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The Auburn vs Alabama Gymnastics Streak: Why Did It Exist In The First Place?

Let's talk about just why Auburn hasn't defeated Alabama in so long.

Anthony Hall / Auburn Athletics

If you haven't heard by now, Auburn defeated Alabama in Gymnastics last night for the first time since 1979. That's a long time. A very long time.

If you go around various Auburn message boards today, you may see people commenting on this number in amazement. There's the usual Auburn vs Alabama arguments on biased judges, but that doesn't really fit for this. You can't have biased judges for 37 years. That's particularly true when a number of the matches in the streak were SEC or NCAA Tournament meets and not just a dual-meet.

Why Did It Take Almost 37 Years To Beat Alabama?

Bear in mind that I'm just a newbie myself when it comes to following gymnastics. I had to have the scoring explained to me last year and Megan Walker has helped out considerably with her articles on gymnastics that she's been writing for us.

Megan talked last Thursday about the difficulty in breaking into the top ranks of NCAA gymnastics. A win over Alabama goes a long way towards increasing the prestige of Auburn's program and helping it to reach the heights of other NCAA power houses. In that article, Megan said that

The key aspect to remember is that gymnastics tends to be a sport of reputation. By this, I mean that it takes time for a team to prove they are competitive, but once a team becomes known as a winning team, it’s just as difficult to lose that title. In this instance, the University of Alabama has won several SEC and NCAA titles, while Auburn has not. Even if Alabama has a year where they may not be as talented, they will be more likely to earn "the benefit of the doubt" from judges.

So given that, Auburn already has started off needing to perform near flawlessly in every meet since the Tigers just haven't had the reputation as a big-time winner.

It's more subjective than just that, though. Last year's meet vs Air Force is a great example. In that meet, the Air Force gymnasts were performing excellently and nailing their routines. However, they were still receiving scores in the 9.5 range vs the 9.8 range that Auburn was hitting. To an untrained eye there was no difference in quality, yet the scores were still significantly different.

Why is that? Well, this paragraph from a 2013 Red And Black article (UGA's student newspaper) does a great job of explaining things more clearly than I can.

Every once in a while, you’ll be enjoying a Gym Dog meet and someone does what you think it great routine, but the score is posted and seems low. One of the reasons for this could be start value. Start value is the starting score that the judges will take deductions from. Originally, every collegiate routine starts from a 9.5 and .5 or more worth of bonus is added to the routine to make it start from a 10.0. Gymnasts can gain bonus from connecting two skills together, or doing a certain difficulty of skill. Almost all D-I gymnastics routines start from a 10.0, but if the gymnast messes up and doesn’t hit her connections during a routine, it can hurt her start value. Some gymnasts are so good that they can throw in more than .5 worth of bonus and start from more than a 10.0. Although she won’t be able to earn anything more than a perfect 10, this will aid her if she misses a connection during her routine.

So, you see, the level of difficulty in a routine matters. One of the things Auburn has done in recent years has been upping the difficulty of the routines. By doing so, Auburn is receiving higher scores. I don't think Auburn's routines were THAT much less difficult before (I'm speaking from a limited knowledge, after all), but that combined with those "benefit of the doubt" factors made it difficult to break through and defeat Alabama, a traditional gymnastics powerhouse.

What Took So Long?

I have no idea why it's taken so long for Auburn to go this route. I'm writing this on the fly just because I thought a general explanation was needed for many in the fanbase about why there was a 117 meet losing streak to Alabama. I always wondered myself until someone explained the scoring to me last year.

Programs in the SEC are spending a large amount of money on the "non-revenue" sports of late. Look no further than how difficult it has become for Auburn's once dominant Swimming and Diving team for proof. Auburn Softball's rise is another example. Auburn is putting in the effort to get these ladies to the top, and they are responding with excellence on the floor.

Auburn has been chipping away at Alabama's margins of victory over the last few years. It was really just a matter of time before the Tigers finally knocked off the Tide. Auburn went to the Super 6 last year and competed with the best. They competed well against now top-ranked Oklahoma last weekend. After years of routines that just didn't measure up to what Alabama was doing, Auburn was finally poised to do what hasn't been done since Jimmy Carter was President.

Last night, Auburn received season high scores in a number of events. The sell out crowd atmosphere seems to have lifted the ladies even higher than their already stellar performances over the last few weeks, months, and years. The judges noticed as well, and Auburn finally exorcised a demon that has been hanging over the Auburn/Alabama rivalry for so long.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A Super 6 last year, knocking off Alabama this year, close meets against other top-ranked competition, and the sky seems like the limit for the Gym Tigers. Last night's victory should help increase Auburn's reputation. Things are only going to get better. Who knows, perhaps Auburn can be the next team to break the barrier and become only the 7th school to ever win an NCAA title in gymnastics in the next few years.

Congrats on your amazing win ladies, and congrats to Coach Jeff Graba on the effort he's put in to getting them there. War Eagle!