"What do a cook, doctor, lawyer, plumber and mechanic all have in common? They are all on the next Mosconi Cup team. LOL"
And so went the Facebook thread among players and railbirds bemoaning the "laughable" and "insulting" Team USA qualification series as laid down by promoter Matchroom Sport ahead of the 2016 Mosconi Cup.
For a little backstory: In an effort to promote competition and encourage participation by as many American players as possible, Matchroom unveiled an admittedly ambitious and fairly complex list of 25 qualification events for 2016. The list includes a number of bar table events, as well as several decidedly regional tournaments that feature little, if any, added money.
Matchroom explained itself:
"For 2016, we've decided to be as inclusive as possible and involve more and more tournament promoters across the USA. This gives players more opportunities to play for Mosconi Cup ranking points and may cut down on some of the expense of playing every single event, as in previous years. With such a range of points available, players can pick and choose which events they play in."
Clearly, that explanation made little difference to the mudslingers. (Odds are few, if any, of the people posting - players included - read the Matchroom statement before voicing their always-well-researched opinions.)
The point is, Matchroom has been tinkering with the process in recent years to promote a more merit-based system. What's wrong with that? Would people rather go back to simply having Matchroom select the team? What message would that send America's up-and-coming players? Where's the incentive for them to up their game?
Should we listen to the online "experts," who insist we should go back to the "veteran" players? Let's reflect, for a moment, on the all-star lineup that Team USA sent out in 2013 and the results it produced.
Is the system perfect? No. I think it could be better, too, and I'll address that later. But I see what they're trying to do, and I give them credit. Trust me, no one - and I mean no one - wants the U.S. to field the best possible team more than Matchroom. Team USA regaining the Cup would be the best thing that could happen for the event and its producers.
So, what's the beef?
The first, and apparently most egregious, sin of this year's qualification system, according to the trollers, is the inclusion of "bar box" tournaments. Imagine, picking players based on their performance on 7-foot tables!
One poster called it an "insult to USA players who are forced to play on the baby boxes just to get the points."
For starters, no U.S. player is "forced" to play anywhere. A player's level of commitment toward making Team USA is his decision. Who has the right to challenge that?
Also, people railing against 7-foot tables express concern that a bar table expert may make the Mosconi Cup squad and be embarrassed on the big 9-footers. Europeans, they point out, will play all of their qualifying events on 9-foot tables, which gives them a big advantage.
Reality? Of the 25 points events for U.S. players, 16 will be on 9-footers. That's four more than the Europeans will play. Also, I'd point out that Mosconi winners Darren Appleton and Chris Melling both only recently came to American pool through English 8-Ball, which, incidentally, is played on 7-foot tables. They've adapted.
And, trust me, with 25 total events, several of which are overseas, there is zero chance that a player whose sole area of expertise is bar boxes will finish in the top three in points. Small table events were part of last year's qualification series as well. Did anyone accuse Shane Van Boening, Corey Deuel and Mike Dechaine of making Team USA through the back door of bar table events? Additionally, many of the bar box events offer some of the largest added money. The top players were going to be there anyway.
And, by the way, everyone seems so impressed with the European system. The mighty Euro Tour, which draws 180 players to its tournaments, adds $7,000 to the purse and hands out a whopping $3,500 to the winner. Now, that's a system that forces players to pony up for peanuts and grind through huge fields just to make the Mosconi Cup!
Finally, there's the contention that too much attention is given the Mosconi Cup. As one former player said, "Is the Mosconi Cup the be-all and end-all? Of course not."
No, the pool world doesn't (or shouldn't) revolve around the Mosconi Cup. Again, not interested? Stay home. Don't play. But for some players, the Mosconi Cup offers the opportunity to compete on the biggest stage and under the most intense pressure pool offers. I admire players who embrace that challenge and strive to reach that stage.
I do think the system can be improved. Here are a few suggestions:
Push comes to shove, I also prefer that 9-foot tables be the norm. Force the hands of some of the bigger promoters. CSI already has the US Bar Table Championships. Don't use the U.S. Opens unless they are on 9-foot tables.
Don't reward promoters who don't add money. Even regional events that add no money but reap the benefits of being a points event do the players a disservice.
Why not start now for 2017 and send out RFPs (Request For Proposal) to promoters wishing to have their events be "Official Mosconi Cup Ranking Events." Require 9-foot tables, standard formats and minimum added money. Shoot for a dozen events, spaced out regionally.
In the meantime, pool's Facebook trollers can find something else to beat down.