Like a flamboyant flower that gives you hay fever, the $85,000 team handicap tournament to be conducted this year by the Bowling Proprietors Association of America seems less appealing the closer you examine it.
The basic ideas appeared to be sound enough when they were presented to the B.P.A.A. convention for approval last summer at Asbury Park, N.J. They were, simply, 1) to give lower-average bowlers a crack at big prize money, and 2) to pile up profits for the proprietors.
COMPENSATIONS VS. COMPLAINTS
But now that the first promotional literature is being circulated throughout member academies, heralding the "B.P.A.A. National Team Handicap Championship," I can't help feeling that 1) the average low-scoring bowler still doesn't stand a chance, and 2) any money the proprietors do make might not compensate for the complaints they're almost certain to receive before the glorified sweepstakes end.
The tournament will be a 75% handicap affair with local eliminations at each academy and the finals in a still-to-be-designated city. A 10-lane academy will be entitled to enter one team in the finals, a 20-lane academy two teams and so on to a maximum of five finalists. The fee will be $10 a team initially and $100 for the finals.
The $85,000 prize fund, with $15,000 going to the winner, is based on a 1,000-team entry. If the entry list is higher, the fund will be larger.
Some critics have suggested that this could prove the greatest bonanza for sharpshooters since the unarmed stagecoach. I'm confident, however, that B.P.A.A.'s Syl Sobanski, the most astute tournament director I know, will check the finalists carefully and minimize this threat. But what of the honest bowler who improves his average steadily throughout the season? The leaflet states that the entrant must list his highest league average as of Dec. 31. Does this mean that five beginners who average 120 in December will be eligible to roll together, although they are 170-average men by tournament time in May? Or will beginners be barred? Whatever stand Sobanski takes, the wrath of bowlers will fall on their local proprietors.
Another point. Take the case of an 800-average team against the champion Stroh quintet of Detroit. With 1,000 scratch, the 800 team receives 150 pins for a 950 total. The Strohs average better than 1,050, giving them a 300-pin advantage for the three-game series. Unless the 800-average team is composed of sharpshooters or vastly improved bowlers, its chances seem slimmer than Debbie Reynolds' becoming an old maid.
Above all, the tournament can do nothing to enhance the prestige of either the proprietors or the sport itself. At best, it will be a monument to mediocrity. At worst, it will eclipse the great classics which helped raise bowling from the status of a game to the stature of a major sport.
The old saw about Class B and C bowlers being the backbone of bowling is only a half-truth. They may be the backbone of the business; the stars are the backbone of the sport. Business and sport, like Siamese twins, depend upon each other. Break either backbone and both will die.