I would be willing to bet that anyone who reads this column has been bowling before. Whether it would be a rainy day activity with friends or that cool birthday party when you were 5, most of us at one point or another have thrown a bowling ball down the lane. But how many of us actually would consider it a sport that takes just as much work as football, baseball, hockey or basketball? Or even a legitimate sport at all, able to even be mentioned in the same sentence as the four sports previously listed. Certainly fewer people than have ever bowled in their life actually take bowling seriously and consider it a thriving sport. I am one of the rare people who take bowling seriously, but I don’t think it will ever become a mainstream sport that people will jump up to watch as they do for football and baseball.
There are several reasons that bowling will never become as popular as football and the other sports that are popular in America. Even though bowling is the number one participation sport in America, because anyone can get the concept of throwing a ball down a lane at the pins, taking it seriously as a sport is a whole other level above that. There is a lot more to the sport than just throwing the ball down the lane; it takes concentration, quite a bit of practice and understanding how the lanes function with or without the ball rolling down them.
First, for those that don’t know, bowling lanes are lubricated with oil. This is to allow the bowl to roll easier and to preserve the wood or artificial wood that makes up the lane. However, the oil’s significance goes through the roof when one takes the sport seriously. What are called oil conditions can greatly effect how the ball moves down the lane. Ever seen a professional bowler bowl and how they can make the ball curve? This is called a hook and the ball can hook differently depending on what kind of oil is on the lane. With drier conditions, the ball tends to have a more violent hook than normal, being that it gets more grip, whereas on heavy oil conditions the ball will tend to slide more and hook less because of the lower grip. Medium oil conditions are, as the name suggests, a happy medium between the two and the ball will react about as normally as it can.
If you’ve thrown a bowling ball down the lane for a game or two and picked it up during that third game, you may have noticed how the ball might feel a little slick. This is the oil being picked up by the ball and this is called lane breakdown. Basically, with the more shots being thrown on the lane, the oil will deteriorate, either being picked up by the balls themselves or being pushed further down the lane. These changing oil conditions make bowling challenging in that you have to adapt to the conditions, just as quarterback has to deal with deteriorating weather conditions. This is one of the big reasons that bowling will never make it as a mainline sport. People are don’t care enough or don’t want to care enough about the lane conditions to take it seriously. Many people who casually bowl just want to hit the pins and get a strike; while this may work for the majority of the bowlers in America, if you can understand the oil conditions and the different factors that contribute to lane breakdown, you can more efficiently throw a hook and get strikes. The casual bowler just doesn’t care enough, or want to put in the effort, to learn about the oil or even learn how to throw the hook.
Another contributing factor to bowling’s place in sports obscurity is the cost. The amount of money to go bowling itself is getting to be ridiculous now a days; my local alley in Richmond costs $5 a game. Granted, most times during the summer or at nights the alleys will hold discount nights or what have you, but more often than not the price is just too high to get any enjoyment out of bowling more than once every month or two, like you would have to if you were taking the sport seriously. The equipment is expensive as well. A good bowling ball, such as the Brunswick Absolute Inferno that I bowl with, can cost anywhere between $100 and $300. My Absolute cost me $145. Bowlings shoes can range from $45-$100, bags are $75-$100 and the various oddities that can help your game, such as gloves, towels, chalk for the hands and various other bowling tools can high in price as well. I’m sure that this drives many would-be bowlers away. Football and baseball are fairly expensive sports as well, but you can get years and years of use out of pads and a bat, but you don’t have to pay by the game to use the baseball or football field; this is the opposite in bowling, where you have to pay these insane prices just to throw one game.
Bowling can also test your sanity. I’ve played football and baseball and I know the nature of both of those sports and how they can play with your psyche, but I don’t think they even can compare to bowling. Bowling takes a lot of concentration as well as all the knowledge of the lanes and the ball you are throwing. You have to know where you are going to throw it and how hard you are going throw it. And even if you know all of these things and you throw the ball and everything is perfect: your approach, your release, your shot, you hit your mark and despite all that you don’t get a strike. It is incredibly frustrating when after doing everything right you do not get the result you desired and have to pick up sometimes a nasty spare or that pesky 7 or 10 pin. Hours and hours of practice are required to get the feel for what you are doing and the understanding of how lanes can be different in terms of the conditions really helps because no two lanes are going to be the exact same. Most people who bowl really don’t care about hitting the mark or the consistency bowling requires; they just want to hit the pins, yet another sad reason that bowling will never be taken as seriously a competitive and worthwhile sport.
Sadly for these reasons and more, bowling will never be a mainline sport. Bowling will never compete for ratings against the Super Bowl or the World Series. Most times bowling is televised on ESPN at 1 o’clock on Sundays. This is fine during that annoying time between football and baseball season, but during football who is really going to want to watch bowling over the big 1 o’clock match-up? I’m a huge bowling person and I don’t even do this! However I can honestly say that after all the hard work bowlers put in, and I know this from experience, there is nothing better than throwing a shot and knowing its perfect and hearing the rack shattering as the ball barrels through those pins. It’s that one shot and it’s instantly all worthwhile. Bowling is a beautiful sport that sadly may never get the respect that it deserves. If you take time and really look at it, or watch a PBA bowler at work, you may just realize how great of a sport it is.