An SEC Network Commentator Called Out Judges for Anti-Arkansas Bias But Far More to Story

Arkansas gymnastics, SEC Network
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

Back in college, students of marketing and advertising learn quickly and early the central tenet of those occupations: any publicity is good publicity. The most important thing you can do is make your brand known. The “how” is often irrelevant. If no one knows who you are, you are never going to reach the pinnacle of your ambition. Such a mantra has been borne time and again. Hell, we elected a president who fit such a maxim and whose influence because of that maxim surpasses that of any precedent.

The point? Yeah, sorry. The point is if they ain’t talkin’ about you, you don’t matter.

People of the Natural State have long known this. Whether it’s the state proper or the state’s flagship university athletic program, the word “Arkansas” isn’t on the lips of most Americans. Not say the way Ohio is. Or Alabama. And those accompanying links are just for the regular people. Sports people are totally different. They aren’t regular people. At all. Besides, it just so happens that Ohio and Alabama have dominant, national-conversation-worthy football teams, leaving their state monikers in the zeitgeist, anyway.

Arkansas simply does not have this. To counter, denizens of the state have often felt like little brother, or worse, the red-headed step-child, a phrase – weirdly – still heard in these parts. They feel mistreated, overlooked, ignored. It’s chicken-or-egg as to whether they feel that way because of their favorite team’s results or whether they get all up-in-arms about their favorite team’s results because they feel that way. 

Whether it’s the NCAA, SEC officials or the national media – especially the coastal media – the elites just don’t give Arkansas a fair shake, ya know? You can’t hear sarcasm on the internet, unfortunately.

Usually this time of year, the persecuted hurl insults at basketball referees whose calls too greatly benefit Arkansas’ opposition. Or the schedule-makers in the SEC who made Arkansas play too many conference games in too many days too early. Those are definitely happening, too, but some of the loudest calls for mistreatment are coming from the other big gymnasium on the university’s campus. 

Arkansas Gymnastics Rising

If you haven’t paid attention the last three or four years, the fan base for gymnastics, especially women’s gymnastics, has exploded. Almost certainly a big reason for that growth is the Fierce Five and Final Five, the two United States women’s gymnastics teams whose status as all-time greats is unquestioned. 

Arkansas gymnastics coach Jordyn Wieber was a part of the former squad, which captured the team Olympic gold in London’s 2012 Games. Wieber has been at Arkansas since 2019 and the Razorbacks have been a Top-25 team just about every year since the pandemic.

The Gymbacks currently sit at No. 12 coming off their highest ranked win in eight years.

Yet ask around the cognoscenti of Arkansas gymnastics and a layman’s explanation and understanding is about all you’ll get. None of the old guard who have been covering Razorbacks athletics for decades bothered learning much about gymnastics in those days. At least, they never bothered learning more than they had to in a profession that asks the journalist to know a little about a lot, but only a lot about a little. Since regular folks weren’t passionate about gymnastics, no one ever bothered to learn about gymnastics. For better or worse.

Now, though, Arkansas gymnastics is a player on the national scene, and Susie and Jimmy and Mikey and Bobbi are scrambling to pick up. This is a great thing, a spectacular thing. I’ve long been on the women’s basketball, volleyball, field hockey and lacrosse fandom wagons. But it’s also left a chasm between the intensities of fandom and actual knowledge of the sport. And in an era in which we are all experts – I mean, have you ever read a comment section? – the anger stirs for reasons just as ignorant as that aforementioned elected official.

Hosing the Hogs?

Miscarriage du jour: gymnastics judges are hosing the Razorbacks against more established SEC powers.

Now, to be fair, the number of people making such claims is small in quantity compared to those who do the same for Arkansas football, basketball and baseball. By no means am I stating that gymnastics fans are as unreasonable as those fans. But it’s happening. 

Sydney Lemmerhirt, director of operations for Arkansas EDGE, the school’s NIL program, tweeted earlier in the month about how she – a former Hogs gymnast and SEC Network commentator – thought the Razorbacks’ scores were wildly undervalued in an eventual loss to Florida:

Pig Trail Nation commentator Courtney Mims, a Florida alumna, backed her up: “It just feels like…for Arkansas, they just don’t want to give them a perfect 10,” she said on “Ask Mike.” “They’re giving perfect 10s out to LSU, to Florida. They’re giving these perfect 10s out, and they’re not giving any to Arkansas, and Arkansas’ floor rotation is one of the best in the country.”

It’s always something, ain’t it? What year is it? What possible reason would gymnastics judges have for underscoring Arkansas’ routines? Was there a big line in Vegas? Was Tim Donaghy judging? To me, such takes are batty. There’s no conspiracy, just simple human judgment. Simple human error. The notion that someone, anyone, everyone is out to get Arkansas is balderdash, just cognitive dissonance to a mind that knows any publicity is good publicity. The winners get it. The losers don’t, unless the losers were screwed out of something. Then? Oh, buddy, then, victimhood is a strong motivator

Absolutely, things happen. Cheating. Pay-offs. Fraud. We’re not naive here. They just don’t occur at a statistically significant rate. And maybe, just maybe, your side’s loss isn’t some grand conspiracy. Maybe they just lost. No, actually. Definitely they just lost. We have to stop pretending there’s something more afoot in every single thing in our lives, whether Arkansas sports or otherwise.


Mims and Irwin discuss this Arkansas gymnastics controversy starting at 42:50 here:

YouTube video


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