SALT LAKE CITY — Utah loves gymnastics, particularly Salt Lake City.
“Salt Lake City is a gymnastics city,” Utah co-head coach Tom Farden said.
On Wednesday, the Pac-12 announced that the women’s gymnastics championship will be held at West Valley City’s Maverik Center beginning this season and continuing for the next three years.
“The state of Utah has embraced gymnastics. This is the second prestigious event in the market this year,” Farden added, referring to USA Gymnastics holding its American Classic for elite gymnasts in the Huntsman Center this past July.
The new partnership marks the first time the conference championship will be held at a neutral site. In the past, the event rotated among schools. The Red Rocks acted as hosts in 2012 and 2015 when they finished as runner ups and champions, respectively.
The Pac-12’s Chief Marketing Officer, Danette Leighton, said the idea of transitioning the championship to a neutral site has been a “consistent conversation.”
“We want the best chance for success for our programs,” Leighton said.
Building from last season will help continue Pac-12 gymnastics’ success. Last season, UCLA won the national championship, the league’s first gymnastics national title since UCLA won in 2010. And of the eight Pac-12 programs, seven were selected for postseason events and four teams finished in the final Top 25.
The next step for the conference is putting its championship on podium, elevating each apparatus on a platform. The Pac-12 is the last of the major conferences to compete on podium in its championship. Competitions are on podium throughout the NCAA Championships.
Having the conference compete on podium before postseason was an investment the league and its coaches wanted to do.
“As coaches, we unanimously agreed to have our championship on podium,” Farden said.
Leighton said the league was also on board raising its championship. But with that desire, the Pac-12 championship needed to find a new home as none of the program’s arenas can fit podiums.
“We wanted to have a competitive, level field and looked at markets with a strong following of the sport,” Leighton said.
It was as if Utah was made for this opportunity. With a market that embraces the sport, it was no question for the Pac-12 that it should look at Utah when seeking a neutral site for its gymnastics championship.
The Red Rocks have consistently had one of the strongest followings of any collegiate women’s sports programs. In 2018, Utah secured its eighth all-sports women’s attendance crown with a season average of 15,139. The program holds the record for highest season attendance average in NCAA gymnastics history — 15,244 in 2017 tops the list, with last year’s average following in second.
Just 20 minutes southwest of campus lies the Maverik Center. The venue has the space to hold podium meets and can support the sport, seating more than 9,000 for women’s gymnastics.
Though it’s in short-range from the University of Utah, it’s considered neutral because the Utah Sports Commission and Visit Salt Lake will work with the league and venue to host the event. Utah will have no part in preparing or supporting the event.
The Pac-12 noticed the Red Rocks’ success in the community and found it to be the perfect place to try as the championship’s first neutral site.
“Kudos to Utah for what they’ve done,” Leighton said. “It’s very clear Utah is fantastic in bringing fans to its meets. We view it as an opportunity to prepare for the NCAA. We have dominate programs on a big stage.”
The conference said it will use the first year of the three-year contract to learn from and the last two to evaluate its success and see if the Maverik Center is “the right home” for the Pac-12 gymnastics championship.
As for the Red Rocks, they’re excited to have the league’s biggest gymnastics meet in their backyard.
“We’re hoping to fill the Maverik Center,” said Farden. “If they can have a full house, what an experience for all the athletes.”
The 2019 Pac-12 gymnastics championship will be held on Saturday, March 23. Ticket information will be available soon on the league’s website.