Monday, March 8, 2010

How Can We Make PBA Telecasts More Successful?

I'm having second thoughts about something I posted at the end of my entry yesterday. I wrote: "In my next post, I have a proposal to make about how the majority of televised finals might best be conducted in the future." After giving it more thought, I'm not sure my idea is such a good one. But I want to throw it out here anyway. Maybe you can tweak it or come up with a better idea for making the PBA telecasts draw a larger viewing audience without compromising the integrity of bowling or the PBA.

First of all, let me explain that I personally like the old five person stepladder format the best. That is, the top five finishers after round-robin match play advance to the TV finals, #5 bowls #4 in the first match, the winner bowls #3, and so forth. However, it seems that we're now limited to seeing three matches rather than four and that ESPN and/or the PBA doesn't want to use the stepladder format all the time.

So what exciting alternatives might there be? I have to admit that I enjoyed yesterday's eliminator format in which the first match featured all four contestants bowling a game, with the low man going out after the first match, the low man of the remaining three bowlers being eliminated after the second match, and the last two bowlers vying for the title in the third and final match.

I liked the fact that all the bowlers were competing on the same set of conditions at the same time instead of some having to sit out of the competition while others competed and broke down the lanes in unpredictable ways. I think this was a truer test of ALL the bowlers' ability to deal with the lane conditions throughout the telecast. And it seemed to me that having all four compete at the outset and the remaining three compete in the second match made things a little faster-paced and more exciting for the typical viewer than a series of traditional one-on-one matches would be.

However, I'm still partial to round-robin match play for determining who makes it into the telecasts. This allows more bowlers to remain in the competition for a longer time and to either fade toward the end or figure things out and come on strong after a weak start to move way up in the standings or even make the telecast. It also rewards bowlers for being consistently good throughout match play. In other words, it encourages bowlers to keep bowling their best at all times instead of compiling big leads in "eliminator" matches and then coasting the rest of the way, or getting down in a match and giving up because they know they're going to be eliminated after one three-game match instead of being able to rebound from it in later matches.

But round-robin match play should produce rankings or seedings going into a telecast. That is, there's a bowler with the highest pinfall after match play, second highest pinfall, and so on down to fourth place. So how do you combine an eliminator format with one that ranks and rewards bowlers according to how many pins they knocked down in match play? Obviously, if you just throw everybody into the televised matches and don't give the higher ranked or seeded bowlers some kind of advantage for having knocked down more pins in match play than the lower seeded bowlers, the highest seeded bowler could be eliminated after the first match, and that wouldn't be fair. So, how do you make things fair?

Well, I'm not sure you could make them completely fair, but one possibility would be to handicap bowlers by rank. The first seeded bowler could have, say, 20 pins added to his score, second seed 10 pins, third seed five pins, and fourth seed zero pins. This way the bowlers get rewarded or punished for how they did in match play and are encouraged to do their very best throughout match play. Furthermore, I would add one other element to the mix.

I believe that PBA Tour championships should be decided by more than just one game. I think if you really want to know who the best bowler is on a particular Sunday or, at least, who bowled best that day, you should use more than one game to determine it. For instance, Chris Barnes lost a couple of major tournaments recently to opponents--Kelly Kulick and Walter Ray Williams--who bowled blockbuster single games against him in the title match. But suppose Barnes had more of a chance to utilize his superior skills to make adjustments and overcome those single big games shot against him the way he did against Wes Malott in the Masters where he bowled 300 in the final game to overcome a 40+ point deficit after two games? That was tremendously exciting, and it showcased Barnes' ability to make adjustments.

Why not take the remaining two bowlers in a televised eliminator format and use their three game total pinfall to determine who wins the title? So, for example, in yesterday's case, the bowler with the highest three game series between Mark Scroggings and Brian Kretzer would have won the championship. This would have encouraged both players to bowl their best all three games, and it would have been a truer test of who bowled best that day than any one game can provide.

I know this sounds a little complicated. But it has the virtues of round-robin match play, rewarding TV finalists according to their overall performance during match play, making the TV finals more exciting to the typical viewer, allowing or forcing all the players to deal with the same conditions, and being the truest test of who bowled best that day.

What do you think of my proposal? If you don't like it, do you have any better ideas for making the telecasts more popular with fans while still fair to the players?

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