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U. well aware of ‘cradle to grave’

SHARE U. well aware of ‘cradle to grave’

Greg Marsden and other Ute coaches are keenly aware of the NCAA's "cradle to grave" grip over scholarshipped athletes, so the gymnastics coach says he did know the rule that tripped up Georgia's gym team and cost it a scholarship.

A story Tuesday in the Atlanta Journal Constitution detailed how the Gym Dogs lost a scholarship this season and saw other sanctions against the program imposed by the school, with NCAA approval, for a trip last spring on a private jet to New York City for six gymnasts who had completed their eligibility. The story said it was a violation of NCAA Bylaw 16.02.3 on extra benefits for former student-athletes.

Coach Suzanne Yoculan told the paper she did not know it would be a violation and that she'd "told everyone" in Georgia offices of the planned trip for the athletes to stay at the posh Plaza hotel, go shopping, tour Ground Zero and see a Broadway play last May. The former athletes flew on a private plane owned by Don Leebern, a Georgia booster and member of the Board of Regents who shares a residence with Yoculan.

The infraction was considered secondary, but each former athlete was ordered to give the cost of the trip, determined at $730, to charity. Additionally, Georgia lost a scholarship this season, a requirement apparently filled when one team member did not return to school, and Yoculan was reprimanded by the athletic director and must refrain from off-campus recruiting this August and attend an NCAA rules compliance seminar this summer.

"I did know that rule," said Marsden, crediting Doug Archie, Utah's assistant athletic director for compliance, for drilling NCAA policies and procedures into all U. coaches.

Just because an athlete's eligibility is completed doesn't mean that person is free of NCAA sanctions, and boosters and teams are not allowed to reward former athletes with additional benefits even years later — "to grave," as Marsden said. The reason, said Marsden, is because coaches could use post-eligibility rewards as a means of recruiting top athletes, saying they can't have freebies while they're still in line to compete but could receive gifts later.

"Probably a lot of people don't realize that (rule)," Marsden said, "and even if you know it, it's easy to forget."

Utah competes at Georgia Feb. 25 as part of a new home-and-home agreement. The teams haven't met in the regular season since 1995.

THE SCORE: No, NCAA gymnastics teams have not gotten worse this season, even if many scores — and eventually most scores — have dropped. NCAA coaches have asked gym judges to be more strict in their scoring from now on, and the presidents of the national women's gym judges and women's collegiate judges have sent out letters to their members reiterating that wish.

"It is imperative that the rules be applied as written in the Code of Points and in the (Junior Olympic) Technical Handbook. Failure to apply the rules consistently across

the country will ultimately be unfair to the athletes," said a letter to judges from NAWGC president Carole Ide.

In his letter, Mike Lorenzen, president of NACGC/W, mentioned that collegians compete so much more often than their younger counterparts that their experience "have fewer deductions for execution and subjective things like artistry. Most judges also are a little more generous when it comes to taking execution deductions than they would be for JO athletes (eg: taking .05 instead of 0.1 for a particular mistake)."

Judges are to take off the full tenths for errors. A routine that is completed without major error but some execution difficulties might now score in the 9.6 area or less. Perfect 10s are still the goal and still possible — one was awarded at UCLA Monday — but few meets will have four or five 10s any more.

The idea is to separate truly special performances. Not all judges have adjusted yet, so scoring is far from uniform, and coaches, athletes and fans will all eventually have to start considering 9.7s and 9.8s as strong scores.

The change may benefit teams like Utah, which has always believed in strong execution of any skills its gymnasts compete; other top programs have preferred to throw every skill available and expect to score highly if the athlete doesn't fall. Now, execution errors can add up.

In another attempt to standardize scoring, a dozen national "assigners" have been implemented to send judges to meets. The system is voluntary this season but will be mandatory next year to keep chances of favoritism to a minimum. Utah has used a national assigner for the past couple of years and had two home-state and two visiting-state judges for meets not involving in-state teams.

NOT SURE: Because scoring is changing, it's hard to discern relative strengths of teams. Two-time defending NCAA champion UCLA has had two 197+ scores (197.30, 197.05) and No. 1-ranked Utah has had one (197.675 when hosting UCLA), but no other teams in the country have come close — Michigan's 196.025 is the next-highest. UCLA also scored 194.50 at Oregon State, and Utah had 196.575 at Utah State last week.

Despite the tighter scoring, USU's 193.85 in hosting the Utes was its highest season-opening score in at least six years, and Southern Utah's 195.525-195.10 upset over Denver Tuesday was its highest ever so early in the season. And BYU's 195.575-192.575 win last week over SUU moved the Cougars into ninth place in the NCAA rankings, which at this point in the season are done by high score.

E-mail: lham@desnews.com