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An easy fix to the USBC Open’s slow bowling problem By Lucas Wiseman

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The United States Bowling Congress Open Championships is one of our sport’s most prestigious events and holds a special place in the hearts of tens of thousands of bowlers from across the country.

The history and tradition of the USBC Open, which wrapped up its 115th anniversary recently, is second to none, however, slow bowling has become a big issue, causing delayed squads and creating an untenable situation for some bowlers.

Pictured right is the author, Lucas Wiseman, who has covered bowling events around the world for more than two decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @Lucas_Wiseman.

To be clear, the issue of slow bowling is not USBC’s fault. They have limited options to try to keep squads on time and keep things moving – things only move as fast as the slowest bowlers on any given squad.

Many 10:45 p.m. doubles and singles squads this year went on the lanes late, sometimes extremely late. In fact, my squad on July 2 was an hour late and we didn’t finish bowling until around 3:20 a.m. There were reports of other squads finishing even later.

For most people, our bodies are not tuned to be competing in the middle of the night. Those who bowl the 2:30 p.m. doubles and singles have the best opportunity, while those who bowl at 7 a.m. are also better off because their squad is almost guaranteed to start on time.

This is a problem that needs to be resolved, and there is an easy solution if USBC is willing to look at a radical change. Unfortunately, the announced schedule for 2019 remains the same, so bowlers should expect late squads yet again.

The problem with the existing schedule is that there are no fixed end times for squads. The schedule is based on the slowest bowlers each day, and that’s causing issues for later squads.

The fix is easy – insert a rule that says you have a fixed amount of time to bowl your squad. If you have not finished before the end of the elapsed time, you get zeros for all remaining frames.

According to USBC Senior Director of Rules Michael Spridco, setting a time limit for a squad is legal under USBC rules and would require no changes by delegates at the USBC Convention.

The next question is how much time do you give each squad? I propose three hours for team event and three hours, 35 minutes for doubles and singles from the time the first ball for score is thrown. By placing television monitors throughout the venue with a countdown clock, it would allow bowlers to know exactly how much time they have remaining.

Using archived USBC live streams, we can get a good idea of how long it should take to bowl from a couple of random samples.

Let’s look at team event where, in 2016, Team NABR took two hours, 55 minutes to complete their squad. The two teams on that pair shot 2,895 and 3,132 that year and you might say they bowled faster because they struck more than the average team.

However, when you look at the 2015 live stream of Dan Stricker‘s group, they finished in two hours, 59 minutes and shot modest scores of 2,690 and 2,936.

In doubles and singles, Matt McNiel‘s star-powered group took just three hours, 10 minutes to bowl in 2016 with an average of 213 per game on the pair. Clark and Carl Poelzer‘s group took three hours, 29 minutes to complete their six games in 2015 while averaging 198 per game.

My experience at this year’s tournament was that our group would have finished within the proposed allotted times, and we bowled at a leisurely pace while not scoring particularly well. There were also plenty of groups who finished long before we did.

Setting defined end times for each squad allows things to run very close to on schedule. There will always be issues that occur and bowlers should not be punished for lane breakdowns, etc., that eat into their time. However, it fixes the biggest issue – slow bowlers.

As for squad times, those should be adjusted as well. Here’s what I propose:

  • 7 a.m.-10:35 a.m. – doubles and singles squad
  • 11:10 a.m.-2:10 p.m. – team squad
  • 2:45 p.m.-5:45 p.m. – team squad
  • 6:10 p.m.-9:45 p.m. – doubles and singles squad
  • 10:10 p.m.-1:45 a.m. – doubles and singles squad

This schedule eliminates people bowling a late team event squad and having to come back just a few hours later to bowl the early doubles and singles squad.

For example, in the last week of the tournament USBC Hall of Famer Carolyn Dorin-Ballard bowled a team event squad that didn’t end until close to 11:30 p.m. and she was scheduled for the 7 a.m. doubles and singles squad the next morning.

Another side benefit to this schedule is that all bowlers have access to the souvenir and ball company booths before and after they compete in the team event. This allows you to easily make changes to your equipment after you bowl team, if necessary. Currently, the booths are closed when the late team event concludes.

The reality is no schedule is perfect. You will always have people bowling at inopportune times. However, finishing on a regular basis at close to 1:45 a.m. is much better than finishing at 3:30 a.m. or 4 a.m. Plus, you keep bowlers happy by having their squads start as close to on time as possible.

Setting time limits for squads may seem like a radical change to some, but it’s a solution to a big problem. If you have other ideas, feel free to tweet me @Lucas_Wiseman.

Herbert Bickel

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