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What is National Qualifying Score (NQS) and how is it different in 2021?

The first NCAA women’s gymnastics rankings determined by NQS were unveiled Sunday night, and Utah, BYU, Southern Utah and Utah State are all in the top 20.

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Utah’s Alexia Burch performs on the beam as Utah and UCLA compete in a gymnastics meet at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. 

Annie Barker, Deseret News

It is that time of year again.

Starting late Sunday night, the rankings for the nation’s 82 gymnastics programs will now be determined by National Qualifying Score, commonly referred to as NQS.

Which of course means it is time for a refresher course on exactly what NQS even is.

What is NQS and how is it determined?

NQS is the score that determines which 36 teams advance to NCAA regionals.

Prior to 2019, it was known as Regional Qualifying Score, or RQS, but when the postseason format shifted from Super Six to Four on the Floor, so too did the name of the qualifying score.

NQS

Calculating Utah Gymnastics’ 2020 National Qualifying Score

Meet 1 — Jan. 3 vs. Kentucky (HOME) — 196.425

Meet 2 — Jan. 11 at BYU, Southern Utah, Utah State (Away) — 197.000

Meet 3 — Jan. vs. Arizona State (HOME) — 197.050

Meet 4 — Feb. 1 at Arizona (Away) — 197.300

Meet 5 — Feb. 8 at California (Away) — 197.550

Meet 6 — Feb. 15 vs. Oregon State (HOME) — 197.100

Meet 7 — Feb. 23 at UCLA (Away) — 198.075

Meet 8 — March 1 at Washington (Away) — 197.675

Meet 9 — March 6 vs. Stanford (HOME) — 197.750

NQS — 197.475

In a normal year — aka not 2021 — it is calculated like this:

  • Take a team’s top six scores from the season.
  • Three of those scores must have come on the road or at neutral sites (this is done to eliminate perceived biased scoring at home).
  • Then remove the highest score and average the remaining five.

There are usually somewhere between 10 to 13 meets for teams during a normal regular season — conference championships are included in the regular season — so for rankings purposes, half of the season is voided by NQS.

Additionally, NQS doesn’t begin until Week 8. Prior to that, teams are ranked by their season average score.

At first glance, the system is quite jarring for the casual sports fan. It completely devalues wins and losses. For example, Arkansas is currently the sixth-ranked team in the country as of Feb. 27, but the Gymbacks are 2-4 overall. Wins and losses effectively only matter for regular season conference championship races and bragging rights.

That being said, NQS attempts to accurately rate teams by their peak ability while avoiding true outliers. Teams that started the season poorly or had an uncharacteristically poor meet get to drop those bad scores like they didn’t even happen.

NQS does tend to have an adverse effect on teams that are consistent throughout the year but have lower and/or fewer high scores, but for the most part it does its job of ranking teams by how good they can be and sets up the postseason in a such a way that the best teams almost always meet at nationals.

Why does it matter?

As mentioned above, NQS determines which 36 teams make it to regionals. It also determines seeding for the postseason.

There are four regionals — this year Georgia, Missouri, Utah and West Virginia are all hosts — that take place over the course of three days. Per the NCAA, teams ranked 1 through 16 by NQS are seeded in order, with the rest of the field being placed geographically at the regional sites.

Each regional consists of nine teams. The first day of regional competition pits two teams against one another in a sort of play-in meet. The second day then sees eight teams compete in a pair of quad meets. The best two teams from each meet then advance to the final day of regionals. The top two teams on the final day of competition then secure a spot at nationals.

NQS determines which top teams go to which regional and who they’ll be pitted against. The No. 1 overall seed competes against the eighth, ninth and 16th-ranked teams, while the No. 2 seed goes against the seventh, 10th and 15-ranked teams, and, well, you get the point. Basically the higher the seed, the easier the route to nationals is. The lower, the more difficult.

Below is the bracket from 2019 to illustrate.

Screen_Shot_2021_02_27_at_7.13.50_PM.png

2019 National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championships

NCAA

How will 2021 be different?

While the postseason format has not changed this season, at least not yet, how NQS is determined has been altered significantly in 2021 as a result of the pandemic.

2021 NQS

Calculating Utah Gymnastics’ 2021 National Qualifying Score

Meet 1 — Jan. 9 at BYU, Southern Utah and Utah State (Away) — 196.900

Meet 2 — Jan. 17 at Oklahoma (Away) — 196.550

Meet 3 — Jan. 23 vs. Arizona (HOME) — 197.075

Meet 4 — Jan. 30 vs. Washington (HOME) — 197.475

Meet 5 — Feb. 6 at Arizona State (Away) — 197.450

Meet 6 — Feb. 19 vs. UCLA (HOME) — 197.225

Meet 7 — Feb. 26 vs. Cal (HOME) — 197.375

NQS — 197.300

Because the NCAA expected cancelled meets with no guarantee that teams would even be able to reach the eight meet mark needed for NQS, the formula was made exceedingly simple.

This year, NQS will be determined like this:

  • Take a team’s top four scores from the season.
  • Two of those scores must have come on the road or at neutral sites.
  • Average the four scores together.

That is it.

While there is no elimination of high scores whatsoever, the rejiggered formula still cancels out poor performances. Utah, for example, will compete in 10 meets during the regular season, but competitions against Oklahoma, Arizona and UCLA have already been eliminated from NQS consideration.

Visit Road to Nationals Sunday night and every Sunday after to see the updated rankings. The initial NQS rankings will be released sometime after the conclusion of NCAA competition on Sunday.