Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Get ready for the next big championship -- covering bowling

Now that the Florida Gators have repeated as NCAA basketball champions, a nation can turn its tired eyes to the next big sports title game. (That is after tonight’s exciting women’s basketball match-up between Rutgers and Tennessee.)

Just over an hour down the road from Gainesville, eight teams will compete for the National Collegiate Women's Bowling Championship at Brunswick Wekiva Lanes in Apopka.

Yup. Bowling is an NCAA sport, not that you’d know from the coverage in most daily and college newspapers. A search of women’s bowling scored only a few hits on Lexis Nexis and Google searches.

Nobody is covering bowling. Like lacrosse, field hockey and cross country, bowling is not a sport that attracts much attention – certainly not at a time of the year when you have March Madness, Opening Day, and the Masters, among other spring sports extravaganzas.

I am probably more fond of bowling than most. The sport gave me my start, sort of. I was the bowling columnist at the Fort Myers News-Press back in 1981, when I was an 18-year-old, puckishly young kid going to community college. To me, this assignment was akin to being the NFL or MLB writer. I was a local celebrity (or so I thought), something that made me feel a little uncomfortable. My words suddenly mattered, so I did what any scared kid would do: I went running for help, to speak with bowling professionals, league officers and bowling alley owners.

Fortunately, these folks looked out after me. I learned that bowling alleys are oiled in a manner that helps the ball catch, hook back away from the gutter, and into the sweet spot down the middle of the lane. I learned oiled lanes can cause more problems for left-handed bowlers than righties. And I learned that people take their bowling seriously – as should anybody covering any sport.

So you should do your research. Be prepared before you cover any sport or event.

If you cover the NCAA women’s bowling championships, for instance, you should know that Farleigh Dickinson, the defending champ, is competing in its fourth straight tournament, the same as New Jersey City University and three other schools. FDU (88-23) has won five tournament titles this year. You should also know that Nebraska, which won this title in 2004 and ’05, recently won a tournament by 400(!) pins. You should also know that NJCU is 69-21-1 and has a .764 winning percentage. In fact, you should know all of the teams’ records and winning percentages.

In addition, you should also know the format for the tournament.

Teams are seeded based upon a qualifying round where five-bowler squads will roll four team games and four five-game Baker matches. (The Baker format allows five team members to follow each other in order, each bowling a complete frame until a complete, 10-frame game is bowled.) The fourth Baker set of games will serve as the position round, meaning the pinfall in this round will serve as the tiebreaker.

Next, teams are placed in a double-elimination bracket, where they compete against one another in a best-of seven Baker-style bowling competition. Ties within Baker games are decided by a ninth and 10th frame roll-off.

To learn how to score a bowling game, go to this site here. Basically, a person gets to throw twice per frame in an attempt to knock down all 10 pins. A strike is when a player knocks down all pins on one throw; a spare is when two throws are needed to accomplish this feat. A 300-game is a perfect score, a 200-plus score is very good, and a 180-plus average is exceptional.

The schools competing in this fourth bowling championship are not exactly world beaters in other sports. But that’s okay. Bowling is what these schools do well. Besides No. 1 Farleigh Dickinson, No. 2 Nebraska, and No. 4 NJCU, the following schools will be traveling to Central Florida:
No. 3 Vanderbilt University
No. 5 University of Central Missouri
No. 6 University of Maryland Eastern Shore
No. 7 Sacred Heart University
No. 11 Minnesota State University-Mankato.

If you cover these schools, head out to a practice this week and do a preview story and a feature/profile. I’m sure there are some terrific stories out there, something your readers will appreciate.

For example, John Williamson had only coached football and baseball before taking over as Vanderbilt’s head coach. “Bowling is similar to most sports in that it’s all about position and timing,” Williamson said “A lot of it’s with video, and a lot of it’s with just basic common sense, that we try to break down as elementary as possible. I try to look at what they’re doing, and compare it to something I have more knowledge in like throwing a baseball. I convert it from that back to bowling. There may be different terms, but it is pretty much the same principles.”

You can check out this tournament live on ESPNU at 4 p.m. EDT on April 14. The championship will be replayed on ESPN2 the next day at 4 p.m.

The big games are certainly a lot of fun to watch and cover. Just ask anybody who just watched the Gators defeat Ohio State for its second straight men’s hoop title. But these events do not always yield the best stories. The better stories can often be found at Little League fields, swimming pools and bowling alleys. Check them out.



Chet Piotrowski Jr. said...

You don't have to tell this lefty that well-oiled lanes are not a fan-favorite. Bowled for several years and finally had to give it up after having work/play schedule conflicts.

I wonder if my shoes still fit????

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