Reversal of Fortune
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Last year at their annual coaches’ meeting, held in conjunction with the J.O. National Championships, the leaders of women’s college gymnastics voted to reduce the number of teams in NCAA finals to four, omitting the byes and hopefully soliciting live TV coverage for their sport’s National Championship. The vote passed after three days of heated discussion, with only one hold out, Florida coach Rhonda Faehn. The non-binding result was later formally adopted by the women’s NCAA Rules Committee and enacted by the NCAA. The reduction is set to start effective with the 2011 season. In short, the Super Six is history. Or is it?
This past week in Dallas, at the 2010 J.O.s, the coaches, again in a near unanimous vote, elected to overturn their previous decision and retain the Super Six.
The move came following a proposal by the SEC conference, which officially changed their position on the reduction prior to last year’s NCAA meetings, but was brought home when coaches were informed that, not only did CBS, collegiate gymnastics’ current broadcast outlet, have no immediate interest in carrying the team finals live, but they currently aren’t scheduled to air them at all. In fact, no network is.
Women’s gymnastics, along with several other NCAA Championships, were previously part of a multi-sport CBS TV contract that included men’s basketball. The NCAA opted out of the CBS deal following this year’s March Madness tourney (three years earlier than originally planned) and sold basketball solo this past April in an $11 billion dollar, tournament-expanding deal that will nationally televise all NCAA games on CBS and Turner Sports networks for the next 14 years. All of which leaves women’s gymnastics without a TV home. (If no other TV contract is signed before the 2011 NCAA tournament, the television rights will default to ESPN, which has a deal with the NCAA to broadcast all of its non-contracted NCAA Championships, including men’s gymnastics.)
Utah coach Greg Marsden, one of the most vocal proponents of the four-team format, noted last year that live TV wasn’t guaranteed. “It was unwise to place your vote solely on that, because that’s something we have no control over,” Marsden told Inside at the time. A sentiment he echoes today.
“I don’t think anyone was promising [live] TV last year,” he states firmly. “ It was, ‘if we hope to,’ we have to do these kinds of things. Nothing is going to happen in the first year. You make changes to begin the process; for it to become a more spectator, media-oriented sport— something that could be possibly be televised live. … I am in favor of never having more than four [teams] in a rotation, at any point in our post-season process, [and] my opinion hasn’t changed for as long as we’ve been doing six teams in a rotation.
“I know that, in addition to the vote, there was a lot of discussion about whether we even want live TV,” Marsden adds incredulously. “For me, both discussions were disappointing from many perspectives. Any sport with any relevance is live on TV. I’m disappointed that people question if that’s something we want. … Will it [require] compensations and changes? Yes, absolutely. That happens in every sport.”
Though there was no promise of live TV coverage, most coaches felt it was strongly implied in last year’s meeting and never considered that their sport would be dropped from network television altogether.
“To be honest, I think people were just shocked and surprised,” 2009 holdout Faehn tells Inside. “Everyone kind of started thinking, ‘Did we shoot ourselves in the foot?’ Taking away opportunities when we didn’t have anything in hand from CBS. I think that changed a lot of people’s minds.
One of those changed minds belongs to Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler, who returned from last year’s coaches meeting and had a sit down with OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione.
“He said to me, ‘You voted to change the entire post-season event on a hope?’” Kindler recalls with a laugh. “Let’s just say he thought that was not the greatest decision. We did it thinking it would attract people [to cover us live]. It was like we were putting on cologne hoping to catch a man. I don’t know that, that was the best route to take.”
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