Last Saturday, the University of Utah hosted a quad meet in a way that’s never been done before. Rather than having all four apparatus going simultaneously, the routines were performed one at a time. To many fans (myself included), it was like a light bulb suddenly flashed and things made sense. Yeah, let’s have routines one at a time so we can actually watch them instead of looking like tennis fan bobbleheads. People I talked to and gym bloggers almost unanimously voiced support and approval of this new format.
Rarely are such fundamental changes met with such support, yet this one seems to have gained some traction. One person who was not a fan of the new format, however, was coach Greg Marsden. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Marsden said, “Now it’s up to TV to do this next if they want to, but we aren’t going to do it again.” His justification is that the meet went longer than usual, though not as much as you might think. The entire meet only went about 25 minutes longer than usual, a small sacrifice to dedicated gym fans. Marsden has notoriously tried to widen the fan base of college gymnastics, but it seems like making these meets longer is not the way to do it. The irony here is that the new format makes it a lot more TV friendly, a hurdle that gymnastics has been fighting against for years.
Should quad meets continue in this format to make TV viewing easier by making meets last longer, or should meets carry on the tradition of all apparatus competing at the same time, filling a 2-hour time slot, but making TV broadcasts more difficult? Here are the pros and cons of the new format:
- You get to watch every single routine. Not just a dismount here, a skill there, your team here, a fall there, a gasp to your right, and a cheer to your left. Every single routine. If the quad meet last Saturday had been run as usual I would have missed out on a lot of fun, exciting, quality routines I wouldn’t have paid attention to otherwise (I’m looking at you, West Virginia).
- It’s only 20-30 minutes longer. If you’re going to a meet to see your team compete, what’s another 30 minutes of gymnastics? You’ve paid the money; might as well see the whole show.
- It’s good for fans and athletes. These gymnasts have trained their entire lives to be the athletes they are today. Rather than simply competing at a big venue they will actually have the chance to perform for the audience, not just in the same building as it. Fans will similarly be exposed to new talent, routines, skills and teams that may not get the kind of coverage that is typical of the perennial powers.
- No more waiting around for judges and start values. With one apparatus at a time, judges and coaches know they have 3 routines before they’re up again and that gives everyone time to sort out issues with judging, start values and bonus connections being rewarded. Knowing there will be a three-routine wait alleviates all but the most complex scoring situations.
- Meets are longer. 30 minutes longer. People with small kids, plans afterwards, or anything less than a diehard interest in gymnastics will hate sitting for 30 more minutes, especially when they know it used to take only 2 hours. If the goal of the sport is to broaden appeal and strengthen the fan base, making meets last longer will not help the cause.
- Athletes can get cold. You’re warming up for your floor routine that opens with a huge double layout. If you’re the anchor for your team you’re waiting on about 20 other routines that go ahead of you. That’s at least 20 minutes of waiting and that’s a lot of time to cool down. This format could lead to more injuries if gymnasts are waiting so long to compete after warming up.
- Meets feel flat. Although four teams are competing and the competition can be fierce, fans have to wait through three routines from other schools before they get to see their team compete again. It was exciting having four teams at this quad meet at Utah, but honestly the energy in the building was a little flat between Utah’s routines.
The Future of the Quad Meet
So what does this mean for the future of the quad meet format? By the sounds of it Greg Marsden won’t be pushing for it any time soon. As a head coach of nearly 40 years he knows what he’s talking about…but why not give it a shot in other places? Although the meet ran longer than usual, I didn’t hear any complaints about it and haven’t read anything online that fans think this new format should go the way of the Korbut Flip. I think other schools that attract big crowds (I’m looking at you, Alabama) should test out this new format and see what their gymnasts, coaches and fans think. At worst it becomes a failed experiment; we tried it, it didn’t work out, we like what we have now, and we move on. At best it gains popularity around the nation, around the world, in all levels of gymnastics and becomes the popular new format at the Olympics (OK, I may have gone a little far on that last point).
The point is, what does it hurt to try? There is an enormous effort from coaches, athletes, conference commissioners and fans like you and me to make the sport more popular and more appreciated. Why not try it out? If it fails, it fails. If it works some places and doesn’t in others, can’t that be seen as a win? What if we fans are in the best position to know what resonates with us and with our friends we bring to the meets and what if we are the driving force behind a fundamental change in gymnastics? Shouldn’t we at least try?
Update from Coach Greg Marsden
Utah head coach Greg Marsden commented with his opinion on the new format. Check it out!
We did this at the request of the Pac-12 Conference office as a possible format for running our Championships live on the Pac-12 Network. From the time we started introductions to announcing final scores at the end, it was 2 hours, 18 minutes, 27 seconds. We did not allow exhibitions and started each rotation on bars, then beam, floor and vault, so that vault could continue their warm-up without slowing down the meet. Other than shortening the introductions, which took about 15 minutes, I don’t see how it could be run any faster. Our staff did a fantastic job of keeping things moving. Our dual meets usually take about 1 hour and 55 minutes. We haven’t run a quad meet in a while, so I couldn’t compare running all events at once but would guess it takes a bit longer than a dual meet because we would be waiting for BB and FX to finish in all four rotations. This format adds 15 to 20 minutes to the length of the meet. Our gymnasts were not negatively affected at all.
The viewers online all seemed to love it. We had a mixed reaction from our fans in the arena. Some loved it and some didn’t. I think it would have helped if all four teams were more competitive and the meet outcome had been closer. Some families with small children left before or during the last rotation. This also happens in other sporting events when the outcome is no longer in doubt. I don’t think quad meets are ideal for the audience to begin with and we always have complaints. All in all, I do think this is a viable option for certain situations, especially in a meet where all the teams are competitive.
What do you think about the format? Tell us in the comments below!
Article by Alex Steele
Photo from Utah Gymnastics