Another year brought another dramatic SEC Championships for Florida's No. 2 gymnastics team — only this one also brought the Gators a title.
Judges awarded the final routine of the night — Florida senior Bridgette Caquatto's floor exercise — a 9.875 that gave the Gators a 197.775 overall score, just 0.025 points better than Alabama's 197.750, and their first SEC title since 2013. But those final scores weren't announced until after an extended, nearly 10-minute deliberation, one that gave the conspiracy-minded plenty to chew.
The margin of victory is the smallest possible in collegiate gymnastics, and a cruel one that amounts to one bobble in one routine, if that. Florida had already lost by it once this year, falling to LSU at home by 0.025, and had also lost by 0.050 points at Georgia.
And in a vacuum, Caquatto getting a 9.875 for her floor routine, a score she had exceeded in four of her previous eight routines in 2016, isn't controversial. That score is in line with what she should expect to receive for a relatively clean routine, and her performance on Saturday was just that, more or less.
But the Gators getting the exact score they needed to prevail, and that score being follwed by a deliberation that took an inordinate amount of time, feeds into old feelings of judged sports being rigged and/or judges having and acting on biases. Coupled with the sentiment that Caquatto has been the beneficiary of generous scores over the last two years, when she has followed the (usually brilliant) performances of Kytra Hunter and Bridget Sloan as Florida's final performer, that delay produced some ... adverse reactions to the revelation of the Gators' win.
While there's no word on how those fans felt about Alabama getting a monstrous 49.650 rotation score on uneven bars in Birmingham in 2014 to win an SEC title, the truth is that Florida's win itself means just as much as Alabama's titles over the last two years when it comes to national championship contention: Nothing.
It's more important to the Gators that yet another fall from Sloan on the balance beam, her third this year, didn't prevent Florida gymnasts from finishing first and second in the all-around, as Kennedy Baker and Alex McMurtry did. It's more heartening to foes of the Gators that Sloan continues to have those woes, or that Florida, so great on floor exercise for much of the recent past, couldn't muster a single 9.95 on the apparatus in Little Rock.
The SEC championship, Florida's 10th in the sport and SEC-leading 225th across all programs, doesn't mean nearly as much as the performances that won it did, in other words. And that performance was quite good, producing Florida's best score away from the O'Connell Center this year.
For Gators fans who want a four-peat, and realized over the last two years of national championships won without previously obtaining an SEC crown that what happens at the SEC Championships isn't necessarily reflective of what will happen in the Super Six, this was a good night.
That it ended with a title is just better than any other outcome.