Sport Bowling Average Adjustment

Jeff Richgels, bowling blogger/Hall of Famer/PBA Senior Tour rookie, discussed his issues with the Sport Average adjustment scale in a recent blog post; 11th Frame: USBC changes Sport league average adjustment scale but better choice would be dumping it.

Jeff writes:

If I were the czar of bowling, I would make Sport Bowling the standard and not adjust Sport averages.

That way you “reward” people for competing at what should be the standard, rather than penalizing them for embracing the sport of bowling.

It might give them an advantage when it comes to tournaments on house shots, but so what? Too bad for those who bowl on house shots and have inflated averages. If it bothers them that much, they can switch to Sport leagues.

And it puts an end to the sandbagging that goes on when people bowl on Sport-level conditions in leagues that aren’t Sport certified and therefore escape the average adjustment scale.

The Sport scale is just another example of how bowling has it backward, putting the recreation ahead of the Sport.

I disagree. Well, I agree the Sport Average adjustment scale should be dumped, I disagree on what to do after that is done.

To declare it “too bad” if Sport Bowlers have an advantage in tournaments on house shots just doesn’t add up in my head somehow. How can one advocate a higher standard (Sport Bowling) at the same time as competition at a lower standard (handicapped house shot tournaments)?

Ultimately, it made me wonder why Sport Bowlers – or any scratch bowlers – are competing in handicapped tournaments, house shots, or handicapped tournaments on house shots. I will admit that tearing up a house shot in a high scoring house is very fun once in awhile, but gets old fast.

Wait, I’m a Sport Bowler. Are you trying to tell me I can’t bowl in Bob’s Super Fun Handicapped House Shot Doubles Tournament? It’s $1,000.00 first place!

Yes I am. I guess what I’m really trying to say is you shouldn’t want to bowl in Bob’s Super Fun Handicapped House Shot Doubles Tournament. Well, unless there is a scratch division. Or it’s a pro-am.

Handicapped Tournament
Handicapped Tournament
20% advantage given freely to bowlers 230 or higher.

Don’t get me wrong, I know why you want to. It’s your reasons that are the problem.

I’ve come to the conclusion handicap should never be an issue if bowling were to really get it right.

If I were the czar of bowling, I would not have a Sport Adjustment scale – or any other average adjustment scale. Instead, I would simply not accept Sport Bowling averages in recreational tournaments, USBC Blue averages in USBC White or Red tournaments, USBC White averages in house shot tournaments, or ANY average bowled on ungoverned conditions.

By the way, this is all predicated on the current non-existence of any semblance of credible “slope rating” system for bowling.  Were it to exist, rethinking is necessary.

Bowling has it wrong by trying to MIX recreational and Sport Bowling.

Bowlers shouldn’t be bowling down, they should be bowling up. The reward Sport Bowlers or scratch bowlers are looking for (and what all bowling should be looking for) should not be sought in recreational handicapped tournaments.

Besides, why shouldn’t the recreational bowling community be allowed to have competitions exclusive to, marketed to, and funded by recreational bowlers? Why do Sport and scratch bowlers feel the need to infiltrate these recreational handicapped tournaments – and then complain about handicap? Most handicapped tournaments are something less than 100%. That percentage advantage isn’t enough? Now you want to use unmodified Sport averages? Wouldn’t just paying you not to bowl be easier for everyone involved?

Because they have no place better to go.


There is a natural progression for bowlers to follow if they choose – and presuming they are able to continually improve their game with a combination of dedication, coaching, and talent.

Most recreational bowlers, I imagine, would be very pleased if they were able to take their game to a level where they could successfully compete on the most demanding of lane conditions. Most recreational bowlers, I imagine, would also love to be on the approach, on national television, needing three strikes to defeat Walter Ray for a PBA title.

But that simply isn’t reality. Most people who bowl cannot live up to the lofty standards required to be successful (and not frustrated) at higher levels of bowling because they have a busy family life, demanding job, or other time-siphoning responsibilities outside of their bowling life.  I am experiencing this very lifestyle right now. Bowling is very much a recreation many people enjoy and is probably all it will ever be for them.

So they compete recreationally, on house shots, and in handicapped leagues. Recreational bowlers are the majority who keep the doors open at your local bowling center. They are the majority who fill the squads in Bob’s Super Fun Handicapped House Shot Doubles Tournament. They are creating additional revenue days for the proprietor and enjoying competition every bit as much as Sport Bowlers.

Recreational tournaments are the bulk of tournaments.

But what about scratch tournaments or the PBA tour?

PBA Senior Tour
PBA Senior Tour

As noted above, Jeff has competed on the Senior PBA Tour. He just spent two weeks competing at two stops – one in Hammond, IN and another in Decatur, IL. Both tournaments are within driving distance of his hometown near Madison, WI. He bowled very well, making match play in both tournaments (the final eight in Hammond) and took home $1700 and $1150, respectively. “Took home” is probably a stretch. I would be interested to know what he really made after expenses.

In Wisconsin, we have the luxury of a number of well-run scratch tournaments AND scratch tours – as well as a number of very popular handicapped tournaments.  At the end of the day, the entry fees and prize funds for all of these tournaments are fairly comparable.

Scratch bowlers love competition, so as long as the rules allow them to enter these handicapped tournaments they will.  And, as long as opportunity is available for them to do so at even greater personal advantage, they will. If they can get even MORE advantages in handicapped tournaments – you are actually taking away incentive to compete at a higher level.

I think the advocacy for dumping the Sport Average adjustment scale for some of these bowlers will not necessarily serve to encourage other bowlers to form and join Sport Bowling leagues for the right reason. Some will, of course, if only to get the specific advantage of a non-adjustable average.

Remember, though, tournament directors have the ultimate authority to rerate tournament entrant averages. You can be sure any tournament director worth his salt will rerate said bowlers.  Because, if they don’t, they risk alienating the bulk of their tournament entries.

Incentive is the problem.

The fact that Jeff made match play in consecutive Senior PBA Tournaments and cashed for only $2,850 is the problem. The fact that bowlers who make match play in regional PBA tournaments are more apt to “break even” after expenses than make any real money is the problem. tour tour

Have you ever heard of the Tour?  It is the second tier of the PGA tour.  It used to be the Nationwide tour, I think.  Akin to PBA regionals, but not regionally based.  According to Wikipedia, it is the developmental tour for the PGA Tour, and features professional golfers who have either failed to score well enough at that level’s Qualifying School to earn their PGA Tour card, or who have done so but then failed to win enough money to stay at that level.

(That last part kills me – you can get kicked off the PGA regular tour for NOT winning enough money. This means they have to stay in the top 125 – which, for 2011, was $715,404.25.)

The Tour is a tour you probably have never heard of full of golfers you probably have never heard of (or ever will). Less than half of their events are on television, those are only on the Golf Channel. Yet the purses at each event range from $500,000 to $800,000. If Richgels would have finished in fifth place and 14th place (his qualifying numbers) at two Tour events, he would be looking at taking home nearly $40,000.

THAT is incentive.

Stop trying to create scenarios for higher caliber players to be “successful” in lower caliber tournaments and focus on ways to create motivation for themselves – and all bowlers – to “bowl up”.

Go figure out what your value is to the bowling world and sell that value to sponsors.  Figure out how the PGA is securing half-million dollar purses for second level tournaments (here’s some insight), instead of trying to figure out how to extract more prize money from handicapped house shot tournaments.

For help, start with the BPAA.  If anybody understands the value of the scratch bowling community – they should.

Truthfully, there is a lot to build.





  1. To clarify a couple of things:
    I do not compete in any handicap tournaments other than State and a couple of social ones and I bowl them SCRATCH — WITHOUT HANDICAP.
    I would bowl a DECLARED SCRATCH division at State if that were an option at State as it is for our great City Tournament.
    I did not emphasize enought that I have no interest in competing in handicap events — other than a couple of mostly social ones where I bowl scratch. Sorry for that!

    I also added this to my blog a couple of days after the original post:
    Update: Predictably, this blog prompted a spirited and interesting thread on my Facebook page.

    To make a more general point, average adjustment scales and slope rating systems and anything of that sort is pointless because it is impossible to fairly account for all the variables in lane surfaces and lane conditions, not to mention that when you rate a center it can change the condition to game its rating if it wants.

    The best answer for the long-term health of the sport of bowling is to scrap handicap and adopt divisions based on averages in increments of say 20 to 25 pins for tournaments where various levels of bowlers compete, similar to flights in golf tournaments. You then put more of the prize money into the upper tier, providing a disincentive for sandbagging and an incentive to practice and get better — just like a real sport.

    Would it anger some lower average bowlers and prompt some of them not to compete? Almost certainly. But the answer for the long-term health of the sport isn’t to cater to the lowest common denominator — bowling has been doing that for decades and look where it has gotten the sport!

    The answer is to craft a system that rewards true sportsmen and sportswomen, whatever their skill levels. That means people who want to practice and get better and play a game/sport for the right reasons.

    • This article wasn’t about you specifically, Jeff, it was about scratch bowlers who DO participate in handicapped house shot tournaments AND complain. These are bowlers you advocated for by suggesting it is “too bad” if they have additional advantage.

      As always, when you (personally) enter State, City (prior to the scratch division), or other handicapped tournaments, you have always been free to use the tournament scratch average instead of your adjusted sport average so that you don’t get any handicap.

      Motivating bowlers to improve by increasing the prize funds of upper tier tournaments is spot on, and is the necessary incentive I call for in this article. How tiers are defined – by flights, or by handicap – doesn’t greatly matter at this point – as long as there is encouragement to improve.

      However, your suggestion of redistributing prize money (currently against USBC Rule 308, by the way) is definitely not the answer (anyway) and could easily prove counter productive to your goals.

      Were it legal, for the sake of argument, I also believe it could discourage participation at lower tiers. And that is the very source of your additional revenue for upper tiers. This is counter-productive to the overall picture.

      “Catering to the lowest denominator”?

      Nobody is doing this. At worst, we are supporting and protecting a market that is representative of the majority of bowlers and a lucrative source of revenue for proprietors.

      You make it sound (to me) that the healthy, vibrant “lower tier” tournament environment is somehow borne on the backs and at the expense of “upper tier” bowlers and tournaments – or that the “upper tier” is being largely ignored. I sense frustration and envy.

      In fact, “lower tier” tournaments are essential to building “upper tier” tournaments. They keep bowlers active and engaged with additional competitive opportunities.

      In my mind, it is a pyramid – not a straight line.

      Most suggestions do not involve building the pyramid. Most suggestions, such as not requiring Sport average adjustments, percentage handicaps, and redistributing prize money, are predatory. Back off!

      Some of our MBA tournament sponsors, incidentally, split their money between the City Tournament and the Masters. This is putting equal parts of their sponsorship into a four weekend event with >500 bowlers and a one day event with <50. It can be done.

      If you want better funded "upper tier" events, think outside the box. You know your market share is limited - so you need to figure out how to tie in with larger markets.

      The PGA appears to do it through charitable outreaches - something that attract sponsors. I.e., if you give us $2,500 for our tournament, we will help you raise $10,000 for charity XYZ.

      Or tie in to another tournament somehow, like we do with city.

      Or, again, the BPAA. Bowlers are not sticking to the game anymore (as if they ever did), so the BPAA must realize the value of encouraging and promoting participation and improvement.

      Building the "upper tiers" of the pyramid is much more difficult, what with all the extra ramps, no wheels, and the blazing sun. But you can't have a pyramid without the lower tiers, nor effectively build while chipping away at them.

  2. I do agree wholeheartedly that scratch bowlers should not be getting handicap, as some do at some big money tournaments.
    I repeat that I bowl scratch in the couple of handicap events I bowl each year, such as the fun New Year’s Even tournament at Badger Bowl honoring my late good buddy the BFI.

    For the record, I would estimate my profit to maybe be $1,000 for those two Senior Tour events. Entry fee was $425 alone.

  3. We agree on a lot!
    I did not make one thing clear — I am NOT for using prize money from lower flights to subsidize upper flights. I am saying tournaments should use the sponsor money they get on the upper tier(s), which would provide an incentive for bowlers to practice and improve and would provide a disincentive to sandbag to get into a tier below your true skill level.
    I like the pyramid analogy and with the things I envision there would be no upper tier bowlers “preying” on lower tier bowlers because things would be by division and you couldn’t compete outside your division.
    And you misunderstood what I meant by catering. That refers to how the general issue of house shots and recreational bowling vs. challenge conditions and the sport of bowling.
    Pretty much all integers of bowling have spent decades dumbing down the game by catering to that lowest common denominator — the segment that wants soft conditions, doesn’t want to practice, etc. This has driven away many true sportsmen and done great harm to ALL levels of bowling by removing respect for the sport.
    Bowling is nothing but a recreation if it lacks a higher level for people to aspire to.

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