gymnastics Association to change the scoring system someday, said Burns, who is president of the association.
The head-to-head competition system will force the coaches to use more strategy.
“We’ve got to do a little more research on our competition,” he said.
Burns and Illini coach Justin Spring won’t know how the other team’s gymnast scores when deciding which gymnast to put against him.
The format will force gymnasts to be ready to compete at any moment.
Gophers sophomore Steve Jaciuk said the system will be more competitive.
“I’m almost more excited for this coming meet than [the Big Ten championships],” he said. “It’s a lot more simplistic than what the scoring system is now.”
Sophomore Sean Bauer said the experiment might create some nerves.
“You’ve just got to be ready to go up and hit your set no matter what time it is,” he said.
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