In NCAA Women’s Gymnastics, Texas-sized holes

Fort Worth, Texas (AP) — As is often the case with elite gymnasts, Ragan Smith had no choice when it came to choosing a college. In the country title In your resume.

Smith did not have one option available. does not exist.

Texas, the venue for this week’s NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, the state that produced the Olympic champions Carly Patterson When Nastia Liukin When Simone BilesJust six women’s gymnastics scholarships are available in states with more than 20 universities currently classified in Division I, and states with some of the country’s most prominent gymnastics programs, if not in the world. And all of that is in Division II Texas. Women’s college.

This means Smith, who moved from Georgia to the outskirts of Dallas at the age of 13 to train at a gym owned by former World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist Kim Zumescal, must leave Texas to compete at Division I level. I had to.

“All these great clubs are in Texas and you’ll think (the big school) has a program,” Smith said. “But they really aren’t.”

Things went well for Smith, who is now a junior in Oklahoma. She and Suners are aiming for their fourth national title in eight years on Saturday against Florida, Auburn and Utah at Dickies Arena, a luxury facility within three miles of the TCU campus.

Horned Frogs offers 13 women’s sports, including horseback riding, rifles and triathlons. It’s not gymnastics.

The same is true for Texas (providing boats, etc.), Baylor (acrobatics and tumbling, gymnastics cousins), Texas A & M, Texas Tech, Houston, Rice, etc. Representatives from Texas and Texas A & M, who were contacted by the Associated Press this week, said they had no plans to offer women’s gymnastics as a varsity sport.

Many schools have student-led gymnastics clubs, but they are not affiliated with the athletic club and You need to raise your own funding To survive, high-level gymnasts like Smith and Auburn’s Senior Drew Watson need to look elsewhere if they want to continue their career.

Watson grew up in Tyler, Texas and preferred to be near his home. Instead, she settled in Auburn, more than nine hours away in her car. This is a trip that her parents rarely made early in their career.

It was the same for most of her club teammates in Eastern Texas Gymnastics. When it was time to go to college, they spread all over the country, from Kentucky to Ohio, Arkansas, and Florida.

This is the way for almost all top level 10 or elite gymnasts in Lone Star. Seven of the eight teams in this week’s national championship will have at least one Texas graduate on the roster, while a few other teams are senior Kennedy Hambrick of Arkansas and Jordan of the 2020 Olympic silver medalist. I participated in individual qualifying rounds such as Childs. A few years ago, the Houston area trained with Biles at the World Champions Center.

Watson laughed a bit when asked what would happen if one of Texas’s major schools made a leap and did what schools like Clemson were doing when adding programs. Sports in the midst of a serious boom.

“It will certainly be a game changer,” she said.

It’s expensive. Twelve full scholarships are available for Division I’s Women’s Gymnastics program, and the number could be increased to 14. It’s not cheap to put in all the training, travel, coaching salaries and start a competitive team. Add a spillover effect for Title IX — to this The interests and abilities of male and female students in the movement must be adapted equally and effectively. —And math can be difficult.

Still, in some places, there is hope that women’s gymnastics can be “profit-neutral.” This is a model that LSU coach Jay Clark wants to reach his program by the end of the decade, with the Tigers being an exception. LSU is typically one of the national leaders in average attendance, attracting an average of 11,691 fans at five home meetings this season.

Adding scholarships can be a hurdle for potential programs to navigate, but Clark sees it as a supply and demand issue.

“Since 1995, we haven’t increased and the pool of talent has quadrupled,” he said.

He’s not a joke. Over the last decade, the number of active level 10 gymnasts, who make up the majority of college athletes, has nearly doubled from 1,600 to nearly 3,100.

Nelly Byles, a talented giant on display daily at the World Champions Center, opened in 2015 early in her daughter’s extraordinary career. Jim has produced more than 12 Division I athletes over the last seven years.

“If that opportunity opens in Texas, I think it’s going to be a gold mine,” said Nelly Biles. “There are a lot of girls in Texas being hired from everywhere else. I’m sure UCLA and Alabama are happy that we don’t have one.”

Longtime Oklahoma coach KJ Kindler has four Texans on her list. Her hiring pitch is a combination of her quality (Sooners has played in the finals nine times in a row) and her closeness to home. Kinderer is “shocked” and does not face competition from Oklahoma’s rival school in almost every sport.

“When the DI program in Texas begins, they will compete very quickly for the national championship,” she said.

It’s not because of the lack of attempt by sports people. The College Gymnastics Growth Initiative was initiated by the Women’s College Gymnastics Association “to promote awareness in the pursuit and addition of new women’s college gymnastics programs across the country.”

According to Randy Lane, head coach of Long Island University, CGGI, created in the mid-’90s to “save our (butt)”, gave several presentations to schools in Texas.

“We worked hard not to push in terms of” need to add. ” Then they don’t, “says Lane. “We have to show them the benefits of the program. We have shown that they are one of the top sports in terms of average grades and one of the top sports in (Academic Progress Rate).”

Texas Women’s University, which won its 12th title at the National College Championship last week, could jump to Division I, but head coach Lisa Bowerman blamed it when asked about it.

“It’s great to see it happen, but that’s all we can say at this point,” she said.

NCAA continues to have a presence in Texas. The Women’s Championship will be held in Fort Worth until at least 2026. Ideally, it’s a centralized location, but there’s also a bit more subliminal advertising.

ESPN analyst and two-time Olympic gold medalist Bart Connor said:

For now, athletes like Smith and Watson can be comforted by the fact that they don’t have to see their families cross state boundaries to compete in the biggest tournaments of the season. Area code.

“Texas has a great school, and they need to get it,” Biles said.


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