The NCAA Women’s Gymnastics season will officially start on Friday, January 6th with the #6 LSU at #3 Utah meet at 9:00 p.m. ET being the highlight of the first day. The opening weekend will also have the brand-new “Super 16” meet with top teams competing in four different sessions on Friday and Saturday, January 6-7th. NCAA gymnastics is one of the fastest-growing NCAA sports in terms of popularity. The new Name Image and Likeness (NIL) rules allow Olympic athletes like Suni Lee and Jordan Chiles to compete in the NCAA while still pursuing endorsements, whereas before NIL these athletes likely would not have competed in NCAA. The influx of Olympians raised the profile of NCAA gymnastics, but there are also so many talented non-Olympians competing in the NCAA that make the competitions exciting.
NCAA Gymnastics is slightly different from what you would watch at the Olympics or World Championships, which is elite gymnastics. Elite gymnastics has used an open-ended code of points since 2006. This means that in elite gymnastics, gymnasts can build up their difficulty score without a cap on it, and this difficulty score is added to an execution score for the total score. These execution scores start from 10.0, a relic of the pre-2006 era of elite gymnastics where all routines were scored out of 10.0. NCAA gymnastics holds onto this tradition of all routines being scored out of 10.0, with 10.0 being considered a perfect score.
Technically, NCAA gymnasts have to meet certain requirements in their routines to start from 10.0, but at least at the Division I level, you can assume all routines you see have a maximum score of 10.0. The notable exception is on vault, where the exceptionally popular Yurchenko full vault was downgraded to a 9.95 start value a few years ago, so you will hear lots of discussion of teams wanting to maximize their 10.0 start values on vault. Gymnasts will receive execution deductions that can bring their scores down. Examples of execution deductions include taking uncontrolled steps on a landing, leg separations, and lack of amplitude on skills. Every gymnast aims to minimize these deductions as much as possible in order to score as close to a 10.0 as possible.
Most meets in college gymnastics are dual meets, which means two teams are competing against each other. However, you will also see tri meets and quad meets, and there are even larger meets where teams will be split up into multiple sessions. Every team competes on the four events: vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. On each event, teams will have six gymnasts compete in their lineup, but only the top five scores count. The top five scores on each event are added up for the total score. The top teams in the NCAA will be aiming for a total score of 197, but it will almost certainly take a total score above 198 to win the NCAA Championships.
The top 36 teams in the NCAA qualify for the NCAA Regionals, and this ranking is based on the National Qualifying Score (NQS). The NQS takes the team’s top six scores (with the caveat that at least three of the scores have to be from away meets) and drops the highest score then averages the remaining five scores. This means that in NCAA gymnastics, regular-season wins are not necessarily that important. Instead, teams are focused on scoring as high as they can in order to increase their NQS. The NQS is finalized after the conference championships (which this year will be from March 17-18). In the 2022 season, the team that qualified for the post-season in 36th place had an NQS of 196.215, so teams that want to qualify for the post-season need to be consistently scoring above 196.
The top 36 teams are then split into four Regionals with the top 16 teams being seeded and the remaining teams being sorted by geography. This season, the Regionals will take place from March 29-April 2, and the host schools are UCLA, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma. The first competition at the Regionals is the play-in meet which is between the bottom two teams at each Regional, and the winner advances to the next day. From there, each Regional has two separate meets with four teams each, and the top two teams at each of these meets advance to the Regional Final. Then the top two teams at each Regional Final are the eight teams that advance to the NCAA Championships. These eight teams will be split into two semifinals, with the top two teams in each semifinal advancing to the NCAA Finals. The NCAA Semifinals will take place on April 13 starting at 3 and 9 p.m. ET, and they will be broadcast on ESPN2. Then the NCAA Finals will be broadcast on ABC on April 15 at 4 p.m. ET.
Teams to Watch
The Oklahoma Sooners are the defending NCAA Champions, and they were ranked #1 on the preseason poll. Oklahoma only lost two routines from their NCAA Championships lineup, and they are bringing in two top recruits and former elite gymnasts Faith Torrez and Ava Siegfeldt. The Sooners are known for their consistency and precision. Right behind Oklahoma in the preseason poll and last year’s NCAA Championships are the Florida Gators. The NCAA all-around champion Trinity Thomas decided to come back for a fifth year, and Florida landed two huge transfers from Georgia in Rachel Baumann and Victoria Nguyen. Florida also has the 2017 World all-around champion Morgan Hurd returning from an injury, and 2021 World all-around bronze medalist Kayla DiCello coming in as a freshman. Florida’s roster is stacked with talent, but the problem for them will be keeping everyone healthy and staying consistent.
Utah received the #3 rank in the preseason poll and is also a team stacked with talent including Olympic medalists Grace McCallum and Amelie Morgan. Michigan won the 2021 NCAA Championships, but they missed the 2022 NCAA Finals after counting multiple falls in the Semifinals. Michigan is certainly a contender this year, and their vault lineup in particular is spectacular. Auburn surprised the gymnastics world by taking advantage of Michigan’s mistakes and qualifying for the 2022 NCAA Finals. Olympic champion Suni Lee has announced that this will be her final year with Auburn because she will begin training for the 2024 Olympics, so Auburn will want to make the most out of this year. The teams that rounded out the top ten in the preseason poll are LSU, Alabama, California, Missouri, and UCLA.
Most NCAA gymnastics meets take place on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The website Road to Nationals already has the full schedule posted online, and the website will update with links to streaming and live scores.