Illinois Head Coach Justin Spring has waited a long time for his March 8 meet against Mike Burns' Minnesota Golden Gophers. For many months, he and assistant coach Daniel Ribeiro have created a new competition format which will feature five mini-duals on each apparatus. One guy from Illinois, followed by one from Minnesota. Or vice versa. After both routines are judged the usual way, a flag — orange for Illinois, gold for Minnesota — will be raised to declare the winner.
"Our announcer [will say], 'Point Minnesota' or 'Point Illinois,'" Spring says. "And, you know, the audience gets it."
The format, which was common decades ago, was designed to inject some strategy and excitement into men's NCAA gymnastics meets, many of which are not very competitive. If Team A averages 10 points lower than Team B, it's virtually impossible for Team A to win. So what's the point?
"When I competed, we always did one event at a time, with alternating performers on that event," says Burns, who competed for Penn State. "If I was up fourth on pommel horse, I knew my job was to beat the fourth guy on their team. It was clear what your job was."
The current men's NCAA format features teams competing at the same time, but on separate events. So there really isn't much interaction between the two.
To avoid a marathon meet, Spring has streamlined the judging process. The judging panel will comprise two E-judges and two D-judges. Both E-judges will judge every routine. The two D-judges will alternate in determining the difficulty value, which is not subjective. The idle D-judge will tabulate the final score by adding the E- and D-numbers. After every two routines, a flag will be raised to signify the winner. Spring and Burns have the ability to challenge a result by throwing a red bean bag flag.
The meet will begin with a coin toss, and after that, the team that's trailing always goes second. Since there is no set line-up, both coaches can compete anyone at any time.
"There's an opportunity here for an underdog team to win, and I think sports need to have that," Spring says.
If the teams are tied at the end, a winner will be decided by a "flip off." Five gymnasts from each team will try to stick standing back tucks. If still tied, they will go to standing back pikes, then standing fulls.
The Big 10 Network will air the meet on Monday at 8 p.m.
"They love it," Spring says. "They're like, 'This is a story we can tell. This is a sporting event.'"
Spring hasn't completely sold the idea, which is also part of his master's presentation, to fellow coaches. But he understands that it could take time.
"If we can get people on board, then we can talk about the perfect format," he says. "So this is just the head-to-head match-play idea. How do we make this even better, or is everyone going to scoff at this, and [it's] just been a fun little ride and then it's over. I don't know."
Regardless, Spring says his team is looking forward to it.
"They're ready," he says. "They know what's coming."
And Spring? "I'm nervous and excited."
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