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Article by Professional Bowler - Mike Fagan

Bowling is in quite a dilemma. The game is currently on the decline. League bowling is down across the board and there is no clear-cut explanation for loss in participation. There are many contributing factors but one in my mind sticks out.

Handicap.

In my opinion handicap is the downfall of our game and should be done away with. Handicap has become a crutch that many bowlers lean upon. The players today have no incentive to continue to elevate their game when it will most undoubtedly hurt their chances of winning a league or tournament.  It has made the high level players lower their game by sandbagging and made the lower level players be very content with their game. In fact it is almost impossible for a team of high-level players (or any level) to win a handicap league without sandbagging at the beginning of the league. It has even become socially acceptable! Either way, nobody is practicing and our bowling centers are a ghost town when league is not going on. People don’t mind bowling poorly because they will just get ‘em the following week when they get more pins.

The scratch league is almost extinct but I urge you to lobby and bring it back. It is truer competition. Winning is just and losing, I personally believe, is easier to swallow. There can be no excuses. The team who won, won fair and square and there is no debate. If the losing team want to win next year they will get out there and practice to get better.

I heard a great idea for a league recently and it’s so simple that I am surprised that I haven’t seen any leagues like it in the past. Hold a player draft, simple as that. Have the league vote who the top players in the league are and put them on separate teams. Hold a snake draft (1,2,3,3,2,1 etc.) and voilà. You have your teams and there is no fairer way to divide the players. I would try creating these types of leagues with a minimum entering average or an average range, say 140-180 or 190 and up. This will make it so no team ends up with “Mr. Irrelevant” with the last pick and completely kills their chances.

I heard a story this weekend of a player getting criticized by other bowlers in the league for averaging “too high”. The player finished the league with a 248 average and he was criticized that he will not be able to bowl in any leagues and nobody will want him as a teammate because he will not be getting any handicap and probably receive negative handicap. Does anybody else see the problem with this?? We are the only sport that penalizes people for getting better!!!

Due to the tour schedule I haven’t consistently bowled in a league since college but I will always remember the Monday night scratch league at Babylon Bowl. It was one of the best leagues I was ever a part of. We recruited a 185 bowler who was new to fairly new to bowling to fit under the average cap. Our team practiced with him and worked with him that entire season and by the end of the league he was averaging 205 and we were cleaning up! We didn’t win the league because we scammed the system; we won because we worked at it together as a team and improved our players. I truly looked forward to that league every week because of the high level of competition we were bowling at.

I’ve come to realize that the only people that can save the sport are the bowlers. The bowlers must come together and convince each other and the bowling centers that scratch leagues & tournaments are the best thing for our game. Bowling center owners will not force leagues to change lane conditions or formats in fear of losing entire league bases and entire revenue streams all at once. The bowlers must convince one another this is the best thing for everyone involved in the sport of bowling. We are the only sport that conducts itself in this manor and it is clearly not working. I have never seen a basketball, football, baseball or soccer game start 10-0, have you?