Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What makes a good league?

A recent commenter to this blog suggested that most league bowlers want a good and consistent shot. Is that what makes a good league? Is that your main criteria in choosing in which league(s) you bowl? After thinking about these criteria, here is my list of what makes a good league.

First of all, if I am going to commit to a 32 to 36 week league, I am going to bowl with people I like and get along with. I bowl on a team of my friends. I don't see how this could not be top on most people's list.

I want to bowl where the better bowlers are bowling. Those leagues are more fun and can be more frustrating. Good sets have more meaning, and bad sets hurt just a bit more. Each week can be a big match. I tend to focus more. I get more motivated than just another league night. Chicken or the egg? Bigger prize funds tend to develop with the higher competitive leagues. Is it because sponsored leagues draw the competitive bowlers or do a large group of competitive bowlers draw sponsors?

Bowling Center Facilities
I like a bowling center that is brightly lit. I like a clean center. You are not afraid to go to the rest room while there. The bowlers' area is not littered with popcorn or other food from open play or birthday parties. There should be lots of room in the bowler area for seating. The pinsetters should be well maintained. It should be obvious that these machines should work flawlessly and not damage your bowling balls nor break down during the league session. This leads to a long night. The center should have a good central air/heat capability. That leads to good approaches; not too slippery and not too tacky. I prefer wood approaches, but that trend is going away. Some centers install synthetic lanes but leave the wood approaches. I like that combination. Since I don't normally eat at a bowling center, I'm not that interested in the snack bar/restaurant area. This is a major profit area for the bowling center. This should be obvious by the prices.

Friendly/Knowledgeable Staff
Most of the time, you do not interact with the bowling center staff. However, when something goes wrong or you need some information, this is where you will form your opinion on this part of your customer service.

Lane Conditions
I think most bowlers choose their leagues based on lane conditions. This would be first but is last on my list. With high quality competition, does it matter what the lane conditions are? Everyone is bowling on the same shot. Granted, I hate when my pair is bone dry while all other pairs are not. A commenter to this blog stated that most bowlers want a good and consistent shot. I interpret that as meaning that most bowlers want an easy league shot. A good shot does not have to be easy. Why does it have to be consistent from week to week? As long as lane 1 has the same shot that lane 20 does is the most important thing to me for a league. If the shot was consistent, we would still only have a double ball bag, with one ball for hooking lanes and one ball for slick lanes. Isn't that the way we did it back in the 80's? Now, league bowlers are coming in with 4 bowling balls. We have 10-15 minutes of practice and a reasonable theory on where the shot is each week. That is better than what we get in most tournaments.

Obviously, you can't get all of this. Smaller associations are only 1 or 2 bowling centers. Larger associations have many bowling centers, but driving distance is also an option in choosing a league.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Inside vs. Outside

I have heard it now a couple of times on the ESPN PBA Sunday telecasts. Randy Pedersen repeated the difference between amateurs and pro bowlers; amateurs work the outside of the ball and pros work the inside. What is he talking about? Usually, explanations for the show are "dumbed down" for the non-avid bowler. Here, Randy steps into it by introducing a concept that needs to be further developed. All he mentions is that the amateur comes around the outside of the ball producing more spin. However, no explanation is given for how a pro works the inside of the ball. At least, not one that I can discern and try to duplicate.

Well, I heard this concept again. Discovery Channel's Time Warp program on December 10 featured Michael Fagan. The show slowed down the footage of Fagan's release as well as ball rotation and pin action. The purpose of the show is to explain the science and physics of everyday activities or events. Michael's explanation starts at around 2:07 of the video. He tries to keep his hand on the inside of the ball and rotate to underneath the ball. By contrast, I'm guessing that us amateurs start with our hands underneath the ball and rotate the ball around the outside of it.

There may be good practice tips in that video. However, I cannot and am not encouraging anyone to duplicate Michael Fagan's style.

Monday, December 8, 2008

When is the best time for televised bowling?

Bowling Rules Cable
I just switched cable companies. I now have ESPN Classic which televises old PBA shows from ESPN and ABC. Do they have the shows from NBC? Yes, I can now enjoy the Pete Weber or Parker Bohn III marathon. These shows are on daily at 11:00am CT and the occasional Sunday marathon of shows already mentioned. With live PBA telecasts on Sunday, is bowling get all the exposure it could get? The fall/winter season competes directly with the NFL. Since I don't live in an NFL city, it is easy for me to watch the tour live as network television shows the same teams every week. I know about NFL Sunday Ticket but am too busy and too cheap to watch any NFL game every week.

Spring Tour in Prime Time?
Jeff Richgels is a regional pro bowler, newspaper reporter, and regularly takes my bracket money at the USBC Open every year. In his blog, The 11th Frame, he reports that ESPN is close to signing the PBA for a spring tour in which the finals will be televised in prime time.

I'm one of many who believe the PBA's Holy Grail is weeknight prime time, perhaps immediately following SportsCenter on Tuesday or Wednesday night.

So you can imagine how stunning it was to hear Schreyer casually mention to the Phantom that PBA was close to a deal for a Spring Tour in which the TV finals would be in prime time on ESPN.

"We have the potential right now of even possibly getting a four- or five-week run with ESPN in the spring on prime time in the evening," Schreyer said. "So we're trying to finalize that. We're hopeful that we'll be able to pull that off. And that could be really exciting in terms of getting tremendous additional exposure for the sport."

I also agree that Tuesday or Wednesday night at 7:00pm telecast would get better ratings than Sunday noon. Unless the networks come out with the next blockbuster series, Tuesday and Wednesday nights provide little television enjoyment; particularly after college basketball season.

Bowling puts me to sleep
Let me caveat that title statement. Televised bowling on Sunday puts me to sleep. I look forward to noon and get in my recliner to watch the show. After seeing who is on the show, watching their styles, lines, and ball reaction, I will soon drift off. Is the show that dull? The new 'powers that be' that run the PBA were right. The personalities of their players do catch the average fan's attention. I can fall asleep easier watching some pros than others. However, the time of day lulls me to an afternoon slumber. A tour show at 7:00pm will keep my interest just as an episode of House or any CSI franchise.

As much as we watch bowling on the tube, it is still more worthwhile to participate. I am rarely in a bowling center unless I am bowling. I don't go just to watch. I've only done that when a pro tournament is in town, like the PWBA in 1998 and the Masters in 1997.

Friday, November 21, 2008

These Guys Are Good

Perception vs. Reality
Remember the PGA marketing campaign; These guys are good? Everyone understands that PGA golfers are better than the scratch guys on the public links. Is there really a misconception that your association's top bowlers are just as good as PBA bowlers? ESPN and USBC seem to think that the general public thinks so. There may be some truth to that, but the PBA television audience is smarter than that. When I practice at Redstone Lanes and string 5 or 6 strikes in a row during lunch rush, I draw a crowd and a few compliments. I have to explain that the pros on television would average 250-260 at Redstone. If you ask your 220-230 average league bowler, they have a healthy respect for professionals and know it would be tough to compete against them on easy or hard conditions.

Ultimate Scoring
At the PBA Ultimate Scoring Championship, 4 of the 64 exempt players averaged over 240. Over two thirds of the field averaged over 220. What? That sounds like a Bowlers Advantage scratch tournament at Plamor on a house shot. According to
Typical league oil patterns usually are 38 to 42 feet in length and feature ratios in the 8-to-1 or 12-to-1 range. That means the oil pattern used during the Ultimate Scoring Championship, while easy by PBA standards, was approximately twice as difficult as most league oil patterns.
The PBA Ultimate Scoring patter featured a an oil ratio of 6-to-1 at 22 feet and 4-to-1 at 40 feet. Since PBA experience (and most Sport patterns) feature 3-to-1 ratios, the Ultimate Scoring pattern was still twice as easy as the typical PBA tournament pattern. The article shows the lane graphs of Ultimate Scoring pattern and the Chameleon pattern.

Who can read these things?
Can someone who understands how to read lane pattern graphs explain how this works? These graphs are posted at the USBC Open. At the last few Open Championships, I did not play where I thought I would after I "read" the lane graph. Also, opinions would be welcome about how the Kegel Challenge Series patterns compare to the PBA Ultimate Scoring pattern. The ratio for both series of patterns are the same at 3-to-1. Kegel describes the Challenge series as an intermediate set of patterns; harder than house shots, but easier than sport patterns.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Rise (and Fall) of Senior Bowling

Largest Leagues
Senior bowling, especially in Huntsville, has the largest league in town. Bowling on Monday afternoon, it takes 32 lanes at Pin Palace. At the exact same time, 4 more teams are bowling down Memorial Parkway at Parkway Lanes. The only travel league in town is a senior league. Why does senior leagues flourish when all other leagues struggle for bowlers? You are left with your more serious bowlers. Senior bowlers have probably been bowling for 30-40 years. These are not the people who picked it up in their 30's and quit when the kids' activities started taking over. Senior leagues seem to be the perfect combination of competition and camaraderie. Pot luck luncheons on holidays with spirited roll-offs for league championships. My parents bowl in a large senior league at Imperial Lanes in Memphis on Friday afternoon. Any week-end trip to Huntsville to visit their son or grandchildren will not begin until league session is over.

Too Many Divisions
Does this excitement translate to senior tournaments? This depends on how you define a senior tournament. If you consider your association or state championship one tournament, it is probably defined a success. However, I define these tournaments as 8-9 small tournaments. That is because senior tournaments are done by age division. This is fine if you have the participation in each division. However, I'm seeing bowlers get prize money they were the only person in their age division bowling, or they beat the other guy. You can have a pretty good squad, but competing against only 3 people. This is the same issue I have with youth tournaments that use too many divisions for too few bowlers. This works well, probably, in the state tournament, but each association should look at their participation and rearrange the grouping; senior (55-59) and super-senior (60 plus) for example.

Divisions defined by age bring up qualification issues. What is a senior? USBC sanctioned tournaments define it at 55. The Senior All Star Bowling Association, a very popular senior scratch tour, defines eligibility at 50.

Anxious to Compete?
As I approach my mid-40's, I'm not in a hurry to bowl in SASBA events. My friends who were around 49 were rushing the calendar to compete. I think we all think we are still young, while 'those guys' are old and we dominate the competition. I am not thinking that way. I seem to remember that while I age, everyone else does too. The same people I am competing with now will be the same people I will compete against when I become a 'senior.' However, I feel pretty good about my age now. I exercise regularly; running and lifting weights. The fitness element may be a bigger variable with senior tournaments than regular open competition.

Old School vs. New School
I would exclude the young guns of today when I become senior eligible, but does it matter? Look at the top averages in the state. The majority of the better bowlers in Alabama are over 40. We bowled when 540 was a great league night. The only people who shot 700 were at least 190 average bowlers. Today, a 190-200 average bowler can have an 800 night. That 'old school' mindset is still with the middle age bowlers who started back in the 1970's and 1980's. I admit, those mental habits are falling away as I want an honor score with every league session.

The Potential Fall of Senior Bowling
As I mentioned, the large senior pool is around because of the large league base that existed in the 70's and 80's. However, look around. You can get an open lane most any night in most bowling centers. The number and size of leagues is dwindling. There will be less bowlers to be senior bowlers. This bow wave will move to the future. There may be large senior leagues because of the camaraderie. Unlike the regular league night, senior bowlers will come together to have the super league. It is too much fun with old friends and new friends.

Also, there is hardly any coverage of senior professional bowling. The senior PBA tour was a summer fixture. They also had their gimmicks. Watch this senior PBA telecast from ESPN. It features one of my favorite senior pros from the 90's, Gene Stus. He was recently elected to the USBC Hall of Fame. Notice all the fancy promotional things; outside, gold pins, The Villages.

South Alabama bowlers remember Avery Leblanc. I met him also when he was a Brunswick center manager at Bartlett Lanes in Tennessee. His style will never get old. Here is a 1997 match between him and Earl Anthony.

For the North Alabama bowlers, Huntsville's Jimmy Certain in a 1990 Senior PBA match against Dick Webber.

As far as now, I will be patient. I am in no rush to bowl in this somewhat exclusive club.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Best Bowling Center in Alabama?

The November 2008 issue of Bowlers Journal International lists one Alabama bowling center among the "95 Bowling Centers you must visit before you die." Granted, the article states the list is completely arbitrary. It does include old, new, domestic, international, mom-and-pop, and multi-million dollar palaces.

Listed at number 86 is Birmingham's Lightning Strikes. Bowlers Journal states:

Bowling is the star attraction, with 40 lanes, but the center's Billy Club gets plenty of traffic, too. Little wonder: It's packed with billiard tables, Golden Tee golf machines, plastic-tip dart lanes and six monitors for viewing sporting and other events.

I believe Lightning Strikes has the most space of any of the McCorvey's Pro Shop locations also. I have been to this facility but have never bowled there. The 2009 Alabama state tournament will be there, so many from across the state will see what all the press is about.

Wherefore art thou women's bowling?

Top Women's Leagues
I was asked for help promoting a competitive women's league in Huntsville, the Pepsi Ladies Peterson Point. It is a 3 bowler 10 team league. In today's declining interest in league bowling, this seems to be a rather good size league. I honestly did not know what to do to help. Should I have posted a "Join our League" blurb on the front page of AlabamaBowling.Com? Would it have helped? Of all the fancy web statistical packages, I don't think I am smart enough to discern the gender of my visitors. One reason for starting this blog was to help promote different causes such as league promotion as tournaments are regularly posted on the web site. Are there other competitive women's leagues, scratch or handicap, in the state? Are they on the decline? There are at least 10 women in the state who carry a league average of 210 or more. Do they regularly compete against each other in the same leagues? Do other women try to measure their skills and want to better their games by competing against these top bowlers?

Social or Competition
It is obvious that mixed leagues are the backbone of league bowling. Most of these are purely a night out with the spouse to join friends for a good time. There is nothing wrong with that. Women joined the ABC for the 'open' competition to join their husbands and boyfriends when going to the city, state, or other sanctioned tournaments. Some women wanted to do more than watch; they wanted to participate. It is my opinion that many women's associations were forced to merge because of rapidly declining membership. Once the men's associations became 'open' associations, some women joined them and did not join the women's association. Anecdotal evidence from Google searching has led me to believe that women association membership declined at a larger percentage than ABC associations. This still does not explain why women only leagues are not forming. With fewer women bowlers, I can understand fewer women-only leagues. In the big 4 associations, I would understand if only 1 or 2 competitive women-only leagues existed. In the case of open classic money leagues, most bowlers gravitate together to the league, no matter which bowling center. In the 80's bowling centers would get big sponsors to their leagues to pull these bowlers to their center. So, thank you Pepsi (or Buffalo Rock, the Huntsville distributer) for supporting women bowling.

Not the WNBA
Women's professional bowling, as an organization, is gone. Most people I know enjoyed watching it live or on TV. The WNBA has horrid television ratings but continues to thrive. The NBA is working very hard to keep it alive. Continued sponsorship like that never materialized for the LPBT or PWBA. I'm sure everyone enjoys watching the guys throw the big sweeping hook on television. Top women bowlers are just as balanced, throw more revolutions than I do, and as accurate as men. Carolyn Dorin-Ballard is not as exciting to watch as Michelle Feldman, but she is one of the top women bowlers in this country. Let me stop these comments before they are posted, I think Walter Ray is not that exciting to watch either. That does not diminish their superior skill.

So, the pool of competitive women bowlers is shrinking. To satisfy that quest for competition, these women must come together locally for leagues and tournaments, regionally and nationally for tournaments. AlabamaBowling.Com is the web home for three regional women's tournaments; DixieBelles, Women's Southeastern, and Ladies East Coast Classic. One of the best scratch tournaments in the region is the TNBA Bill Rhodman Southern Division. The women's division usually has about 70 entries.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Does scoring affect tournament bowling?

Is 230 the new 200?
According the the Alabama USBC All State teams, the 10th highest average in the state was 232.51. In 2007/2008, there were 6 Huntsville bowlers and 7 Birmingham bowlers over 230. The All State teams include 4 Montgomery area bowlers. While I saw no 230 averages in Mobile, I do know at least four would be among this group if they bowled in PlamorVestaviaBama the typical north or central Alabama super league house. I also know of good tournament bowlers who do not bowl in the 'super' houses that are not 230 league average bowlers.

Practice, we don't need stinkin' practice!
I admit, I don't practice as much as I should. I say this every time I am driving home after missing a cut or failing to cash. You have a lot of time to think about your failed strategy, shot selection, ball reaction, poor mechanics, etc while driving 10, 20, 100, 200 miles home from a tournament.

Why? I'm not sure I know how to have a good practice regimen anymore. Practice to me is mostly keeping loose and repeating shots. I don't shoot corner pins for 30 minutes, or try shooting strikes on every arrow. For me, it is a resource issue; time and money. It is too expensive to practice. I can bowl two-three leagues and a tournament every 3-4 week-ends, which keeps me loose and repeating shots. I don't visit the bowling center to practice for $2.25 a line. I would rather pay the $20/week league fee knowing I am getting a chunk of that back, while bowling in competition and pressure situations.

Where are the tournament bowlers?
Alabama seems to be a bowling state. Moving to Huntsville from Memphis in 1986, I couldn't believe the number of bowling centers this 'small' town had. Monarch, Plamor, and Parkway were all within visual distance of each other. So, why aren't there more tournament bowlers? I have been to scratch tournaments in Birmingham where I counted more Huntsville bowlers than local bowlers. I rarely see any Montgomery area bowlers unless it is the state tournament. I'm not sure if there are any major scratch tournaments in Montgomery. Is it safe to be a once-a-week 220 average league bowler and not suffer the embarrasment of a poor showing at a tournament? Yes, we all have gone through that. However, I want to suffer the pride and accolades of a victory or great showing.

Scoring is relative
I have been in sweepers where I shot 700 for 3 games and was barely in the top 20. I was also in a tournament where I was one of only 8 bowlers who were plus (averaged more than 200). I felt more proud of the top 8 finish with 201 average than averaging 233 and missing the cut. With tournaments, it is not the pinfall, it is the placement. PBA Experience leagues are picking up momentum. Not enough, where we see successful fall leagues. However, sport condition tournaments during fall/winter are here.

Why are you not out there?