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The Big Rift Over UPA Rankings
May 5, 2008, 9:36 PM

The stage was set for an ugly and far-reaching battle in men’s professional pool on Monday, after the Billiard Congress of America announced that it would take over the rankings system that determines which U.S. players can play in big-money international events.

America’s leading men’s professional association reacted strongly to the announcement, claiming that it was blind-sided by the BCA’s decision and that the BCA was undermining its players. It also indicated that its player members would boycott an international 9-ball event this summer in Qatar.

“The players are outraged, and we believe this matter will do nothing but impair U.S. pool if not resolved in the near future,” said Frank Alvarez, president of the United States Professional Pool Players Association (UPA).

The issue of the rankings stems from the BCA’s relationship with the World Pool-Billiard Association, the worldwide umbrella organization for pool. The BCA is the North American representative of the WPA, which among other functions stages major international tournaments such as the annual World Pool Championship.

To determine which players from which nations play in these events, the WPA often defers to its continental member organizations, like the BCA. And in the case of U.S. players, the BCA and WPA have recognized the UPA’s rankings and/or results from events that the UPA has officially sanctioned.

But on Monday, the BCA issued a press release stating that it would retake control of the rankings system, as well as the responsibility for communicating with players in matters relating to the WPA.

“It is imperative that we maintain a ranking system that consistently allows us to send the best players North America has to offer to compete and represent our continent in these events,” said BCA Board President Ivan Lee in the release.

The release states that the decision was made after the BCA learned that a pro event sanctioned by the UPA in late April — the Desert Shootout in Tempe, Ariz. — conflicted with the WPA’s World 8-Ball Championship in the United Arab Emirates. The conflict forced players to choose between gaining ranking points at the Shootout and vying for a world title, according to the release.

“The BCA believes that the task of communicating with and assigning professional players to compete in international events is now so critical that they must have direct control of the process in order to take responsibility for it,” Lee said in the release.

The BCA’s new rankings system will be developed and maintained in partnership with AZBilliards.com, the online pool news site, according to Lee. The managers of the site also will be charged with maintaining communication with players.

The move appears to be a strong vote of no confidence for the UPA, with a heavy implication that the UPA was working at cross-purposes with the WPA.

In October 2007, the BCA announced formation of a “WPA Committee,” dedicated to uniting North American player organizations and maximizing participation in the WPA. The UPA is among the members of the committee.

Reacting to the announcement Monday in a release from the UPA, Alvarez expressed surprise that the BCA had not discussed the prospect of taking over the rankings system with his group prior to the release. He also contended that the BCA’s decision “not only undermines, but underestimates the wishes of our touring professionals.”

He also promised serious repercussions.

“In response to both the BCA’s recent decision and the behavior of the WPA,” Alvarez wrote, “effective immediately, UPA players will not plan to attend the 2008 Qatar World Open 9-Ball Championships,” scheduled for June 27-July 5.

It’s evident that this issue will not be resolved quickly. BD will have more news as the situation develops.