Livvy Dunne says ‘Write a paper using AI,’ LSU says ‘No’ — College gym news — Thoughts from Melissa D. Hellman, gym fan
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, March 4, 2023
Yes, I’m writing about Livvy Dunne again this week. No, I’m not writing about her “fans” who are writing obnoxious and frankly misogynistic replies on her teammates’ social posts. (Just stop. And also, why are you doing this on KJ Johnson’s IG? Have you seen KJ Johnson?)
I’m not even going to talk about this Guardian article, which despite calling Dunne in its lede “not the most talented gymnast out there” (just stop!) makes some very good points about the purpose of NIL and praises Dunne’s business sense, unlike a certain other article that referred to her social media savvy as, effectively, prostitution.
I’m talking today about Dunne’s decision to promote, on her very popular TikTok, Cacktus.ai, an artificial intelligence (AI) company that brags about writing your school papers for you.
It went over as well as, well, plagiarism on a college campus. LSU, where Dunne is a junior, released a statement shortly after Dunne posted her TikTok. “Using AI to produce work that a student then represents as one’s own could result in a charge of academic misconduct, as outlined in the Code of Student Conduct,” the statement, attributed to LSU spokeswoman Alison Satake, said.
While most students now work with agents or within cooperatives to manage NIL deals, it should still be required that they think about the impact of said deal on their followers. While Dunne certainly would have some followers who would use a service like Cacktus.ai, she probably should not be encouraging them to. At the same time, an agent should never have offered a student-athlete a deal from a company claiming to – I’m cutting right to the chase here – enable cheating. Both Dunne and her agent should have known that promoting Cacktus.ai might threaten her status as a student.
Most, if not all, colleges and universities issue similar warnings to their students as a condition of enrollment. But this is the first time that I’m aware that an honor code and NIL rules have crossed paths.
Dunne is obviously intelligent – you do not become a student-athlete nor exhibit her business sense online if you are not. Repping this product was not an intelligent choice, and I hope that she will say something about her decision to support them in the future.
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Other gym news
Winter Cup happened. I’m not going to break down the whole meet here, because it’s been a week and most of you probably either watched the meet or, like me, devoured clips and replays and listened to recaps provided by experts.
Lauren Hopkins at The Gymternet does a good summary here.
GymCastic did a whole episode this week breaking down Winter Cup results.
I will say that I think the podium here was a great one, and I hope that we see a lot more this year from Lexi Zeiss, Ashlee Sullivan, and Nola Matthews. I also really enjoyed watching Joscelyn Roberson, Kaliya Lincoln, and Zoe Miller, and think we will see big things from them as well, whether in elite or NCAA.
Week eight of NCAA also happened. Oklahoma, Utah, and Florida all hit 198s, but only one can stay on top (that would be the Sooners, obvs).
See Road to Nationals’ standings here. See College Gym News’ report card here and their leotard report card (an underappreciated gem!) here. See Spencer’s NQS and rankings update here. Spencer also gives us all the 10s and, of course, all the GIFs.
Spencer also gives us the schedule for this weekend. Bless his heart.
Doha is happening! Right now!
USAG released the roster for the junior worlds selection camp.
UCLA received a gift that endows the gymnastics head coach job.
In better NIL news, Suni Lee signed a deal with Crocs.
The first all-Black all-around podium from last year’s USAG Nationals – Konnor McClain, Shilese Jones, and Jordan Chiles – did an interview about their historic feat.
Social media post of the week
Grace McCallum gives us hope.
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Five at The IX: Melissa D. Hellman
Melissa (she/her/hers) is a gym fan who got in touch with me after I began writing this column. I love interviewing fans about how they got into the sport, and Melissa was a good sport! She lives in Oswego, N.Y. and works from home as a freelance editor, “helping authors to clearly and concisely say what they mean,” as she puts it. She has side hustles as a knitting teacher at Knitty Gritty Yarns in Syracuse and as an off-ice official for the SUNY Oswego’s hockey teams. For seven years, Melissa worked as a Zamboni driver for her own Sunday night hockey group! Badass. You can find her on Mastodon as @firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter and Instagram as @hellmanmd. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you become a gymnastics fan?
MDH: I’ve been a gymnastics fan since the days of belly beats on bars, back when gymnastics competitions were shown on HBO! You know how every Olympic year sparks a new generation of kids to try the sport? I was doing gymnastics before the 1980 team got boycotted out of their opportunity.
Like many little girls all across America, my friends and I did dance classes together. At the dance school we went to, everyone did ballet for the first half of each class session, and then we’d change our shoes for something else in the second half: tap or jazz or another kind of dance. One of the more advanced classes at the school had ballet paired with tumbling, and we were all really excited when we got to be in that class! After that, we all decided that tumbling was way more fun than ballet, and left the dance school in favor of rec classes at one of the local gyms. We bounced around a bit from gym to gym, always together as a group of three friends so our parents could share carpool duties. I don’t think any of us ever moved beyond rec classes. By middle school, we had all moved on to doing other sports and other things. Nonetheless, the fandom stuck with me.
I didn’t discover NCAA gymnastics until I got married and moved to Kent, Ohio, after grad school. We lived a short walk from the Kent State University campus, so it was easy to go to meets. Then, as now, Kent State is part of the MAC, so those are the teams I saw the most of. We’d also regularly see Ohio State, WVU, Pitt, and other non-MAC schools close enough for easy travel.
Going in, I hadn’t realized that NCAA gymnastics was really a team sport. But as any sports fan would, I figured it out pretty quickly, even without a commentator to explain the rules to me at the beginning of every single broadcast. At first, I was really surprised to see the gymnasts cheering and yelling for their teammates—I’d never seen that happening in the elite meets I’d seen on TV, where everything was a zero-sum game and nobody seemed to show much emotion of any kind. Once I got over my initial surprise, I grew to love the enthusiasm and genuine excitement they showed for each other and the competitors on the other team. I think the importance of the team really hit me at the awards ceremony for the first dual meet I attended, when individual event winners were presented with a single flower, but when the winning team score was finally announced at the end, the gym got louder than it had been all night!
It’s probably a good thing I learned about NCAA gymnastics at a fairly low-key conference, far away from the bazonkers scoring we see in some of today’s meets, because it was easier to figure out what the deductions were!
I think everyone remembers their first 10. Mine was at a meet vs WVU, on March 11, 2001. The 10 came on floor, from WVU’s Kristen Macrie during a dual meet. (I didn’t remember those details and had to look them up. I may be a fan and a gymnerd, but I’m not THAT obsessive!)
Now that I live in upstate NY, I don’t have easy access in person to college gymnastics. I’m within range (~2 hours’ drive) of several D3 schools (Brockport, Cortland, Ithaca, and next year, Utica). But college gymnastics season is also college hockey season, and my weekends are already spoken for, either working men’s games or watching (or occasionally working) women’s games or both. On the rare weekend that neither hockey team has a home game, we try to go on the road to support our team, generally prioritizing the women over the men. And we always make sure that we get back in time for me to play my own Sunday night game!
Because I’m generally doing hockey things on winter weekends, I can’t watch many meet broadcasts live, even when they’re on streams or channels easily available to me. As a result, most of the college gymnastics I see consists of meets available through ESPN+, and I watch them a few days after they happen. I try to hold off reading Spencer’s live blogs on the Balance Beam Situation until after I watch the meets from that day to avoid spoilers, and I generally don’t listen to the Gymcastic College and Cocktails episode for the week until maybe Wednesday or Thursday night of each week for the same reason. (Not that I’d be listening live in most cases, as they usually start after my EST bedtime!) I wish I had more time to watch more meets, and that some of the streaming services were less expensive for the content they provide (ahem, coughBTN+cough), so I could try to get a less biased view of who’s doing great gymnastics than just who’s easily available to me in a broadcast with good-enough quality so I can easily see what’s happening. But such is the life of a TV-based fan with winter-sport time commitment issues!
What is your favorite apparatus to watch as a fan, and which one would you love to try in person?
MDH: As a fan, my favorite to watch is balance beam IF the camera work is good. I want to see a view from the side, but I also want an end view available to show where any balance issues come from. (Yes, this means I also want replays of important parts of each routine.)
I’m going to head out of the box and say that I’d like to try the double-mini tramp, or maybe power tumbling on a rod floor. Back in the dark ages of my gymnast days, my strength was definitely my tumbling. But tumbletracks didn’t exist at the time, and none of the gyms I went to had a spring floor or a pit. Because there just weren’t ways to try more advanced skills safely, and there weren’t yet drills or progressions designed to lead gymnasts into more advanced skills, we were limited. One of the gyms I went to, back in the day, would sometimes have us vault (on the old horse, of course, not the table) using a mini-tramp instead of a springboard, and that was absolutely awesome! In those days, the first vaults you’d do were the squat-on jump-off, squat-through, and straddle vaults, none of which bear much relationship to anything else you’d ever do in gymnastics again. The next thing was to go straight to a front handspring vault, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. When we vaulted from a mini tramp, I could easily get onto and over the horse in a way I never could from a springboard. And on really good days, they’d line us up on the floor and we’d get to run up to the mini-tramp and do jumps and sometimes even front tucks off it to a crash mat, so I got to feel the power of a trampoline. One of my favorite things, back in the day, was to do back handsprings across the floor, building power and maybe ending with a back tuck after I learned how to do one. Given all that, I think parts of T&T might have been right up my alley.
What is your favorite skill to watch, and what would you like to try in person?
MDH: I love watching a well-executed dance series on beam, one where the feet are pointed and knees are straight, leaps and jumps are unapologetically high, any intended split hits a full and level 180°, turns (on the beam or in the air) get all the way around, arm positions are purposeful, the elements of the series are in good rhythm with nothing that could be interpreted as a break in the series, and all the landings are solid. Ironic for someone who threw ballet aside for tumbling, eh?
For a skill I’d like to try in person, I’d love to be able to learn a double layout, if there were a way to land one that wouldn’t aggravate my crunchy ankles and knees. I’ve heard Chellsie Memmel and others talk about how, when you do a good double layout, you feel an incredible lift. I’d like to experience that for myself. I miss flying and flipping through the air!
Next on my list would be a Kovacs on high bar, as long as I’m dreaming.
What do you enjoy most about watching college gymnastics, and what is one thing you would fix about the experience to make it better?
MDH: The performance quality makes NCAA gymnastics fun to watch. While I appreciate a triple-double on floor as much as anyone, if I only want to see bigger, bigger, bigger … more, more, more, I’ll watch the men on floor, vault, or high bar. To me, though, big flips get boring after a while, especially when the only way a gymnast can complete a tumble is by barely getting all the flips and twists around with an iffy landing, or with messy legs, or by tilting a flip a little on its side rather than going all the way straight vertical. Because difficulty is capped under NCAA women’s scoring, the execution and other performance quality factors become more important. I like how that forces the gymnasts to really perform their routines with extra attention to the details, as a way to differentiate themselves from the rest. In routines with dance (beam and floor), they need to put all of themselves out there in the dance and express…something, rather than just look like they’re going through the motions to get the points. Even on events without dance (vault and bars), the details are still important, because in NCAA it’s impossible (or it should be!) to make up for execution issues by piling on more difficulty.
The other thing about college gymnastics is that these are athletes who have been doing their sport for well over 15 years, in some cases close to 20 years. Because they’ve put in all those years, they’ve learned how to present themselves at their best and most confident. The team-first format means that if someone looks tentative or not ready to perform on an apparatus, it’s unlikely they’ll be put up for it. The comparison between NCAA gymnasts and some of what was shown at Winter Cup last weekend was stark: the Winter Cup kids might be showing bigger skills, but the NCAA gymnasts put on a better show.
If there were one thing I could fix in NCAA gymnastics, it would be the judging—specifically how the code of points gets applied to fairly assess teams across the country.
If the judges don’t see flaws, first provide better training for the judges so they know what to look for and how much to deduct. Obviously, whatever they’re doing now isn’t effective! Test their knowledge each year with a set of routines to score vs a reference panel; if they don’t pass the test, they don’t get to judge. Consider giving them tools such as video review during meets so they can go back and look again as needed, or maybe consider putting more judges with different viewing angles at each meet.
If the judges are simply ignoring deductions, then they need to get the message that doing so is unacceptable. Each judge should undergo periodic performance reviews by their peers during the season, perhaps by having a reference judge or panel score routines and comparing the reference scores to the actual scores. Future assignments for judges would be based on those performance reviews, as happens with most other jobs. If qualification and seeding for nationals is based on scores, then scores need to be consistently assessed across the country, regardless of which teams are competing.
This is all apart from outright errors such as a judge using the wrong start value, which may have happened earlier this year.
What are your predictions for NCAA nationals this year? Who do you think will be the top 8, top 4, and the ultimate champion?
MDH: I have no thoughts, and I don’t make predictions. Sorry to disappoint. I don’t see enough teams during the season to know how everyone stacks up against one another, and the pervasive judging issues prevent me from using scores alone to make any determinations.
What I hope for is that the championship bracket runs smoothly and fairly, without controversies.
The 36-team bracket is a relic of the previous championship format where 6 teams competed in each meet and 3 went on. According to roadtonationals.com, there are 84 women’s gymnastics teams competing in all of the NCAA. As things currently stand, an absurd 43% (36/84) of the teams make the tournament. If you only count D1 teams, then 36/62 teams would get in, for an even more absurd 58%.
I hope the teams see fair judging that accurately reflects the relative quality of all the routines. I’d like to see consistent scoring across both sessions of semifinals; this would be confirmed if people in the early session of the national semifinal win individual events, rather than having their scores artificially depressed relative to those in the late session when the judges don’t need to save room at the top.
And I hope that the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins!
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