After it was recently announced that Clemson had successfully secured the transfer of six gymnasts from Utah State University, for many fans of the sport the news is rather shocking. Clemson is a brand new program that won’t make its debut until two years down the road. At first glance it feels inadvisable that a prospective transfer would change schools while knowing she’d have to take a hiatus to continue her college career. Yet not one, but six gymnasts willingly pursued this option, and did it in regards to a new school that is over 1,900 miles away.
Clemson’s current head coach Amy Smith was the former head of the Utah State program. It is her personal relationship with these gymnasts that has helped facilitate this move. But even with that connection in mind, I am continuing to see gymnastics fans express bewilderment over Clemson’s announcement. How could Clemson pull off such a staggering coup and with such ease?
For the gymnastics community, it just experienced its first notable moment where the power of Clemson was finally unleashed. If there is any doubt as to why six gymnasts left Utah State for Clemson, remember the following number.
That is how many major football schools exist at the highest level of NCAA football. In college football there is a significant emphasis placed on recruiting class rankings and 247 Sports is one of the best known sites for measuring the strength of each team’s incoming class. According to 247 Sports, Clemson’s last three class rankings were as follows:
14th, 5th, 3rd
According to 247 Sports, Utah state’s last three class rankings were the following:
85th, 126th, 122nd
While there is not much in common between college football and gymnastics, in the realm of recruiting, there is. Regardless of which sport an athlete participates in, the major factors encouraging a prospect to make his or her decision are largely the same. Whether its gymnastics or football, the brand recognition, conference affiliation, academics, location, and facilities have the same effect pulling an athlete towards that particular school.
The vast differences between Utah State and Clemson in the college football pecking order gives Clemson a similar advantage in the realm of gymnastics. No matter how much of an upstart Clemson’s gymnastics program is, it has the resources to outmuscle programs that have been part of the sport for decades. All on the simple basis that Clemson has resources at its disposal that dwarfs all but a handful of programs.
If you are confused as to how this upstart program was able to land six transfers, it is because Clemson is one of the wealthiest athletic programs in the NCAA. Its athletic budget prior to the Covid-19 Pandemic was $132 Million a year. This is an institution that can offer prospective recruits (or in this case prospective transfers) the most luxurious accommodations including dorms, dining halls, training halls and recreational centers that are exclusive to its student-athletes. Clemson can not only offer accommodations that are far superior to the average college student, but accommodations that greatly exceed all but a small number of gymnastics programs.
Gymnasts who choose the Clemson Tigers not only get the benefit of a wealthy program, but one with a massive fanbase. Despite being two years out from its season debut, the Twitter account Clemson created for its gymnastics team gained a larger following than future ACC rival North Carolina State within the first week of the program being officially announced. Since then, the mostly dormant Twitter account has managed to bring itself to within 600 followers of Pitt, the second largest of its three future ACC rivals. It is probable that by the time Clemson makes its competition debut it will already have the largest social media following within its own conference.
When Clemson’s gymnastics program was first announced, those who are familiar with the NCAA power structure immediately understood that this was going to be a game changer. The arrival of Clemson was not going to be like any contemporary example of a new school joining the sport. The arrival of Clemson meant the inclusion of a program capable of immediately upending other programs and would have little standing in its way to becoming one of the strongest programs in the sport.
Even before Amy Smith was named its head coach, there was excitement over the arrival of this program simply because it had the backing of one of the richest athletic departments in the country. For those who are die hard gymnastics fans capable of reciting any page within the Code of Points from memory, but weren’t familiar with this school because it had previously lacked a gymnastics program, Clemson’s sextuplet transfer class just showcased what all the fuss was about.