Easier or Harder, That is the Question!

Recently, USBC President, Chad Murphy held a bit of an informal Facebook poll, asking bowlers if he – and the National Governing Body – should be attempting to make our sport easier or harder?

This seems like a relatively straight forward question, and I must say, I was impressed with how much participation his question garnered. But is it really that cut and dry? Does it have to be black or white?

I say no. I say the answer is far more complex than the question, itself.

The sport, at least on a recreational level, has gotten very easy. There is no denying that. Honor scores are becoming the norm. People are averaging 240 left and right. It certainly is getting out of hand, and I commend Mr. Murphy and the USBC for, at the very least, taking a look at this.

However, I implore hesitation. Be careful what you ask for. Sure, the higher level bowlers want the conditions to be harder. They want there to be a larger gap between the good players and the average players. But here is the issue: the average players – and the below average players – are at risk of losing interest as the conditions get harder.

For the sake of the argument, let’s take a look at some of the things the USBC could implement to make the scoring pace lower:

1) Heavier pins – resulting in lower strike percentage and rate of carry.
2) Lower the the maximum house ratio to 5:1 – resulting in flatter conditions, making it more challenging to hit the pocket on a consistent basis.
3) Limit surface textures out of the facilities – if there is a restriction on how strong the covers can be, bowlers would have a much harder time creating hook, thus resulting in less margin for error.
4) Lower differentials to .040, or lower, preferably – taking away some of the inner dynamics would, once again, limit hook potential and carry rate, resulting in lower scores across the board.

Would these changes lower the scoring pace? Absolutely. Definitively. But at what risk? Are we confident that bowlers – bowlers used to big scores – would stick around? I’m not so certain. Does the risk outweigh the reward? I say yes.

There is no doubt that the higher level player wants the scores to be lower, thus widening the gap between the good players and the bad. And, for what its worth, please understand that I am a part of the group of bowlers that would benefit from the conditions being harder. But I don’t think it is fair to look at this from one demographics’ viewpoint, even if I am a part of this demographic.

By making them harder, we risk losing a large group of bowlers, due to frustration and a lack of patience. Can bowling really handle that right now? Would they be able to withstand the loss of more bowlers? We are already losing participation left and right; why risk losing more?

I know that Mr. Murphy wanted one word answers to his question. And, in all fairness, if he let people write paragraph after paragraph, he’d never be able to keep up with all of the responses. However, with just a one-word response, I feel as though valuable information was left out.

Without knowing, I feel as though I can accurately assume that most of the poll’s participants were higher level players. Players, once again, that are a part of the demographic that would benefit from the conditions getting harder. But, as I have already said, we cannot make these drastic changes with one, small demographic in mind; we must look at the whole before making any hasty changes.

For the record, I am all for making competitive bowling harder. By all means, use 1:1 ratios more often, change load structures, limit the amount of bowling balls a bowler can use per event. Do whatever it takes to bring back the prestige and glory. Put a premium on shot making and spare shooting. I am all for this. But at the recreational level? I question any future decision.

Look at golf, for example, since everyone is always so quick to compare the two sports. At the recreational level, golf is trying to make their sport easier and easier, because, in their mind, it is simply too hard for the average player to excel at. And golf is right.

Fact of the matter is: by definition, there will always be more average players than top players. Decisions must be made with them in mind, or we risk losing them. If we lose the average player, the largest demographic in our sport, we risk losing our sport, itself.

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