Update: I neglected to address two types of brackets impacted by the outage, which was pointed out to me on the post and thread on this topic on my Facebook page.
One is reverse brackets, which start in game three and end in game one. Since reverse brackets hadn't even started for the outage bowlers, but they did know their last two games, I think the best option there would be to have split the squad into outage and non-outage separate brackets.
And then there's super brackets, which include all nine games of the tournament. I think the decision there is clear: all stay in with no chance for a refund.
Through the course of the Open Championships, some people will suffer extended breakdowns at some point in their nine games and when that happens they will be given two practice balls on each of their lanes before resuming play.
We all know that may happen and that that is the rule. For all we know, we may be competing against someone else who suffered a breakdown.
A bizarre outage on the March 20 8:30 p.m. (Reno time) team squad at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships led to a controversy when the manager on duty (MOD) made a decision about brackets for the squad.
I waited to write about it until USBC could review the situation and Pete Tredwell, USBC managing director of media, could do an interview.
Before I get into what happened, I want to make it clear that while I think the MOD's decision was bad and I'll offer options that would have been better, I believe the MOD was in a tough spot and did the thing she thought was best. I did not even ask her name because I have no interest in throwing her under the bus, so to speak.
It's wrong for anyone to suggest that USBC does not care about the bowlers competing in the tournament: USBC needs those bowlers and would be cutting its own throat if it intentionally acted to make them unhappy.
As Tredwell told me, "It makes me laugh when people say USBC does not care about bowlers — it's preposterous."
I learned of the outage and controversy from posts on the bowlweb.com message board by Milwaukee area bowler Rob Milrath.
Since bowlweb.com does not enable specific links, here are Milbrath's posts unedited and in their entirety:
"Bowled 8:30 team squad Sunday 3/20. After game 2, the scoring goes completely out for half the lanes. After not hearing anything after an HOUR, the MOD comes out and says the software is down but they hope to have it fixed soon. 30 minutes later, she comes back and says it's almost fixed. 10 minutes later we finally get back on the lanes with 2 shots on each lane. Now for the interesting part — the MOD claims she was unable to get a hold of a director, [ Editor's note: Milbrath said later that he was told the next day by the tournament director (Brian Lewis) that no one attempted to contact him. ] so she made the decision to allow anyone that was affected by the delay that was in brackets to either stay in or get a refund.... Does anyone agree with that decision? How can you allow this option for only half the field? Shouldn't it have to be everyone out or everyone in? Especially after 2 full games are done. You completely lose equity because only people with good games would stay in. Now — before it is brought up, this tournament is not all about the brackets for me or my team. We are there to measure ourselves against the best. USBC continues to show that the bowlers are not their priority.
"Not only did the MOD make what I feel is a questionable decision, but when questioned about the decision, the MOD actually got an attitude about it and would not discuss it with anyone.
"Another black eye for USBC and not exactly a good way to keep bowlers wanting to come back to Reno.
"Her comment was that they don't "run" the brackets until all scores are complete. The following day, someone in our group asked the director and he indicated he had left the stadium about a half hour before this occurred and he did not support the decision that was made.
"All I wanted was an explanation/justification for the decision and have yet to get one. I can understand that these types of issues do come up — occasional malfunction is an unfortunate part of technology. My problem is with the lack of communication with those that were affected, and the salty attitude when reasonable questions were being asked."
Milbrath said in a post Sunday that he has not heard anything further on the situation, but on Monday after reading my blog he posted this:
"Our squad organizer who is also the general manager at Towne and Country Lanes in Burlington heard from Brian Lewis at USBC on Saturday and I was forwarded a copy of his response. He says many of the same things that were repeated by Mr. Tredwell. The biggest problems that I have are the lack of communication throughout the whole ordeal and the fact that the MOD did not contact a tournament director. One of the things Mr. Lewis indicated in his response was that the bracket refund was done 'per USBC policy' — if that's the policy, I think it needs to be reviewed. Finally, on the comment of the bracket refund being 10 minutes and not 45 minutes 'as rumored' — being one of the people that was waiting for money — I can ASSURE you it was 45 minutes as the people issuing the refunds did not have enough cash on hand to refund everyone and had to keep running back for more. So that statement from Mr. Tredwell is incorrect. As stated previously, an unfortunate situation that was not handled very well."
Tredwell said there were 52 teams on the squad and 18 lanes in use (specifically 39 to 56) went dark at about 10:35 p.m. — after two games had been completed.
Tredwell said the outage stemmed from preventive maintenance being done behind lanes 73-74. A mechanic forget to reinsert a memory chip and when he restarted things, it made lanes 39 to 56 go dark, Tredwell said.
In other words, it was a simple human error.
Unfortunately, it took a while for those involved to put two and two together and figure out that A had caused B.
Ultimately, the outage lasted 1 hour and 17 minutes, Tredwell said.
When lanes 39 to 56 were restarted, each bowler was given two practice balls on each lane, which is USBC policy for outages.
The bowlers among the 90 on lanes 39 to 56 who had entered brackets were given the choice of a refund and being removed from brackets or staying in and accepting the results.
Tredwell said 51 bowlers took a refund, with six of those 51 entered in $100 or more of brackets. The other 39 either stayed in brackets or had not entered any, he said.
This might have been the worst possible choice the MOD could have made, because it was completely unfair to those who had entered brackets among the 170 bowlers on the other 34 teams.
Clearly, if you had bowled bad and were impacted by the outage you were more likely to take a refund, while if you had bowled good you were more likely to stay in.
The non-outage bowlers did nothing wrong but were forced to face a brackets field skewed against them.
If it had been only a couple of frames into the squad, I would had no problem with the MOD's decision.
But when two games have been completed in brackets, entrants either have not cashed or they have advanced to the finals and cashed ($25 for first and $10 for second in $5 brackets, and $50 for first and $20 for second in $10 brackets).
With two games done, there is no way anyone should be able to withdraw and get a refund: The outage did not impact whether bracket entrants cashed or not.
My alternative would have been to offer the bowlers impacted by the outage this choice: declare before you re-start that you accept the bracket results or that you take a tie in all brackets in which you advanced to the finals (first and second place money is split when there is a tie).
This could both harm and help non-outage bowlers depending on the game three scores, but the key point is that it only involves competition that was impacted by the outage — the third game for the outage bowlers.
That can be justified, and Tredwell called my idea "reasonable."
He said the MOD was trying to achieve the best composite level of fairness and I believe that, but I think she skewed far in favor of the outage bowlers.
"Our goal is to provide a good experience for all out bowlers, and those who suffered the outage did not have a good experience," he said.
He also pointed out that the MOD had to make a quick decision on the scene, and I agree that's a good point — I'm not sure I would have come up with my idea in an hour or so if I had been the MOD.
Another option that was suggested to me was to re-run the brackets with the outage and non-outage bowlers put into separate brackets.
This also would have been a better option than what the MOD decided, and would have been acceptable to me if I had been in either group.
Tredwell said there has never been another situation like this in the history of the tournament.
"We've had lanes break down but it's usually just a pair," he said. "And we've had outages that involved the whole house."
(That actually happened to our team squad in 1998 at the National Bowling Stadium — a squirrel got into a transformer and knocked out power to the Stadium and a lot of the surrounding area. Our squad started about 12:45 a.m. instead of 10:15 p.m.)
USBC will be looking at the situation and may craft a policy in case such a bizarre situation happens again.
"We're constantly evaluating everything about the tournament," Tredwell said.
Tredwell also said that the refunds were paid in 10 minutes, not 45 as some rumors had it at.