Volume 1, Issue 51
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez
Sometimes I wonder why people not involved in this sport don't take bowling seriously. Then there are other times that I realize how often that bowling shoots itself in the foot, and I just want to crawl into a hole. Let me take a simple question, When is a pro, not a pro? And the answer is: in bowling.
Before I begin my rant, let's look at a couple definitions:
professional--2 a : participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs <a ~ golfer>
OK, the boldface is mine, but in other sports, it's a clear line. Even in college sports, with scholarships as the main gift, great care is taken to keep the line between amateur and paid professional clear. When the line is crossed, the teams involved face stiff consequences.
amateur--2 : one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession.
By the traditional sports definitions of amateur and professional, adult bowlers gave up their amateur status years ago. We've been bowling for prize funds in league competition for so long, it's just de rigueur. The difference is, few of us pay our bills on our bowling winnings. Actually, I'd be hard pressed to call the money I get back compared to what I put out to bowl "winnings" at all. But in the long run, it is a big deal. Imagine what the Olympic Committee is thinking. It also makes fans question where the best in our sport compete.
When the World Team Challenge telecasts aired a few years ago, it became clear that some of the amateurs are doing a lot better than the afterwork league bowlers. While I've dreamed of someday becoming a professional bowler, I've never considered listing my profession on my IRS form as "bowler." Soon after watching the WTC shows, I first heard the designation "professional amateur" used to describe these bowlers. They, by definition, earn their livings by bowling, admittedly so. Many have no other occupation. Many even enjoy the perks of a ball contract with major manufacturers. But they still hold on to their amateur status in this sport because the governing bodies allow them to.
Honestly, I don't fault people who don't want to join the pro ranks. Compared to other pro sports, the money's not really there, except for a very few, extremely talented folks. Why should a bowler go out and spend $1,000 or more a week to battle for a top check of $17,000? I understand living in a hotel room in a different town every week is a difficult life. Especially when the amateur tournaments are shorter, and require less travel less often. There are many excuses.
The reality is the professional amateurs are making a living--and a legal living. The reality is they are abiding by the governing bodies of our sport. But when I'm watching a bowling telecast, and the announcer says someone made $100,000 in the last couple years competing in a sport and then tells says he's an amateur, I get ill.
Mind you the PBA and the PWBA have taken great strides to force the professional amateur ranks to "fish or cut bait." To bowl professional events, a bowler must be a member. The guest spots are gone. While the ABC Masters might appear to be a PBA event, it truly was an open event--with amateurs and pros competing side by side under the eye of ABC. Normal folks and the occasional weekend tournament bowler have complained too, and many of the bigger amateur and megabuck tournaments have rules limiting the entrance of the folks in the professional amateur ranks.
The last few years have witnessed some of the greatest amateur bowlers going "pro." The PBA had its most incredible rookie class in years last season, creating a whole new generation of bowlers to market to potential sponsors. The PBA has a joint venture with the High Roller to create a pro version of the megabuck event that will allow professionals a chance at the big paychecks. Slowly but surely, the clear answer seems to be to grandfather the loopholes and to get the prize funds in the PBA and PWBA up high enough that there is no question where the best athletes in our sport participate. It's just one step in a long road toward more integrity for bowling.