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Major Rule Changes Will Shake Up College Gymnastics Scoring...Maybe

“Stick the landing” once again means you must truly stick the landing.

<p zoompage-fontsize="15" style="">2023 NCAA Division I Women’s Gymnastics Championships

Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

We have lamented here before how the rise of viral culture and spectacle has come to overshadow college gymnastics. No one seriously denies that Katelyn Ohashi’s 10.0 routine at UCLA several years ago wasn’t a lot of fun, or that LSU’s corps of Instagram models don’t sell charisma — both are undoubtedly true. But virality and charisma have come to dominate scoring at the expense of technical merit. And teams with more powerful athletes have long-been punished for the emphasis of aesthetics over technique. Indeed, ESPN is even hyping the social media sensations.

Outside of sloppy floor routines, nowhere have we come to see this play out quite as it does with the “college stick.” This little bit of chicanery (and I’m not naming any names here, Baton Rouge) relies on difficult vault and beam routines performed by charming athletes who sell the act, despite little hops after their feet barely hitting the mat.

But, the pendulum was bound to swing eventually, and oh, has it. This year the “college stick” has been eliminated, in favor of...well...sticking the landing:

The finish position is specifically defined as having your legs straight and your hands up (like if the police just caught you trying to steal a tenth) and must be shown facing the same direction that you landed.

All other deductions that already existed still apply, but now after you’re done with all the various stepping or sticking that came with your landing, you have to freeze in an extended position for 1 second, otherwise you lose .05.

The finish position is a thing now because of a desire to curb the epidemic of 10s being given out for “college sticks.”

A college stick is a situation in which a college gymnast—full of the newfound adult freedom of getting away with things—will realize that there is zero chance in any timeline that she’ll be able to hold her landing under control for a real stick. So instead, she just pretends that she stuck and then got so bored of her obvious stick that she had to step out of it. She’ll land, leaning, and then immediately slide-step and turn toward the judges to salute them, while at the same time celebrating and running far away from that definitely real stick that happened. Even though at no point was actual landing control shown.

College judges will then say, “Yes, I will go on this character journey with you and score this a 10.”

On this compilation of great “sticks” you can see Suni Lee and Maggie Nichols getting away with a landing that is less than under control (and the link below has some great embedded gifs of the college stick).

The elimination of the college stick isn’t the only major change.

Indeed, medium hops are now penalized far more harshly, as have squats on the landings. Keeping one’s legs horizontal with the floor — long one of Alabama’s issues with their power athletes — was previously a deduction.

However, that is no longer penalized. Only after the thighs break that plane and go into a decided squat position...and the more pronounced the squat, the more the penalty.

Will this solve all of Gym’s problems? Of course not. We’ve still yet to correct the overscoring issue of exemplary floor dancing punctuated by sloppy tumbling. But at least we have corrected one major injustice where these most technically demanding of routines — ones athletes are overperforming in their dismounts and vaults with the knowledge that they can “sell” the stick — will now be scored as they should have.

Did the NCAA stick the landing here overall?

Ironically, it’s at least a college stick. The rule is in place now, but rules have always been in place. Having them scored uniformly, with an unsteady panel of judges being unmoved by audience sympathies? That’s a far less certain matter.

Poll

Are you in favor of eliminating the college stick?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Absolutely. It was being abused.
    (136 votes)
  • 5%
    No. This is college gymnastics, not the Olympics.
    (8 votes)
  • 8%
    Undecided
    (14 votes)
158 votes total Vote Now