From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.
December: The Night Before Christmas
TWAS THE night before Christmas,
When all through the land,
The players were huddled,
Not a penny in hand.
Their cue cases were hung
by the chimney with care,
In hopes that a U.S. Open check
would soon be there.
Pretty sure that verse wasn’t in Clement Clarke Moore’s original version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” but if he was around today I think he would consider it.
Clearly, Moore had a soft spot for the true meaning of Christmas. So do I. That’s why full payouts from the 2012 U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship is at the top of my Christmas list this year…
…which also means second on my Christmas list is peace on earth for the Association of Billiard Professionals. Taken to task in this column a month ago for spending too much time worrying about image and points lists, and not enough time covering their collective butts, the cynical-yet-unreasonably hopeful players were stroked and coaxed into yet another broken promise…
…which leads me to Christmas wish number three: A lock box and industry-appointed bookkeeper/business manager for the U.S. Open. I don’t consider Barry Behrman a crook, but it is apparent that in his zeal to be the country’s big, beloved pool tournament promoter he gambles with money he doesn’t have. He makes promises based on dozens of best-case scenarios, and rarely do all those scenarios fall perfectly into place. Those shortfalls then become rationalizations for promises broken. His interpretation of the word “guarantee” translates roughly to “I’ll do my best.”
Here’s the way I see it: Barry Behrman is Lucy from the Peanuts cartoons, time after time holding the football in place and assuring Charlie Brown (the players) that this time she won’t pull the ball away at the last second. Charlie Brown (would Darren Appleton not be perfect for this role?), who simply wants to play a game he loves and wants to believe with all his heart Lucy is going to live up to her word, invariably lowers his head and charges toward the ball. And, just as invariably, Lucy pulls it away just as poor Charlie Brown launches his foot at the ball. Into the air the poor sap flies, landing flat on his back with a thud… like he always does.
This time, however, Charlie Brown may opt for a different playmate. And Lucy has even suggested that she may just take her ball and go home.
The 2012 U.S. Open was a disaster on many fronts. Having moved the event from Chesapeake to Virginia Beach (reportedly because Behrman still owed the Chesapeake Convention Center money from the staging of the 2011 event), Behrman chose a venue that was woefully undersized. A fine hotel on its own, the Holiday Inn Norfolk/Virginia Beach Hotel and Convention Center nonetheless proved to be a logistical nightmare. The Open’s 16 tables were shoehorned into four ballrooms, making viewing of matches a challenge. Inadequate seating compounded the problem. Berhman claims increased staging costs and the threat of Hurricane Sandy resulted in a $50,000-$60,000 shortfall.
And voila! Rationalization-for-prize-fund-shortfall-on-a-stick!
At least nine, and as many as a dozen, players have yet to be paid their winnings. These are players who ponied up the entry fee and pulled money from their own pockets to travel to and stay in Virginia Beach for the tournament. “They’ll all be paid in (fill in the blank) days,” is always Behrman’s promise. (Again with the promises!)
Eventually the players will be paid, but Behrman is now hedging on a 38th annual U.S. Open, hinting that he may take a year off…
…which brings me to my fourth request to Santa: Give my friend Barry Behrman a dose of business sense and a heaping helping of common sense. No one wants to see a tournament in America that has run for 37 consecutive years simply vanish. It’s important to pool in this country. It’s important to the sport.
This is easy. Under promise. Over deliver.
So, Barry, here’s my suggestion. Get the U.S. Open back under one roof, with bleachers large enough to hold a decent crowd, but don’t feel compelled to book the Superdome. Offer $25,000 added and base your payouts on a 192-player field. In fact, cut the field off at 196. All of this will produce an earlier barometer on ticket sales and field size. Secure your sponsors 60 days out. Escrow the entire prize fund at least 30 days out and pay your expenses from the overflow. If there is money left over to add to the field, the players will love you for it. If not, at least there are no surprises.
Bottom line? Clean up your mess and start over again at a manageable size. Businesses that want to survive have been doing this in America for the past six years.
No one has been given more second chances than you, Barry. Time to make good…
…which leads me to the final item on my Christmas list.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.