By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LITTLE ROCK – When entering Verizon Arena on Saturday for the Southeastern Conference Gymnastics Championship, fans will notice a new and exciting feel to the 2013 edition of the event.
The SEC Championship will continue to feature the nation’s top competition, as seven SEC teams are ranked among the nation’s top-20, including four squads in the top-10 nationally, but – if it’s possible – a new format will make the event even more fan-friendly.
For the first time, the SEC Gymnastics Championship will feature eight teams, as Missouri officially joined the league on July 1, 2012. The addition of an eighth squad necessitated splitting the annual event into two sessions of four teams each. The final standings of the championship will be determined by each squad’s team point total, regardless of session.
“In our SEC coaches meeting, it was a unanimous decision,” LSU head coach D-D Breaux said on Wednesday’s SEC Gymnastics Teleconference. “We kicked around some other ideas, but when it came down to wanting two separate rotations and not having a mega-meet, I think this was in the best interest of our student-athletes, and I think our kids are very, very excited about it.”
In recent years, the seven-team championship event featured all league squads competing in a single session, with each team having three byes throughout the course of the competition. Extending the competition any longer, the coaches decided, would neither benefit the competing student-athletes nor the fans in the stands.
“As it was before Missouri entered our conference, it was the longest and one of the most grueling competitions because of the three byes,” Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn said. “We really could not ask our athletes to go into a four-bye competition, putting them at risk of severe injury with so much down time; and, putting the fans through a four-hour competition is too much. We all voted and decided that this was our best possible scenario.”
The two sessions at the SEC Gymnastics Championship are determined by seeding. The first session – which begins at 2 p.m. CT Saturday - features Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Missouri, while the second session – which begins at 6 p.m. CT Saturday - consists of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU.
Each session will be similar to a regular-season quad meet, with no byes and all four teams competing at once. According to Faehn, it will provide a much more stirring experience for spectators.
“It’s so important for any fan out there watching that the meet be fast,” Faehn said. “For someone that is coming who just loves to watch gymnastics, it’s important that we keep the competition running fast, smooth and short. It makes for a better experience for them. We now have two sessions, don’t have any byes and it will last about an hour and a half. It will be great for the fan experience.”
Regardless of the changes that will be on display at this year’s SEC Gymnastics Championship, one thing is constant: the meet will boast the nation’s finest competition in one venue on one single day.
“You put four of the very best teams in the country on the floor at the same time,” Breaux said. “That level of pressure and intensity, and how you have to train your kids to focus is only going to make us much, much tougher for the postseason.”
SEC Teams in GymInfo Poll (March 18, 2013)