Would you go bowling if they changed the rules?
About a month and a half ago, Kevin Dornberger and his Swedish friend Christer Jonsson were watching a tournament in Hong Kong. They made it through most of the afternoon before Jonsson, the secretary general of the World Tenpin Bowling Association, looked at Dornberger, the president of World Bowling.
"This is boring," he said.
Dornberger nodded his head emphatically. He has bowled since he was eight, had a 40-plus-year competitive career and rolled 16 perfect 300 games. Now he heads the sport's governing body.
"I've watched more world championships competitions than anyone in the world," Dornberger said Wednesday on the sidelines of the Asian Games bowling competition in Incheon. "And it has occurred to me that the people who say we are boring have a point."
Dornberger says he has a solution. He wants to radically overhaul the very heart of the sport's complicated, but to bowlers beloved, scoring system.
What he would like to see is an arrangement similar to the soccer World Cup. That would pit players against each other in a group format culminating in finals. Scoring, possibly only in the finals, could be simplified into a frame-by-frame showdown. The player winning the frame would get one point and any player getting to six points would automatically be the winner of the game.
Another radical suggestion is to make every strike count for 30 points, no matter what the next ball is. Spares would count for 20. That would make the math a lot easier, but retain the 300 as the perfect score for a game. It's a tradition many bowlers would be very unhappy to see vanish.
"I'm open to anything because I love our sport," Dornberger said. "I love tradition, but it's vital that we become an Olympic sport. If we have to be dragged into the 21st century to do that, I'm ok with that."
At big international competitions, dozens of bowlers are playing at the same time. The winners are determined by cumulative scores, not finals. It's hard for spectators to get emotionally involved and no one knows the winners until the whole day's competition is over.
"It took 11 1/2 hours to complete the two rounds of play today," said Bill Hoffman, a five-time world champion and Hall of Fame bowler who is coaching Hong Kong's team at the Asian Games. "That is way too long."
Hoffman said the changes would likely face the most opposition from the 10 or 15 players who are at the top of the world standings. After all, the system is working for them the way it is. But he thinks major changes are required to attract spectators and sponsors and win the backing of the International Olympic Committee.
"I think we will see change," he said. "I think the industry in general knows the need for change so that we are more relevant on popular culture again."
Mike Seymour, an Australian who is the World Tenpin Bowling Association's vice president, said a working group is scheduled to make four or five proposals in December. He said top-level bowling could soon start to look more like tennis.
With each game shorter, finals could be played in a best-out-of three format. But he acknowledged that, even for supporters of the overhaul, letting go of the magical 300 is hard to imagine.
Critical thinking challenge: Is bowling boring? How will changing the scoring system make it seem more interesting, if the game remains the same?