A look at the State of NCAA Men's Gymnastics
In April 2018, the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) Flames hosted the 2017-2018 men’s collegiate gymnastics championships. 16 teams were in attendance. Four months later, on August 31st, 2018, The UIC men and women's gymnastics teams were informed that due to the cost of sports “rapidly rising with no sign of slowing down” their programs are to be dropped at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season. Garrett Klassy, the UIC Athletic Director, assured the University that “...this was a move toward progress that needed to be taken.”. This decision will affect 11 women and 25 men from the university who will still have NCAA eligibility. The effect it has on the sport of gymnastics, specifically for men, is much greater.
There are currently 16 Universities in the United States that offer NCAA recognized men’s gymnastics programs. In one year’s time, the loss of UIC will shrink that number yet again to, as you can guess…
In 1969 there were 234 schools in the country that offered competitive men’s gymnastics programs. 32 years later, in 2001, that number was reduced to 21 programs. These statistics are heartbreaking. The sheer loss in opportunity at that magnitude is unjust and shameful. Gymnastics is one of the world's oldest sports and is consistently the top most viewed and anticipated event during the Olympic games and yet many in this nation, with the power to create change, are allowing this beautiful sport to die.
In the United States gymnastics community, the NCAA is of the highest forms of competition. Gymnastics doesn’t have a “league” equivalent to the Minors in baseball. For this reason, many of the nations top gymnasts are products of college teams. The natural progression of the sport begins, as you can imagine, at a young age. Intramural and high school gymnastics for boys doesn’t exist in any state other than Illinois so athletes are required to join a club. As they get older, they are exposed to competition that offers them the ability to earn a select place on either Jr., ages 15-18, or Senior, ages 18+, National Teams. While on the National Team they will travel and compete internationally as an athlete representing the United States. These athletes are often the ones in contention for placement on the Olympic and World competition teams.
Losing collegiate gymnastics is a tragedy but the further truth of the matter is that without it, the sport as a whole is in peril and will likely die. See, unlike other sporting organizations, there is little to no opportunity to make money as a “professional” gymnast. Athletes often competing on the National Team are in the college competition system. They are receiving their education as well as some of the highest levels of coaching and competition the country has to offer. As a young gymnast, the ability to strive for a place on the National Team without giving up one’s education is an ideal situation. But, without collegiate teams, what choices are these these athletes left with?
I, like many other young boys, had an abundance of undirected energy and was unintentionally drawn to chaos. For this reason, I found myself in gymnastics at a young age, three to be exact. It was one of several sports in my repertoire, including soccer, baseball, wrestling, and track and field. My participation in these sports did not all overlap and once but as I grew I began to weed out the ones enjoyed the least. Many athletes continue participation in multiple sports as long as they are able but sooner or later they all must make a choice. Parents of young men’s gymnasts viewing the current state of the collegiate and “professional” system are going to be more inclined to guide their children in the direction offering more opportunity to succeed. My parents were supportive and would have backed my decision to participate in any sport of my choosing but they have always made it a point to weigh all of the options. With fewer college teams, fewer young boys/men will be inclined to pursue gymnastics seriously and the sport will dwindle to nothing.
College athletics, in my opinion, is one of the most valuable opportunities a young person can experience. The NCAA offers a unique combination to pursue a high level of discipline in both academics and athletics. This is unlike any in the world. Gymnastics, specifically during college, has afforded me the skills, opportunities, and relationships I need to be the very best version of myself physically, socially, and professionally. It taught me not only discipline and leadership but passion and compassion. I can say with certainty that I would not be the man I am today without this incredible sport and family. It brings me great pain and sadness to think others will not share in the same opportunities that continue to provide me with all I need to build a happy and successful life.
Please help us to save the UIC program, not only to protect the experiences of its current athletes but to secure the many opportunities it would provide for youth in the future.
Game Change was founded in 2011 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes. Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes. Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.