Saturday, September 29, 2012

The NCAA Crisis: Surviving

Guess how much it costs to run a Division I men's gymnastics program. The person who comes the closest without going over wins a date with Sam Mikulak.

I suspect these lovely ladies would rather be on Sam's arm than Bob Barker's arm. Just a guess.

Drum roll please.

In 2009, men's gymnastics programs averaged

Roughly $540,000

in expenses.

Now, guess how much revenue the men's gymnastics programs generated.

Roughly $33,000

for a net revenue of -$433,000.1 Compared to the national debt, which was nearing $12 trillion in 2009, men's gymnastics programs were doing quite well. Actually, men's gymnastics programs were doing better than baseball, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, track and field, and volleyball.

Generated revenue includes only the money earned by a particular athletics program. It does not include the allocated revenue, which comes from indirect institutional support, direct institutional support, student fees, and direct governmental support.

Even so, $433,000 is a lot of money.  So, how do universities make it work?

1. Have Good Football Teams

Here's the catch in all of this. While football is taking up precious numbers in terms of proportionality, the pigskin barbarians are able to subsidize some of the remaining men's gymnastics teams. 

Granted, some of the money probably comes from booster clubs, etc. BUT the remaining gymnastics programs (except Cal, Chitown, and William and Mary) are attached to schools with football teams that consistently are among the top 50 most profitable football programs. (Minnesota is towards the bottom of that list, and it almost lost its men's gymnastics team back in 2002.)

Because of the football profits, some athletics departments do not need to turn to the university and beg for subsidies. Others only have to ask for a minimum amount. Universities like this. In fact, they like this a lot, and it keeps sports from being put on the chopping block.

2. If you don't have a good football team, you make yourself as financially bulletproof as possible.

One way to do that is to pay your coaches less.

These are not the base salaries that colleges pay their coaches. The numbers listed here most likely include money from endorsements, etc.

Another way to become bulletproof is to fundraise like crazy. For example, Mike Burns at the University of Minnesota has raised money to partially endow the program's scholarships. In the Chronicle of Higher Education article, Mr. Burns does not reveal all of his fundraising secrets, but it's well-known that some programs host summer camps. Others, like Stanford's team, host joint college-club gymnastics meets.

I don't know how lucrative any of these endeavors are, but what they do do (ha!) is form bonds between the university and the gymnastics community. In times of need, those bonds are vital for survival, as we saw when the gymnastics community pulled together to help the Golden Bears.

Unfortunately, as Thom Glielmi, the Stanford coach, has pointed out, endowing programs can have drawbacks. He says, "If one program gets endowed, is another athletic director going to say, 'Hey, you need to get endowed or we're going to drop you'?" he says. "You want to do all you can to be a good example, but you don't want to make it more difficult for others to exist."

Yes, I do understand that it's strange hearing this come from the lips of a man who works at a school with a ginormous endowment. (Stanford's team is not just rolling in the dough, though.) Nevertheless, it's refreshing to hear that intercollegiate men's gymnastics programs are not participating in the cut-throat money game that runs college football.

Seriously, I'm happy to hear that the remaining teams take into consideration the financial well-being of the other programs. (Even though I'm sure they all want to win the NCAA Championships.)

Unfortunately, my dear reader, I cannot tell you how you can support these teams financially. I have yet to find booster sites on the web, but universities like Oklahoma have what they call the "Sooner Club." If anyone knows how you can donate specifically to men's gymnastics programs, please leave a comment below.

3. You have competition

It might be hard to believe, but most colleges don't like having a sports team that does not have any competitors. Err, it's called intercollegiate sports for a reason. So, here's a breakdown of the remaining Division I teams according to their conferences.

  • Pac 10: 2 teams
    • California
    • Stanford
  • Big 12: 1 team (Nebraska used to be in this conference)
    • Oklahoma
  • Big 10: 7 teams
    • Illinois
    • Iowa
    • Michigan
    • Minnesota
    • Nebraska
    • Ohio State
    • Penn State
  • Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League: 6 teams
    • Army
    • Navy
    • Springfield (Division III)
    • Temple
    • University of Illinois-Chicago
    • William and Mary
  • Mountain West Conference
    • Air Force
The Pac 10 and Big 12 teams are worrisome. Have you ever seen the men's gymnastics schedule for Cal?
We must remember that this schedule was redacted after Cal almost lost its team and was operating on a tight budget. But have you looked at Stanford's schedule? It's not much better.
When you compete against the same two teams over and over and over, just how intercollegiate is your sport? Don't get me wrong; as a lover of college gymnastics, I am thrilled that the Cal gymnastics team was saved, but I can also see how an administrator would think, Is this worth it?

By the way, Oklahoma, being on the other side of the Rockies, travels a bit more.

4. Your students do well in school

Do some sports get away with having student-athletes who are not very good at the student part? Probably, but maintaining a good GPA certainly helps when the sport is an endangered species.

The silver lining: Yes, I'm about to get preachy...

I'm sure that there are other ways that universities are staying afloat, and I could conclude this series by trying to devise ways to add more NCAA gymnastics teams. Instead,  I'd like to close this series with a gentle reminder...

For whatever reason, we tend to treat intercollegiate varsity sports as the end-all-be-all of collegiate athletics. For whatever reason, we promulgate the belief that if you didn't make a varsity men's gymnastics team, your gymnastics career must end after high school.

But that's not the truth. In fact, that's a terrible distortion of the truth. Somehow, in the hullabaloo about the decimation of college men's gymnastics, we forget that numerous universities offer men's gymnastics as a club sport.

Seriously, look at the list! There are many universities with club gymnastics!

And these gymnasts compete! Their competitive careers aren't over!

Granted, they might not have as many meets as a varsity squad, and their skill level might not be as high as that of, say, Sam Mikulak or Eddie Penev. You might see some single back tucks instead of double layouts or double fulls instead of triple fulls. But who cares? These men have the chance to participate in a sport they love, and that, at the end of the day, is what it's all about--giving men (and women) the opportunity to do something they enjoy. It doesn't always have to be at the varsity level.

Does this mean that I think we should throw in the towel when it comes to fighting for varsity men's gymnastics? No. I just think that we need to stop and smell the roses, and there are roses in the cesspool of collegiate athletics.


1. Please note that this is for FBS schools, which are Football Bowl Subdivision schools. The FCS schools (Football Championships Subdivision) schools have lower costs ($159,000). They generate more money ($82,000). And they are not as far in the hole (-$77,000). Of the Stalwart 17, William and Mary is the only FCS school. Other examples include Harvard, Yale, Southern Illinois, Villanova...

Friday, September 28, 2012

The NCAA Crisis: It's Complicated, and Treat It As Such

Full disclosure: My family's weird. (Shocker, huh?) We talked about Title IX around the dinner table when I was, like, 8. (Who does that?)

My mother grew up at a time when her only "sports" option was cheerleading (and at the time, cheerleading was nothing like it is nowadays). Nevertheless, she learned everything she could about volleyball and basketball so that she could coach young girls who wanted the chance to play. (While she's too humble to claim any part in her athletes' success stories, I'd like to add that a few of her players went on to play Division I basketball.) My father, a rather macho guy who was hesitant to allow his son to be a competitive gymnast, had his own "feminist" streak (if you can call it that). He, for instance, noticed that his area did not have a grade school girls' basketball tournament, so he created one.

But my father, an athletics director, also worked hard to create opportunities for boys, starting, for instance, a men's volleyball team. Furthermore, in my area, a young boy was allowed to compete on the girls' gymnastics team because there weren't any mens' programs in his area. (There were certain stipulations about awards, etc., but he was still on the competitive team.)

I'm not trying to tout the accolades of my parents. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of them, but what I am trying to say is this: Without question, I grew up with the idea that females should be allowed to play sports. And without question, I grew up with the idea that males should be allowed to play sports. And without question, I grew up with the idea that Title IX is a good law.

Maybe you feel otherwise, but even most Title IX detractors agree with me on one point: Title IX is a good law. Their problem, however, lies in how Title IX is enforced, specifically the three prongs:

  • Substantially proportionate athletic opportunities for male and female athletes;
  • A history and continuing practice of expanding opportunities for the under-represented sex; and 
  • Full and effective accommodation of the interests and abilities of the under-represented sex.

Legal scholars believe that the first prong is the safest way to avoid a lawsuit because it is the most objective way to prove compliance. A university shows its enrollment and then shows its sports rosters. BAM! Compliance!

While the third prong is the most objective, it isn't all that easy. I'll admit that. If a university chooses the proportionality option, they face a problem. College campuses are full of barbarians who throw around pigskin. The average division 1 football team has 109.6 players, so in order to reach, say, a 50/50 proportionality, it would take many women's basketball teams, which average 14.4 athletes on each team.

Or many women's gymnastics teams (17.4).

Or many volleyball teams (15.1).

Or many golf teams (8.5).

Or many squash teams (13.5).

In order to compensate for the ginormous number of barbarians, many colleges have chosen to cut men's sports including gymnastics. Actually, they typically used the verb "forced" when they are making their argument. Regardless, I have three main problems with this argument.

Problem 1: Presupposition

I am not going to argue that Title IX and the first prong never ever played a role in varsity men's gymnastics. (James Madison University, for instance, cited Title IX as the reason for cutting its gym team. Suzanne Yoculan has stated that the University of Georgia's men's program was cut because of Title IX.) What drives me crazy about this argument is its lack of historical grounding. This argument looks back at the past and presumes, "Since 1979, universities have opted for proportionality, and in an attempt to comply with this quota system, universities had to cut programs."

But the thing is... colleges have not always chosen proportionality. Between 1992 and 2002, about 2/3 of universities chose to fully and effectively accomodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex. During that time period, the total number of men's varsity programs dropped from 40 (1992-93) to 23 (2001-02). But was it because of proportionality? Or because of other factors? And to this day, some colleges like Cal and Duke (though gymnastics-less) continue to opt for the third prong.

In order to see if proportionality played a role, one would have to do a case-by-case, university-by-university study of Title IX compliance. If I were getting paid to write this blog, I would sit down and figure this out, but I'm not. So, I'm going to stick with courtroom logic: Is there reasonable doubt that every men's gymnastics program was cut because of proportionality? Methinks... Yes, there is reasonable doubt.

Problem 2: The Exculpation of Athletics Departments

Like I said, I don't have the numbers. But let's imagine that an overwhelming majority, say, 75%, of universities have consistently opted for proportionality since 1979. I still can't understand why people are directing all their rage at Title IX. Why aren't more college sports fans upset with athletics departments? The athletic directors are the ones who have chosen to enforce Title IX by cutting sports.

Could they have managed their rosters? Now, I fully understand that there's a lot of shady business going down when it comes to roster management. There's an excellent New York Times piece on how universities are abusing the system, but one of its shortcomings is its lack of discussion about football rosters. It's only mentioned in the part where Crouthamel, a former Syracuse athletic director, states, "Football is the elephant in the whole thing. That's the monster."

Then, the article skips along onto the next topic. An article in the Chronicle of Education, however, is not quite as nice. Bob Wuoronos, the director fo the Men's Intercollegiate Gymnastics Sports Program, questions the size of football rosters. He asks, "Do we need 110 kids playing football at every major university, even though 60 of them will never see the light of day in four years?"

In other words, could football teams make do with 50 athletes? Heck, what about with the 85 athletes on scholarship? (Or with my proposed 69 slots? Make sure that you read that correctly. I said slots.) If they stuck to those on scholarship, 24 slots just opened up, and that's more than enough for a gymnastics team, which averages 18.6 athletes per team.

Granted, paring down a football roster will only save a limited number of teams, but wouldn't it be better to save a few teams rather than continuously putting some teams on the chopping block? Why aren't more people questioning how colleges have chosen to handle financial constraints and Title IX issues?

Problem 3: A Failure to Probe into the Decisions of the Athletics Departments

Notice that I did not say that no one has. Some journalists have begun to delve into the past in order to see the bigger picture, and their findings, I think, are fascinating.

For instance, Rick Wright  interviewed Randy Davalos, who was the athletic director at the University of New Mexico's when the men's gymnastics program was cut. According to Davalos, the athletics department was struggling financially, and while the program was the gym program was not the most costly, it was axed due to a lack of competition. Few schools in the Mountain West conference, the article states, offered men's gymnastics.

What I love about Davalos's answer is that it pushes us beyond the discussions of money and Title IX, and it points to other factors. Like the fact that varsity sports are supposed to be intercollegiate activities.

Even before Title IX, varsity programs like Florida State's (1961) were being cut. This, unfortunately, sets a precedent.  It might not be a legal precedent, but it is a precedent, nonetheless. It allowed athletics departments to say, "Hmm... The University of XYZ cut gymnastics. Maybe that's a good idea. Maybe we should do that, too. Heck, if they can do it, why can't we?"

And as more and more teams followed suit, it became harder and harder for athletics directors to rationalize the sport's existence. Varsity sports are supposed to compete against other colleges, and a paucity of teams in a division or a region means that teams have to travel farther and farther in order to compete against other teams, which also means expending more money (that they probably don't have).

In other words, it was a domino effect, and as a critical mass built, it became harder and harder to stop the train wreck. What I want to know is why the very first teams cut their men's gymnastics programs. Not because it would explain every subsequent link in the chain reaction, but I'm just downright curious about their motives. Was it because the programs were not producing revenue? Was gymnastics not considered popular? Were the facilities rundown and not worth updating? What was it?

If someone could study this, I'd love you forever and send you a bobble head during the holiday season!

Anyway, I digress. Somehow, colleges have slowed the decimation, and that will be the topic of tomorrow's post (along with a little bit more on the lack of competition).

Until then!

(My Lance! I cannot wait to go back to Perez-Hilton-Photoshopping photos! This blog suddenly got super heady!)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The NCAA Crisis: Is it still a SCHOLARship if it's for athletics?

Let's continue to dwell in the Land of Make Believe.

If Title IX really were the source of the NCAA crisis, then, we would simply have to overturn it, and everything would be perfect, right?

In my opinion, it's not that simple. There's that minor thing called an economy and that minor thing called a university budget, and while I'm not arguing that Title IX does not play a role in universities' decisions, I find it a bit ridiculous to scapegoat the amendment. What is more, I find it strange that the Title IX reformers, who ostensibly are concerned with fairness in sports, are not directing some of their anger at the NCAA.

Yes, the NCAA. Believe it or not, college sports teams cannot just do whatever they want. Let me explain.

If Cartman were a university, which university would he be?

Title IX has its own rules regarding grants-in-aid. In short, the piece of legislation dictates that universities "must provide reasonable opportunities for [athletic grants-in-aid] for members of each sex in proportion to the number of students of each sex participating in interscholastic or intercollegiate athletics." In other words, if 54% of the athletes are female, then, they should receive 54% of the scholarship money granted for athletic performance.

I've been reading a lot about Title IX lately, and so far, I have not heard anyone complain about this rule. The problem, for many legal scholars and journalists, seems to be the NCAA's rules.

In 1956 the NCAA approved of full-cost-of-attendance scholarships, and by the 1970s, universities were abusing them. The story goes that a University of Pittsburgh coach gave 90 scholarships to freshmen football players in 1973, and in 1977, the Panthers won the national championship. In an effort to prevent coaches from hoarding scholarship money, the NCAA placed a limit on the number of scholarships permitted for each team, both male and female.

This is not a complete list.

The NCAA divides scholarships into "head-count" scholarships and "equivalency" scholarships. Head-count sports are basically full-ride sports. All athletes who receive a grant-in-aid must receive a full scholarship. In the short list above, these include:

  • Men's basketball
  • Men's football
  • Women's Gymnastics
  • Women's Volleyball
  • Women's Basketball
The rest, then, are equivalency sports. Meaning: a partial scholarship can be awarded, and a full scholarship can be divided among two or more athletes. In the chart above, these include:

  • Men's gymnastics
  • Men's rowing
  • Men's swimming/diving
  • Women's rowing
  • Women's swimming/diving
Let's leave aside the question of fairness for a moment and think about how this quota system makes a coach's job rather hellish.

Imagine that you are the head coach of a men's gymnastics program that has won the NCAA Championship for two years in a row. You have 5 recruits who really want to go to your school, but you only have the equivalent of 2 scholarships to give out. (The other 4.3 are split among your other gymnasts.) How do you split up the remaining money? Do you give each student-athlete a partial scholarship? Do you give two of them full scholarships and say, "Too bad, so sad," to the rest of them?

Coaches can sidestep this issue if some of their athletes excel academically. A gymnast's academic scholarships do not count as athletic grant-in-aid provided that:
  • His academic honors are considered part of an institution's normal financial aid package. AND
  • One of the following:
    • He was in the top 10% of his high school class or had a cumulative GPA of a 3.5 or higher in high school. OR
    • He scored a 105 or higher on the ACT or a 1200 or higher on the SAT (critical reading and math)
Even that becomes difficult. How do you recruit the academically gifted students? Do you try to recruit students who are decent athletes and exceptional students? Do you give those students gymnastics scholarship money even though they are receiving other institutional support? If you don't give them gymnastics grant-in-aid, what incentive do they have to stay on the team? They have to maintain a certain GPA in order to keep their scholarships, and between practices and traveling, that isn't easy.

Can you see why being a men's collegiate gymnastics coach kind of sucks? Not only do you have to find the talent, but you have to find a way to make it work financially.

Now, imagine that you are a parent. Have you looked at how expensive college is?

Tuition and fees (2012-13) for a few of the remaining universities with men's gymnastics programs

Let's imagine that you're living Sugar Land, TX. Your son has received an offer to attend Michigan and compete as a Wolverine. He has received a 1/3 scholarship, and that's all the institutional support he would receive.

From a financial perspective, is it worth it? Do you try to urge him to go to UT-Austin or a cheaper school without an NCAA varsity gymnastics program? $26,000 a year in loans adds up. If I were you, I'd be thinking, "What does he have to do to declare residency in Michigan?"

So... the NCAA scholarship restrictions led to the elimination of men's gymnastics programs?

No, that's not what I am trying to say. This post is a parentheses in the series. It doesn't exactly fit, but I think it is important to mention. Partly because I don't know how many gymnastics fans know about these scholarship restrictions. Partly because it irks me that reformers who concern themselves with fairness and quota systems aren't descrying the NCAA's policies. Partly because, the way I see it, the NCAA is playing into the money game that I described yesterday.

On the men's side, the NCAA's grant-in-aid system has a remarkable correlation. The head-count sports are also the ones that make the NCAA the most amount of money. CBS paid $6 billion for an 11-year March Madness contract. ESPN pays $125 million annually for the BCS Championship Game, the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl. ABC pays $30 million annually for the Rose Bowl.

That's a lot of money.

Granted, much of the NCAA's TV revenue is distributed among the Division I universities. It's not like the NCAA is pocketing all of the cash. That said, there seems to be a very business-like logic behind all of this. The majority of the NCAA's income comes from these big basketball and football TV contracts, and if basketball and football are bringing home the bacon for the organization, then, those programs should reap the rewards, right? One way to favor those programs is by ensuring that they have enough players on full-ride scholarships to field a team.

Indeed, the NCAA does not say that colleges must supply full-ride scholarships to their players. But, if you don't offer as many full-rides as possible, how else are are colleges going to get the best recruits? And without the best recruits, how else are you going to participate in the on-going race to make the most money?

My argument would be stronger if I had data to prove that college football and basketball teams are using their allotted scholarship money. I'm not afraid to admit that. However, when you look at the numbers, it is hard to believe otherwise. Football teams average 110 players with 85 scholarship slots. Basketball teams average 15 players with 13 scholarship slots.

Of those two number sets, the one for basketball seem more reasonable to me. 5 players can be on the court at the same time, and it would make sense to have about 3 players for each position in case of injury. Football, on the other hand, is disproportional. There are, what, 11 offensive players and 11 defensive players. That's 22 players, and let's add a kicker for a total of 23. If they had 3 players for each position, that would be a total of 69 players. Do football teams really need 85 scholarship spots?

Here's another way to look at it: For football, on average, there's 1 full ride for every 1.3 athletes on a team. For basketball, there's 1 full ride scholarship for every 1.15 athletes. For men's gymnastics, there's 1 full ride for every 2.95 athletes.

How fair is that? Why aren't more college gym fans complaining about that?

"Fun" fact: The first intercollegiate sporting event in America was a boat race in 1852 between Harvard and Yale, and for several decades, crew was the premiere intercollegiate sport.  Today, men's crew is even worse off than men's gymnastics. Crew teams can give a grand total of $0 in athletics grant-in-aid.

I realize that, once again, I am not talking much about women's sports. If you'd like a good article on the issue, check out Peter Keating's piece on

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The NCAA Crisis: Money, Money, Money

Where were we? Oh, yes, complaining about the U.S. economy.

Now, let's imagine for a moment–and this might be difficult to imagine... Let's imagine for a moment that we found an antidote for all of the U.S. economy's ailments and that we lived in a world where we never needed Title IX because gender equality was so engrained into our social woodwork.

Then, all of our problems would be solved. We would have TONS of money! And we could have a men's collegiate gymnastics program at EVERY university! 

We are geniuses... just like this guy:

This scene from the Michigan YouTube video was so good; it deserved its own animated gif.

But what about that little thing called a university budget? Most universities don't have a $16.5 billion endowment like Stanford does. They are more strapped for cash, and consequently, they rely heavily on a few sports to bring home the bacon: those being football and basketball, with football being the biggest potential winner.1

Why? Well, let's take a look at a simplified version of the last 30 years of Division I sports.2

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The NCAA Crisis: Recession is like recess, right?

In 1980 gymnasts smiled when they did iron crosses.

Ron Gallimore became the first African American to be named to a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.

In 1980 wearing necklaces while competing was okay.

Whatever Nadia can do, I can do.

Oh, and in 1980 a recession hit America, which was followed by another recession in 1981-2. I don't know about you, but when there's a recession, I like to celebrate by finding the busiest bar and buying everyone a round of PatrĂ³n. Money was made for spending, right? 

I'm sure that universities feel the same way about money. They just spend their way through recessions–never cutting back and certainly never cutting sports teams like men's gymnastics.

Unfortunately, I, as a blogger who calls himself Uncle Tim, can only do so much research on these matters. Can you imagine me calling up provosts, deans, and librarians?

Hello, my name is Uncle Tim, and I'm doing research for my blog... Click.

So, I do not have the data to run regressions (for the stats nerds) or to do some number crunching (for the mathematically challenged), but there seems to be a trend. Shortly after a recession, men's gymnastics programs begin to magically disappear. Let's take a looky-poo.

The economy hit the crapper in January 1980, but it rallied like a sorority girl on her 21st birthday–only to hit the crapper again in July of 1981. This time, the economy passed out for quite sometime despite everyone's best efforts to revive it.

The thing about alcohol is that after you binge on it, it usually takes you a while to trust it again. So too with the economy. Even though the U.S. pulled itself out of the recession in November 1982, 1983 was still a precarious year.

But that would never have any effect on college sports. They are recession resistant, right?

1981-82: 79 teams
1982-83: 71 teams
1983-84: 71 teams


Well, there seems to be a correlation. Like I said, I don't have the financial data to really prove anything; I'm just noticing a trend: Down economy, down men's gymnastics programs.

Shall we see what happend in the 90s?

1990-91: 43
1991-92: 40
1992-93: 40
1993-94: 33

According to economists, an 8-month recession hit the U.S. in July 1990. Something you must understand about universities is that they start preparing their budgets before the school year begins, and once that budget is in place, there's little you can do to change it. You simply start adjusting for the following school year if there are problems. So, when the economy started to slide in July of 1990, it was too late to really change the 1990-91 budgets. Cuts would not take place until the 1991-92 academic year.

Oh, and there were 3 of them! Hmm...

Though the recession technically lasted only until March 1991, the media labeled this downturn a 3-year recession because the effects were so devastating that some counties were still struggling in 1994. Somehow, between the 1992-3 and the 1993-4 school year, another 7 programs disappeared, but I'm sure it had nothing to do with the economy. It must have been the result of Title IX!

Oh, that devilish "Title IX"–always popping up at the beginning of a decade or at the beginning of a century.

2000-01: 24
2001-02: 23
2002-03: 20

By Title IX, I mean, economic downturn. This one hit in March of 2001, which is a tricky time for universities. Do you immediately start cutting away at your budget? Or do you wait things out, hoping that the economy recovers quickly? I'm not a university administrator, but I think I'd wait and start praying to the economy gods.

Unfortunately, it was more than a little hiccup. Though the recession officially ended in November 2001, recovery was still not in sight in February 2002, when university administrators were planning for the 2002-3 school year. Could that be why 3 programs disappeared?

Probably not. Must be Title IX. I mean, if my theory were true, then, men's gymnastics programs would have disappeared at the end of the 2000s when the economy gods reached down from heaven and pummeled us with their fists, their feet, and finished us off with a good headbutt.

2007-08: 17
2008-09: 17
2009-10: 17
2010-11: 17

Oh, wait, that whole Cal-Berkeley issue... The 2010-11 season was supposed to be the last for the Bears men's gymnastics team. When Sandy Barbour, the athletic director, announced the cuts, she said,

“Cal Athletics is not immune to the effects of the recession, and the financial realities affecting this campus..."


To be fair, Title IX was a factor in the decision. As the official press release stated, "Along with financial impact and history of competitive success, compliance with Title IX requirements for gender equity was a key consideration in deciding which teams to cut."

The funny thing is... University officials didn't really take into consideration Title IX. (At least that's how the New York Times spun the story.) You see, the Bears were in compliance with Title IX by asserting that it met the "interests and abilities" of its female students. When the athletics department decided to cut women's lacrosse and women's gymnastics, they were no longer in compliance with that prong. To comply, they would have had to choose the proportionality prong, which would have meant cutting 50 more spots for women and 80 spots for men.

And university officials were prepared to start cutting the rosters. They had informed coaches of this plan, but for whatever reason, they changed their mind. They let the teams stick around, but only if they raised money.

By April 2011, the baseball team, the women's gymnastics team, the women's lacrosse team, and the rugby team had raised a combined total of $18 million to cover their costs for the next several years. The men's gymnastics team, however, was struggling. It had raised only $2.5 million in pledges, and it needed $4 million. Nonetheless, the university, in its benevolence, allowed the program to continue with a limited budget.

At the end of the day, for Cal, it was about the money.

Hey! It must be the money!

How much money do you think we could get for Nelly's grill? $1.5 million? Enough to get Cal to the $4 million mark?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The NCAA Crisis: Don't Believe Everything You Read on the Internet

Chart via Mother Jones
(Don't even believe this chart! I'll explain below!)

The internet has spread some vicious rumors.
Did you know that you won millions of dollars in a foreign lottery?
Or that Facebook was supposed to shut down on March 15, 2012?
Or that Title IX is the reason that intercollegiate men's gymnastics has disappeared?

The last one bothers me. A lot. Now, hear me out. I am not necessarily fanboying over Title IX. (Read: I do not eat my meals wearing a Title IX bib, for example).

Nevertheless, I do believe that we need to think critically about the arguments being made against the 1972 amendment, and for me, that means clearing up some of the rumors.

What is Title IX anyway?

Call me presumptuous, but I'm guessing that you've heard of Title IX if you're reading this blog. So, I am not going to bore you with too many details. It suffices to say that Title IX is an Education Amendment passed in 1972, which aims to prohibit sex discrimination in educational programs and activities at educational institutions that receive federal funding. Its purview includes sexual harassment issues, college admissions, educational employment, among other things.

Oh, yeah, how could I forget? It covers college athletics, as well. In 1975, equality was defined as, "[w]hether the selection of sports and levels of competition effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of members of both sexes." In 1979 that changed, and universities had to prove one of the following:

  • Substantially proportionate athletic opportunities for male and female athletes;
  • A history and continuing practice of expanding opportunities for the under-represented sex; and 
  • Full and effective accommodation of the interests and abilities of the under-represented sex.

When most people talks about Title IX nowadays, they are referring to the three prongs, and usually the first prong. Most reformers believe that proportionality is a major problem for NCAA sports. Right now, college campuses are predominately female, and if the undergraduate student body is, say, 54% female, then, its athletics teams should be 54% female. In order to achieve parity, some universities have cut men's teams, and the court has allowed this to happen.1 According to the reformers, this is a sign that universities are discriminating against males.

That's the argument in a nutshell, and I'll return to it in another post. For now, let's take a look at those rumors.

Questionable Data

In 2011 the Daily Bruin printed an article that alludes to Title IX's role in the elimination of UCLA's men's gymnastics team. As you read part of the article, see if you can identify the statistical error.

Peter Vidmar came to UCLA in 1979, competing for men’s gymnastics, though he said it often seemed like the male and female gymnasts were all on the same team. Aside from the women’s athletic facilities being housed in a temporary building, he didn’t remember noticeable discrepancies in terms of funding or equipment.

A year after graduating, Vidmar was one of three Bruins on the gold medal-winning 1984 Olympic team. The UCLA men’s gymnastics team won the NCAA championship that same year, and again in 1987.

But in August of 1993, facing serious budget cuts, the university announced plans to cut the men’s and women’s gymnastics teams along with the men’s swimming and diving teams.

Although Title IX was not included in the stated rationale for eliminating any of the programs, the women’s team threatened legal action on the basis of the gender equality law.

By November, UCLA announced a four-tier plan to enhance opportunities for female athletes, which included reinstating the women’s gymnastics team.

Collegiate men’s gymnastics, meanwhile, was steadily dwindling. By 1996, there were 32 varsity teams left in the country, down from 234 in 1969...

It's the last part.

There were 234 varsity teams in 1969?!?!?

That's news to me! No wonder they call it a newspaper!

Seriously, though, where the F did this statistic come from? Title IX detractors love it, and I'm seeing it in article after article. Yet, the NCAA is not confirming it.2

Okay, so maybe the number of teams didn't dwindle from 234 to 17, but they still dropped from 124 to 17, right?

Not exactly. Prior to 1981, the NCAA collected data on its member schools every 5 years. The statistics included both varsity sports and "recreation programs." (It's hard to say exactly what constitutes a recreation program. Probably club teams like Harvard's, which was still active in the 1970s. But it could encompass schools with panel mats and an old gym teacher who wears tube socks and polo shirts that show off his hairy chest and who tells his kids to turn cartwheel after cartwheel between drags of a cigarette.) From 1981 onwards, the NCAA collected data only on varsity sports.

Can you see the problem? We do not know how many of those 124 institutions had varsity teams in 1971, and since our metric has changed (all "programs" to varsity programs), we cannot compare the statistics.

The NCAA even agrees with me.

The best we can do is say that the teams were whittled down from 79 in 1981 to 17 in 2012. It's not quite as sensationalist as saying, "234 programs were whittled down to 17." Nonetheless, that's still a lot of whittling.

P.S. If that 1969 statistic is true, then, a lot of damage was done before Title IX. 234 gymnastics programs (of all kinds) dropped to 124 prior to 1972. Just sayin'.

Questionable Conclusions

So, that takes care of one rumor. (At least in my mind it does. You can form your own your opinion. And like I said, don't believe everything you read on the internet.) Let's take a peek at another article. This one's written by Karen Owoc of the College Sports Council, an organization that actively seeks to reform Title IX. She writes:

More than 2,200 men’s athletic teams have been eliminated since 1981 to comply with the proportionality prong of the 1979 Title IX Policy Interpretation (a rigid affirmative action quota system). Thousands of male athletes have been prohibited from participating in collegiate sports while men’s athletic scholarships and coaching positions have evaporated. The law, which was designed to end discrimination against women, is now discriminating against men. For example:


212 men’s gymnastics teams have been dropped since 1969 (2,544 roster positions lost); only 18 NCAA programs remain (216 roster positions).
[There's that darn statistic again.]

Every men's gymnastics program that has disappeared after 1972 is the result of Title IX and discrimination?

If you have ever taken a class that involves statistics, you probably have heard your instructor say, "Correlation does not equal causation." But maybe you did not understand what s/he meant, so let's look at the classic example.

You decide to do a survey of the entire US population, and you want to study the relationship between shoe size and reading. (Not what you thought I was going to say, was it? Perv.) You find that those with smaller feet do not read as well as those with larger feet. But does that mean that having smaller feet causes you to read worse? No, it just means that you included a bunch of first and second graders in your data. That's why there is a correlation between big feet and reading well.

In the case of men's gymnastics programs and Title IX, we do not have a shoe-reading case; we cannot easily dismiss the claim that the amendment played a role. At the same time, we cannot just say, "Because men's gymnastics programs started disappearing after 1972, Title IX was the sole impetus for cutting men's programs."

(The same could be said for the Title IX chart at the top of the page. Just because Title IX happened does not mean that it caused the U.S. women to win more medals.)


History is not that simple. It is not like there was Title IX, and there was men's collegiate gymnastics, and the rest of the world did not exist.
By the way, I love how the USA, Canada, Central America, and Mexico are labeled as if they were their own continents.

In my opinion, other factors must have been at work. But whatever could they be?


The U.S. Economy! 

To hell with the U.S. economy!

Tomorrow we will talk about how the U.S. economy could have played a role in the disappearance of men's gymnastics programs. Now, you'll have to excuse me while I go have dinner with Ben Bernanke.


1. In Cohen v Brown University (filed in 1992 and concluded in 1996), the First Circuit ruled that universities can bring themselves into compliance by reducing opportunities for the overrepresented sex.
2. All NCAA statistics come from Erin Irick, NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Report, 1981-82–2010-11

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The NCAA Crisis: A General Overview

18 is a magical age. You can buy cigarettes and lottery tickets. You can frequent strip clubs. Oh, and there's this little thing called voting. But who cares about that?

For a male gymnast, one's 18th birthday is just as special. At that point, he is recognized as a man by the gymnastics community, and he typically starts competing as a senior (even though he can technically start competing as a senior at the age of 16).

It's okay, J-Ho, I still look like I am 12. When we are 50 and look 35, we won't mind.

But how should he go about training as a senior?  Should he continue training at his club? Should he move to Colorado to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center? Will one of the oil companies sponsor him? (Thus far, Kum N Go has not made the list.) Or should he go to college?

And what about those young lads who are okay level 9 or 10 gymnasts? They might have a college scholarship, or they might not. Chances of walking onto a men's gymnastics team are slim, so it might be time for him to give up competing, watch YouTube videos all day, and start blogging under the name Aunt Elfi.

Nowadays, it is extremely difficult to find a college men's gymnastics program--let alone one that will give you a scholarship. It was not always this way. During the 1981-1982 season, 79 Division I, II, and II teams were in existence. By 1991, that number had been reduced to 36. In 1995, the NCAA debated whether it would continue to hold a Division I championship because the the organization required a minimum of 40 teams. By 2001, that number had shrunk to 21, and 11 years later, in 2012, 17 teams are still holding on:

  1. Air Force
  2. Army
  3. Cal-Berkeley
  4. Illinois
  5. Illinois-Chicago (UIC)
  6. Iowa
  7. Michigan
  8. Minnesota
  9. Navy
  10. Nebraska
  11. Ohio State
  12. Oklahoma
  13. Penn State
  14. Springfield (Division III)
  15. Stanford
  16. Temple
  17. William & Mary
We shall call them, "The Stalwart 17." (Everything needs a nickname in gymnastics. Everything!)

So, how did we get here? How did we whittle away our college teams from 72 to 17? One would assume that universities would have recognized their role in producing America's Olympic gymnasts and would have tried to save their programs. (See appendix below.) But they didn't, or maybe the couldn't. Today, the internet believes that Title IX, an Education Amendment passed in 1972, led to the demise of intercollegiate men's gymnastics.

I, however, do not agree with this position. In my view, to scapegoat Title IX is to assume a rather simplistic view of what happened. If you are going to point fingers at Title IX, you better point them at the U.S. economy, athletic departments, and the NCAA, as well.

Over the course of the week, I will take a closer look at the history and statistics behind the decimation of collegiate men's gymnastics teams as I try to construct a more elaborate picture of what happened. Try is the operative word. Since most studies of NCAA athletics focus on basketball and football, I can glean only so much from the books. Nonetheless, what I have gleaned challenges a few of the claims that have been made on the internet. Tomorrow, I will take a look at those claims.

Stay tuned! Same Timmy time! Same Timmy channel!

Appendix: U.S. Olympians and the Universities Where They Trained

If I messed up someone's affiliation, feel free to correct me. There's only so much one can glean from Wikipedia pages and old USA Gymnastics biographies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Changing the Code: Of Inquiries and Kohei Uchimura

Remember that time when this happend at the Olympic Games?

The French Coach is to the London Olympics as Jan is to Make It or Break It

Well, I got to thinking. What would have happened in London had the new Gymnastics Bible been in place? Would it have prevented the Uchimura fiasco from taking place? According to the new rules regarding inquiries, did the Japanese coaches take too long to submit their paperwork? Let's take a look.

Would the inquiry have been rejected because of timing?

My memory of the Olympics is pretty spotty. I'm not sure if it is because of my sleep-deprived stupor or the large amounts of caffeine I consumed during the Games or the Chinese takeout I ate almost every night while I watched NBC's broadcast. (Contrary to what the freshmen 15 will tell you, Kung Pao chicken is not good brain food.)

At any rate, the details are kind of hazy. I just remember the inquiry process taking a long time. But was it because of the Japanese coaches or the judges? Hmm...

Well, let's take a look at the old rules first. Here are a few of the key rules regarding inquiries:

  • Inquiries for the D scores are allowed, provided that they are made verbally by the coach to the D1 Judge immediately after the publication of the score or at the very latest before the end of the exercise of the following gymnast.
  • Every inquiry must be confirmed in writing within a few minutes and requires an agreement of payment of USD 300.—— for the first complaint; USD 500.—— for the second complaint and USD 1’’000...

"Immediately" and a "few minutes" are rather vague terms, so the technical committee made more specific rules for the 2013-16 quad:

  • Inquiries for the difficulty scores are allowed, provided that they are made verbally and immediately after the publication of the score or at the very latest before the end of the exercise of the following gymnast or group. For the last gymnast or group of a rotation, this limit is one minute after the score is shown on the score board. The person designated to receive the verbal inquiry has to note the time of receiving it which will start the procedure.

  • The inquiry must be confirmed as soon as possible in writing, but within 4 minutes, at the latest, after the verbal inquiry and requires an agreement payment of: - USD 300 for the first complaint, USD 500 for the second complaint and USD 1’000 for the third complaint. 

  • Should the inquiry not be confirmed in writing within 4 minutes, the procedure becomes obsolete.

Kohei was the last gymnast in his group, so, had the new rules been in place, his coach would have had 1 minute to issue a verbal inquiry and another 4 minutes to file a written inquiry. Unfortunately, I could not find video footage of the verbal inquiry, but here's what I did find:

Here's Kohei imitating a blowfish after he sees his score.

About a minute and a half later, the coach already has the paperwork and money in hand, so I'm guessing that the initial verbal inquiry was made 1 minute after the score was flashed and that the paperwork was handed off less than 4 minutes later.

So, would the new Gymnastics Bible have stopped the Uchimura fiasco from unfolding?



Is there anything in the new code about how long the Superior Jury can take to evaluate a routine?

Not really, and the Superior Jury took quite some time in London. I took the above screenshots using NBC's pommel horse feed, which cuts out halfway through the inquiry process. So, let's switch over to the main feed and take a look at the time stamps.

Here's Blowfish Kohei again:

Here's when the inquiry was finally accepted:

13 minutes!

To give you a frame of reference, Aly Raisman's inquiry during beam finals took roughly 5 minutes. That's from the time her first score was posted until the time her score was changed.

To be fair, since the Japanese coaches took a few minutes to file the paperwork, the Superior Jury did not have 13 minutes to evaluate the routine. (Nor did the Superior Jury take 5 minutes to assess Aly's routine.) I'm guessing that the assessment of Kohei's routine took more like 10 minutes.

But still!

I'm sorry, but 10 minutes is pretty ridiculous. Did one of the judges need to take a potty break? Did they decide to make each other friendship bracelets? Were they marveling at the French coach's hair in the background?

Hmm... I guess it really did take them like 10 minutes to sort through the mess that was Kohei's dismount.

At any rate, neither the old code nor the new code sets a time limit for the judges. Don't believe me? Here are the rules...

The old one:

  • The final decision (which may not be appealed) must be taken at the very latest:
    • at the end of the rotation for the Qualifying Competitions (C I), the All-Around Competitions (C II) and the Team Competition (CIV), (exceptions see below)
    • before the score of the following gymnast is shown for the Apparatus Finals (C-III), the last rotation of the Team finals (C-IV) and the All-Around finals (C-II).

The new one:

  • Every inquiry must be examined by the Superior Jury and the final decision (which may not be appealed) must be taken at the very latest: 
    • at the end of the rotation (or group) for the qualifying competitions, the all-around competitions and the team competition (final).
    • before the score of the following gymnast or group is shown for the finals.

I get it. You don't want the judges to feel rushed, and some cases might take more time than others. So, setting a time limit might not be a good idea... Yadda yadda yadda.

But if it takes you 10 minutes to evaluate a pommel horse routine, specifically whether someone hit a handstand, you either are working inefficiently, or there's something wrong with the rules governing handstands. That's just my humble opinion.


In unrelated news, there's a new gymnastics podcast in town. You can check it out at Our first guest was Tim Daggett!

For the record: Every panel member hates the sound of his/her voice, and we were super duper nervous. I mean, it's TIM DAGGETT we're interviewing! But the podcast should get better with time. At least, that's what we tell ourselves. :)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Changing the Code: The Yin Alvarez Clause

Earlier today, I was the bearer of bad news: Male gymnasts cannot wear hot pink bandages while they compete. Well, unfortunately, I have more bad news. Yin Alvarez's clap before Danell's high bar dismount is no longer permissible at competitions. (Unless someone has a different interpretation of the following rule change.)

Here's the old rule:

The coach has the responsibility:
  • To refrain from speaking to the gymnast or from assisting him in any other way during his performance.

The new code is more explicit:

Responsibilities of the Coaches to:
  • Refrain from speaking to the gymnast or from assisting in any other way (give signals, shouts, cheers or similar) during his performance.

Don't fret, though. This just means that the fans in the arena will just have to clap on Yin Alvarez's behalf.

Other changes about coaches' responsibilities:

  • The Kanye West Rule: The new code explicitly states that coaches must display sportsmanlike conduct during awards ceremonies. In the past, they could be as belligerent as they wanted. They were only required to be present. 

  • The Twitter Rule: The coaches cannot tweet during the competition. Okay, that's not what the Code says, but that's one way to interpret it. In the new version, the technical committee members have made it clear that coaches cannot engage in discussions with "persons outside of the inner arena circle during the competition (exception: team doctor, delegation leader)."

Dear FIG:

If you need someone to monitor all social media activity during competitions, please contact me. I'll gladly do it.

Uncle Tim
  • The Springboard Loophole: The coaches cannot "re-arrange or remove springs from the springboard." As far as I can tell, this was not in the 2009-12 Code, and when adding it to the 2013-16 version, they missed one tiny detail: The new Code says nothing about the gymnast re-arranging the springs–just removing them.
Dear FIG:

Having a dress code in high school taught me how to bend rules without breaking them. Consider this your one freebie. 

Uncle Tim

  • The "Move Your @$$ out of the Way" Rule: Coaches can no longer obstruct the view of the judges. This, I would assume, has always been an implicit rule, but they had to make it explicit. I wonder why...
To be fair: On parallel bars, the coach can be present on the podium to pull the springboard, but there's a fine line between (1) pulling the springboard and (2) pulling the springboard, watching a skill, and obstructing a judge's view in the process.

Okay, it's back to studying the Code.

P.S. Just to clear things up: Yin Alvarez probably caused the Code to change as much as Kanye West caused it to change. I'm calling it the "Yin Alvarez Clause" simply because Yin--of all the American coaches--is the figure whose theatrics gym fans are most likely to recognize.

Changing the Code: The Rights of a Gymnast

Who cares about the vault tables?

Gymnasts around the world, you should be upset! Mr. Stoica and his crew are taking away your rights! And we're not talking about trivial matters like the right to to be judged fairly. We're talking about serious issues like the right to wear hot pink bandages!

Adrian Stoica looks so much like my father, who looks a little like Ned Flanders and a little like David Selby when he plays Commissioner Gordon.

1. The right to wear hot pink bandages

The FIG has been taking tips from Joan Rivers's Fashion Police for some time. Male gymnasts, for instance, cannot wear long pants, socks, or slippers that are black or "the darker shades of blue, brown, or green." Who would wear brown anyway? The judges are automatically going to associate your routine with poo.

But that's neither here nor there. What I'm concerned about is this rule:

Handguards, body bandages, and wrist wraps are permitted; they must be securely fastened, in good repair and should not detract from the aesthetics of the performance. Bandages must be skin-coloured [so British] when available from the manufacturer.

In the 2013-16 Code of Points, the technical committee has added the line about the bandages. I presume that this is for aesthetic reasons–they don't want the judges to be distracted by tape jobs and bandages–but I'm confused about the amendment's implications. Does Sam Mikulak have to stop tanning so that his skin color matches the white tape on his ankles? Or are bandages and tape different?

Also, how are they going to check to see if the manufacturer produces skin-coloured bandages? Will someone peruse online inventory at every meet? If so, I want that job. I'm very good at online research, Mr. Stoica.

2. The duty to re-chalk

We've all seen gymnasts fall off a piece of apparatus, waltz over to the chalk tray, and mindlessly throw on some magnesium carbonate as they regroup. In the old Code of Points, this was listed under "rights and responsibilities:"

[The gymnast has the right] to use magnesium, to make adjustments to personal equipment, and to confer with his coach during the thirty seconds available to him following a fall from the apparatus and between his first and second vaults.
The new rule is split into separate sections:

The gymnast is guaranteed the right to:
  • Rest or recuperate for up to 30 seconds following a fall from the apparatus 
  • Confer with their coach during the 30 seconds available to him between a fall from the apparatus and between the first and second vaults.  
  • [Please note: No magnesium carbonate here!] 
Duties of the gymnast:
  • To remount within 30 seconds after a fall (the timing starts when the gymnast is on his feet after the fall) In this time the gymnast can recuperate, re-chalk, confer with his coach and remount
Maybe it's just me, but I feel like re-chalking is more of a right than a duty.

[Dear Anonymous #1: Thanks for pointing this out! xx, Uncle Tim.]

3. The right to hide springs from your competitors

The 2009-12 Code of Points discussed what constitutes abusive behavior on the part of a gymnast. In the latest version, they have added a very special line (in bold):

To refrain from any other undisciplined or abusive behavior or infringing on those of any other participant (i.e. marking the floor carpet with magnesium, damaging any apparatus surface or parts during preparation for his exercise or removing springs from the spring board. These violations will be treated as apparatus related violations, and will be deducted as large errors with 0.5 points).

Okay, I understand why unloading the springboard is potentially dangerous, but I'm curious as to why they are adding this to the Code. What happened during the last quad? Something must have happened. Why else would they add that rule to the Code? Does anyone have the scoop?

Without knowing the backstory, I imagine that some gymnast fell on his first event, and being the diva that he is, he decided that if he was not going to win, no one would. So, he went over to the vault, grabbed all the springs, and hid them in his gym bag.

Okay... maybe that is not the most plausible backstory. Like, how did he steal all the springs without the judges noticing? Did he hide the springs in his leo, wearing them like a Madonna cone-shaped bra? That'd be a sight to see.

Regardless of questions of plausibility, until I know the real story, that's my explanation, and I'm sticking to it.

Dear Members of the FIG,

You can't pull the wool over my eyes. Nothing gets past me–unless it has to do with pommel horse. In that case, pretty much everything gets past me.


Uncle Tim

Seriously, though, if anyone can shed light on these (seemingly minor) changes, I'd greatly appreciate it. In the meantime, I gotta get back to studying the Code of Points.