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NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Update From Coach Mike Burns

Posted on 09 September 2015 by admin

The start of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics season is almost four months away.  What a great prelude to an Olympic year it will be!  Many current NCAA gymnasts will end up earning invites to the Olympic Trials.  With so much on the line, a college season during an Olympic year is especially exciting.  With so much going on in 2016 — Winter Cup, NCAAs, JO Nationals, P&Gs and Olympic Trials — all happening in a condensed season, there will be no shortage of opportunities to remind people why men’s gymnastics is always a prime-time televised Olympic sport.

University of Minnesota Head Coach Mike Burns has submitted the following update on the status of NCAA Men’s Gymnastics.  He has made us all aware of the top mandate for gym fans… We need to fill up St. John Arena April 14-16.  Ohio State will be hosting the 2016 NCAA Championships, and will be a logistically desirable location to draw large numbers of fans from all over the midwest and beyond.  We’ve received our marching orders… Let’s Fill Up St. John!


By Mike Burns

After returning from the P&G Championships, I spoke to a fan of men’s collegiate gymnastics who had heard talk in the stands of the future of Men’s NCAA Gymnastics. The discussion centered on the length of time before NCAA Men’s Gymnastics no longer existed. That’s a statement some may think has some potential to come true in the not so distant future. I think we all need to be very careful how we frame our conversations. Sports psychologist and former gymnast and coach Jason Selk told me once – “that which you focus on expands.” Think positive thoughts and more positive things can occur. Think negative thoughts and more negative things can occur. Choose wisely in the ongoing discussions about the future of NCAA Men’s Gymnastics. My former boss Kurt Golder at Michigan always says “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” So let’s try and focus on finding solutions rather than focusing on all the reasons some think we are doomed.

The possible elimination of Men’s NCAA Gymnastics is indeed a negative thing and the trend over the years of dropping programs has gotten us to our current situation with 16 programs in the NCAA. Some may look at us as too small to survive. I say we are too valuable to go extinct.

On the second day of the Men’s Competition at the 2015 P&G Championships, there were 39 gymnasts competing. Here’s a quick breakdown of those 39 gymnasts:

  • 16 are alumni of an NCAA Program
  • 15 are current members of an NCAA Program
  • 4 are starting their NCAA careers this fall
  • 3 are non-NCAA gymnasts
  • 1 is a Junior in High School

89.7% of all the male gymnasts on Day 2 of P&G’s are current, former, or soon-to-be NCAA student-athletes. Those 31 former and current NCAA have competed in a combined 84 NCAA Team Finals. These guys know what it means to compete for a team in a high pressure situation. Pretty valuable experience for those who go on to compete for Team USA in a World or Olympic Team Finals.

As the NCAA morphs into its new “Power 5 Conference” domination of re-writing the rules of college athletics, it becomes essential that those of us who value the collegiate gymnastics experience help it to survive. With 16 programs still in existence we are teetering on the precipice of possible extinction. We have been teetering here for a while – close to 20 years now – and we are still here. Yes we have seen the demise of many a great program – UCLA, Iowa State, Oregon, Cal-State Fullerton, and Southern Connecticut to name just a few. We lost Temple just a year ago. Some may forecast cloudy skies with 100% chance of continued bleakness for years to come. Others prefer to focus on the excellence that still exists within the remaining 16 programs.

NCAA Men’s Gymnastics is an exciting sport. The quality of the athletes and the level of competition at the NCAA Team Finals every year is off the charts. The focus on the team is unique and it definitely is more about the name on the front of the jersey than the one on the back. The meet embodies what competing with your teammates for a common goal is all about. Many Olympians claim their experience in the NCAA Team Finals is what made competing in the Olympic Team Finals a little bit easier – “We’ve already been through the pressure cooker for our college teams.”

Back to survival – if we want our sport to survive we can all help. Here’s how – attend the Team Finals of the 2016 NCAA Championships at Ohio State on April 15, 2016. If you’re an alumni of an NCAA program this is your chance to help us survive. Buy a ticket, go to the meet – it’s really that simple. Some alumni have told me they stay away because the scoring system is too confusing, or the meets are too loud (back in the old days it was quiet during routines – sorry, those days are gone), or I can’t follow the meet because there is too much going on at once. All valid concerns that need to be eliminated from the excuse bucket for not helping our sport survive. Here’s a quick tutorial on scoring – a 14.5 is higher than a 14.0. If a team scores more 14.5’s than 14.0’s they will beat a team that scores more 14.0’s than 14.5’s.  Many would like to see the NCAA go back to a 10.0 system. I can’t change that right now and I feel like it might work against us in the long run (more on that later). But if you’re there to support your favorite team, then help us out and be in attendance.

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We have a directive from some important folks at the NCAA – filling the arena for the NCAA Championships is the highest priority right now to help our Championships. When I hear this, I know a packed house in 2016 at Ohio State is our number 1 priority. But we need the help of the gymnastics community – alumni from as many programs as we can get (even from programs that no longer exist), junior gymnasts and their parents from the USAG Region 5 Championships, which are being held the same weekend at Ohio State University, students from Ohio State and surrounding schools, other gymnastics fans from Columbus and the whole state of Ohio. We need your help. We need you to attend – plain and simple. This is something we can do.

Not only does the future of the Men’s NCAA Program depend on this but long term the future of the entire Men’s Program depends on it too. The USOC realizes it can’t fund the developmental pipeline that the NCAA programs provide to the Olympic movement. The NCAA programs pump the lifeblood of the US National Team program. Not to take anything away from those who chose the non-NCAA route over the NCAA route – they are incredible athletes and are some of our most impressive gymnasts on the floor- but without the 35 gymnasts on the floor of the P&G Championships with NCAA roots, would they have this much competition to contend with?

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The USAG Junior Program created them with amazing coaches working long and hard to develop them alongside their club teammates who may not be Olympic-bound but certainly may be NCAA-bound. That team dynamic at the junior level is part of the motivation many young gymnasts latch onto – “I might not be able to make the Olympic team but I know I’ll be a darn good teammate on a college team.” Lose that motivation and maybe the young Sam Mikulak or the young John Orozco loses their interest at age 13. The potential pitfalls could be devastating.

Part of the solution right now is pretty simple – be part of the largest crowd to attend an NCAA Championships since the early 80’s when Nebraska had over 25,000 fans attend the Championships they hosted. I had the good fortune to compete in the 1980 NCAA Event Finals in front of a packed house at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Huge crowd, great experience!! We need that again and I believe we can do it with your help.

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14 Comments For This Post

  1. Dave J. Says:

    I can never forget the feeling in the tunnel just prior to an NCAA team championship. Hearing the teams chant for their schools, seeing the look in the eyes of guys for whom this is the ultimate experience in their lives! For my money, there is no greater event in gymnastics than this. Worlds, Olympics, World Cups or whatever, they all pale in comparison. The pride in team is so evident that it leaves you wondering how this element is missing even at the Olympic Games. Yes, the sport is in trouble at this level, but we have evolved for decades to the changing environment of collegiate athletics. More club programs should consider hosting a college club team for schools that do not have varsity teams. More of us who just love the sport need to attend meets, particularly post-season meets. Most important of all, we need to make it relevant again, and for that we all have social media options for promoting the sport. Every mention is another chance for the public to see how great this sport is.

  2. Ed Burch Says:

    All head coaches of the Mens NCAA program need to assign a market representivie to promote the mens Official competitive season. Saturate their schools with any and all information relating to each and every competition in their respective schools. All Market representative should stay in touch with all of the NCAA programs for input and ideas as to promoting and providing exposure to all students attending their schools. “Gymnastics 101” How to watch a gymnastics meet and what to look for.. Breakdown the scoring system for the average Joe so they understand what to look for. How does the scoring system work and what determines a winner and or a good routine. What happens when one misses a routine. Show examples at each meet as to what to look for and what happens if a gymnast gets a low score. Get a announcer that can stimulate the audience and kept them in tune as to what is happening. Stimulate the audience while warmups are going on with basic information about then athletes and their background etc. Be creative at your meets with the audience. Keep them excited….Lots to do with our great sport…its not about just coaching gymnast but about keeping your support groups stimulated to watch all of your meets…..

  3. Cordelia Price Says:

    This entire posting is about the scoring system and how to make communicating the scores relevant to an average fan and is just a suggestion: At the meet communicate the Actual score, Maximum score, Execution score so instead of reporting 6.5 D, 8.8 E 15.3 total, communicate Actual score 15.3, Max score 16.5, E score 8.8. My reasoning follows: I sit next to a lot of fans at gymnastics meets where the open scoring system is used. What I hear from them is a desire to be able to put a score in perspective. They clearly understand that 14.5 is better than 14.0 but what they don’t know is whether 14.5 is even a good score. When there was the 10.0 system they did not understand the details of the scoring system but they knew 10 was the maximum score and could easily tell what a good score was. I have had countless numbers of fans ask me what’s the maximum that can be scored. They don’t want to hear the details, that the score is made up of difficulty and execution with neutral penalties and stick bonuses. Their eyes glaze over. Of course I think it is pretty easy to understand but fans who are math averse don’t like it. They just want to know the maximum score that can be scored. Did I say I get asked that all the time? I would suggest that commentators comment on the maximum score the particular gymnast has competed in the past. E.g. if a gymnast usually competes a 6.5 HB then their maximum potential score historically is 16.5 and their average they have scored in the past is 15.3. That puts the score the gymnast gets at this meet in perspective. Although scoring varies from meet to meet because of the nature of a judged sport and gymnasts can compete different difficulty routines from meet to meet, it’s good enough for putting expectations in perspective for the fan. For other sports when we watch we get all kinds of stats on each player to help us know who the best players are and to put how they play on that particular day in perspective. Also, put a focus on the execution score and highlight how close to 10 a gymnast gets. So in summary, at the meet communicate the Max Score, Actual score, Execution score so instead of reporting 6.5 D, 8.8 E 15.3 total, communicate actual score 15.3, max score 16.5, E score 8.8. The fan can see the gymnast scored 15.3 out of a max 16.5 and executed 8.8 out of 10. One more comment. Although the open ended scoring system has been around for years now, I still run into fans who have no idea it has changed until they’re sitting next to me at a meet and are surprised when I tell them it’s not new. I ask them did they watch the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. They say yes but do not remember that the scoring system was not out of 10.0 at those Olympics.

  4. admin Says:

    Cordelia, great comments about the scoring! I’m a huge stats fanatic, & quite frankly, I almost get more out of a meet following live scoring than I do actually watching the action. Live scoring is an essential ingredient for making the sport more exciting. As you explain, a little schooling for the more casual fan goes a long way. The open-ended scoring system isn’t tough to understand. In fact, it explains a lot more than the old system. The ultimate for me is seeing a gymnast’s scoring average on every event. Thanks… Ron

  5. Mike Burns Says:

    Thanks for the great comments – I hope we get many more. Stimulating dialogue will go a long way to providing new ideas. Ed Burch – I love your idea about a great announcer. We have one of the best, if not the best, announcer. He gets the crowd engaged but your comments and Cordelia’s are giving me great ideas to change our script and get a more educational aspect of the scoring to the crowd. Ed, in our meet program I have a break down of the scoring system that I think is pretty clear. Cordelia, you’re right, as soon as you start explaining the system people’s eyes roll back in their skulls. Thanks for the new approach to giving meaning to a 15.3 score.
    Dave Juszczyk, great memories from your days on the Stanford staff and great comments about the thrill of NCAA Team Competition.
    As I mentioned in my article, our survival is our responsibility. Thanks for sharing great ideas. Mike


    Mike: If possible, I would love to be able to read and digest the things you mention – scoring system explanation and anything else you believe would make our great sport more understandable.

    I don’t do much actual announcing any more, but am constantly asked to speak at gymnastic events. Perhaps the things you mention will make my appearances more meaningful. Any suggestions will be helpful. Gordon

  7. Shelli Koszdin Says:

    I like hearing about the past performances of the gymnasts.
    Too much competition announcing might be distracting to the gymnasts. Why not use the one hour warm up time before to at least try to explain the basics of the code? People could demonstrate some simple skills or element groups during warm ups. Just a tiny bit of knowledge can make a big difference.

  8. Tam B Says:

    Last September, in honor of my son’s (a level 8 -Region 5 gymnast in 2014-2015 season)BarMitzvah, we created a scholarship fund for NCAA Men’s Gymnastics. He raised $620 & donated $380 of his gift money to give a $1000 scholarship to an NCAA team and it was earmarked for the University of Illinois to get the 1st one. Because of NCAA rules, the gift had to be given to the University and a request was made that it would be given to the Men’s gymnastics program. Unfortunately, it went to the general fund, and never given to the program. We raised another $1000 this year, but we do not want the same thing to happen to another school. We intend to cintinue this tradition, but only if it assists the programs it was started for. Any suggestions? We have only missed 2 NCAA championships in the past 7 years and we already have our hotel reservations, so you can count on us. We will see you at Windy City. Please let us know what else we can do!!! Men’s Gymnastics is the best!

  9. Ron Says:

    Tam – Very unfortunate that the fruits of your fundraising efforts went straight to the general fund black hole. That should never happen. Hope somebody else will address this, because I don’t know all the rules. Somebody will figure this out for you! Ron

  10. Mike Burns Says:

    Tam – because the University of Illinois has its full complement of NCAA allowed scholarships (6.3), additional money given to Illinois would have put them over the limit. My guess is Justin Spring has several named endowed scholarship funds that are either fully or partially endowed. The money you and your son raised could go into one of the partially endowed scholarship funds and then it would help the men’s gymnastics programs at Illinois directly.

    This is a great effort you and your son took on and one that needs a better ending next time around. The gymnastics community is a passionate one and your story illustrates how much love for our sport there is out there. It also sheds light on the need for increased opportunities in collegiate gymnastics for gymnasts like your son. When he graduates from high school will he have a place to compete in college?

    Growth in our sport is necessary. We have several initiatives currently underway to try and bring back programs that have been dropped. This is a monumental effort and one that will take lots of effort from lots of people. People with influence and eventually people with money will be essential pieces of the puzzle.

    I would be more than willing to speak through email if you care to discuss some ideas on this topic:

  11. Fred Turoff Says:

    Tam, there are schools that have to fund-raise to provide their athletes with a fine collegiate varsity experience – Springfield, William & Mary and Illinois-Chicago come to mind. In addition, there are collegiate club teams that fund-raise to survive and compete against varsity college teams – mine at Temple, Arizona State, Washington, So Cal United. Certainly my Save Temple University Men’s Gymnastics endowment would appreciate any donation, as would the others I mention. Thanks for your efforts to help men’s collegiate gymnastics.

  12. Nick Bock Says:

    I think the way the scoring is done at JO, and NCAA, and U.S. Winter Cup/ P&Gs should match, get rid of all the special bonus rules, stick bonus, etc. just match it with FIG. The only difference between junior and senior is 8 skills vs 10, and that may even change next year. I’m a parent in the gymnastics world and the only thing that makes sense to me is FIG scoring. You have to be an attorney to read through all the special bonus rules.
    Separately, bring back Event Finals at JO, and P&Gs/ WinterCup, make the meets like all other international meets. Also it is a better showcasing of talent and makes for better viewing.
    Possibly combine NCAA finals with JO?!

  13. Mike Burns Says:

    Hmmm, I like the idea of combining meets that make sense to combine. The NCAA/JO Nationals idea makes a lot of sense. We’d have to be sure there aren’t any NCAA Compliance issues that might arise but I think that would be cool.
    We are looking into a combined NCAA/NAIGC Nationals and someone on this page suggested a M&W NCAA Championships.
    All good ideas that could be investigated.

  14. Shelli Koszdin Says:

    I second Nick Bocks suggestion that the scoring at J.O.s, NCAA, and USAG should match.

    Not sure how I feel about requiring a D dismount for full credit in NCAA. I’d need more information about the difference that would make.

    I would do away with the stick bonus in NCAA. At least make it clear on the scoresheet if someone it.

    I’d go even further and tighten up the execution judging so it’s more in love with line with international scoring. The NCAA could be an even bigger goldmine of data than it already is for people looking to select World and Olympic teams.

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