Saturday, May 5, 2012
The Politics of the NCAA
The NCAA is always examining its own rules and policies in order to create more 'parity', yet the same four schools continue their stranglehold on the title year after year. While the supposed rules of the game have changed, the same people are involved and thus, not much has changed at all. This year, three teams (Alabama, Florida and UCLA) finished within a tenth of a point. On paper it was a close meet and anyone could've won it, but the behind the scenes shenanigans are truly the most fascinating. Yes, the results can be debated, but so too can the way the politics played out. A year or so ago, I posted a look at which judges have know allegiances to which schools based on years and years of a time when they were able to judge the same home meets for teams year after year. These judges became a part of the 'program.' While meet assignments are now randomized, these same judges still have their affiliations and it played out in a big way.
EF Results It is loads of fun putting your cursor over the score, seeing which judge gave which score, and then checking the judges list.
On the day of the Super Six, a friend of mine (a judge), texted me saying that the floor judges were going to be focusing on differentiating between the double arabians at the meet. It was a curious statement, as a double arabian is one of the harder skills being done in a time when double tucks are becoming common mounts. I instantly texted back saying, 'well I guess Florida is fucked.' Alaina Johnson has a gorgeous double arabian, albeit with a cowboy with pointed feet, and wouldn't it be convenient for her score to be lower than it had been all season due to this 'focus.' My friend texted me saying Marissa King was also warming up a double arabian. Marissa never scores as well with her double arabian because the judges hammer her for taking a step forward with forward momentum. My friend wound up dismissing it at the time before watching the meet unfold.
Other schools had already been on alert as to the meet ref. Sandy Oldham's best friend happens to be Sarah Patterson. It isn't unusual for coaches to be BFFs with judges and officials. Carole Ide, the longtime meet assigner, is best friends with Suzanne Yoculan and Val Kondos. That goes a long way at NCAAs.
Cut to the initial judges meeting at NCAAs: Sandy Oldham "allegedly" (cough allegedly cough) let it be known three times that judges "should not pay attention to rankings or be influenced by them. They don't mean anything. This is going to be a close meet." It is curious that she said it so many times, but it is also curious considering that Florida and Oklahoma worked their asses off to be at the time. The new kids banging on the door of an NCAA title were already at a loss, as their season of success meant nil. Note that Sandy Oldham was also the meet ref at the Alabama-Florida meet when Florida got hammered with 9.750s on floor, while Alabama (sans Geralen Stack Eaton) double tucked their way to a 49.650 on floor. Florida was definitely at a disadvantage when its suspected 'homer judge' Evelyn Chandler wasn't on the panel. Brock White, a UCLA/UGA judge, was also not on the panel. (Remember that UGA got a season high on bars when Ide and Brock were judging in 2011.)
Note that Oklahoma and Florida were hammered on floor, where Carole Ide was a judge. Carole's marks actually weren't that suspect at the championships, but the judges were hammering double arabians. Kudos to Linda Fenton who gave Elyse Hopfner Hibbs a 9.950 on floor for going out of bounds.
The most interesting judge of note may well have been Marian Dykes in event finals, who not only is suspected of being a long time Georgia judge, but the buzz is that she feels the SEC rivalry to her core and is most definitely NOT a supporter of other SEC schools. Just note: Marian gave Kytra Hunter a 9.850 on floor in event finals (which a Gym Dog won.)
Now, this may all be a fun conspiracy, or there might be something to it, but Rhonda and KJ are going to have to be a hell of a lot better than the competition if they plan on taking home the trophy any time soon.
UCLA and Alabama were definitely given the benefit of the doubt with scores at NCAAs. While Alabama won with their consistency, UCLA pulled scores for gymnasts like Mattie Larson that were unseasonably high in the Super Six Finals. Unfortunately, a few uncharacteristic mistakes on beam by veterans cost GGMB's savior of gymnastics from hoisting a trophy yet again.