Many people don’t realize that long before I started working in the bowling industry, I was a bowler. In fact, I bowled my first USBC Open Championships at the age of 18 in 1997 in Huntsville, Alabama.
Since my tournament debut, I’ve only missed one Open Championships, and this year, I will bowl the event for the 20th time, which represents more than half my life. This event is special to me. It has been, and it always will be.
Pictured right is the author, Lucas Wiseman, who has covered bowling events around the world for more than a decade. You can follow him on Twitter at @Lucas_Wiseman.
But some of the changes introduced by USBC leadership are cause for concern – the biggest being the lack of transparency when it comes to releasing the lane conditions for the tournament. Starting this year, no information is being released on the lane patterns until after the tournament ends.
USBC has also eliminated live streaming from the event and clamped down with an extremely restrictive no-video policy on participants. While live video is making huge strides across all social media platforms, USBC has taken a step backward in an attempt to maintain secrecy.
In an informal Twitter poll I conducted, 49 percent of 384 respondents said they were less excited to bowl the Open Championships this year. Only 19 percent said they were more excited. Those numbers are telling and represent a potential challenge for USBC.
So let’s analyze these changes by telling you why USBC says they have decided to keep the patterns a secret.
“USBC, as the National Governing Body for the sport, believes the outcome of competitions should be determined by a bowler’s skill,” USBC says in a FAQ on BOWL.com. “Providing the pattern in advance creates an unquestionable advantage for those with the resources and ability to replicate the pattern and lane surface.”
I started working for USBC, then ABC, back in 2003 and was with the organization until I left at the end of 2015.
During that time, there were years when I had perhaps the best access to information and the ability to practice of anyone who competes in the tournament.
There were years when I bowled on the actual pattern in the actual venue before the tournament started. I had access to practice at the International Training and Research Center on a top-notch lane surface, pattern and lane machine.
I’m by no means a great bowler, but did I have an “unquestionable advantage” because of my access? My scores over the years will show you I absolutely did not.
What USBC has done by keeping the pattern information secret has simply put the average Joe bowler, like myself, at a significant disadvantage. It’s the exact opposite of what they hoped to accomplish.
In a vacuum of information, those who are the most well-connected have the advantage. And the most well-connected tend to be the professional or “professional amateur” bowlers who will pick the pockets of the average Joe, at least in the Regular Division.
Well-connected bowlers include those who live within driving distance of Las Vegas who can easily watch anytime they choose or those who can afford a special trip by air to scout the lanes before they bowl.
Well-connected bowlers include those who have inside information. Where does that inside information come from? Potentially ball reps from the bowling ball companies, other ball company staffers talking to each other about what they saw, etc.
The average Joe bowler? Not well-connected. Disadvantage.
In another Twitter poll I conducted, more than 70 percent of 319 respondents said they still feel the top bowlers will win and these changes don’t make the event any fairer.
So what can we, as average Joe bowlers, do to combat this extreme advantage for the well-connected?
First, we can thank USBC for introducing the Standard Division for bowlers averaging 181 to 209. That’s a start, and it helps protect those who were the most vulnerable in the tournament.
But before you head out to Las Vegas to bowl the Open Championships, take time to practice on any medium-length Sport condition you can find. This will provide you with significantly better preparation than simply bowling on your house shot.
Also, take the time to seek out as much information as you can on social media. Watch for video “highlights” that can give you an idea of where people are playing and read Facebook posts of those who bowl well to get an idea if they offer any insight to their success.
You’ll never have the upper hand, but at least you can go down with a fight.
By Lucas Wiseman
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