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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.


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November: License to Confuse
November 2016

Notes and musings from the 41st U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships…

• It wouldn’t be the U.S. Open without a little controversy. This time, however, the controversy heated up a week before the tournament even began, and it did not center on the prize fund. Using colossally poor judgment, the World Pool-Billiard Association (through its North American federation member, the Billiard Congress of America) dropped an oh-by-the-way Facebook post reminding players that, because the Open was WPA sanctioned, they were required to sign a newly instituted WPA Player License. Not surprisingly, the edict included little information, answered no obvious questions and left no opportunity for discourse.

Naturally, the botched missive set off a wave of questions, allegations and criticism across social media. It also gave first-time U.S. Open producer Pat Fleming agita!

“There were a lot of complaints,” Fleming said prior to the Open. “Lots of, ‘What’s this?’ There’s not telling how many players who were on the fence decided not enter the U.S. Open.” Left to their own narrative, the response from the players was one of outrage and disgust. In fact, their level of overreaction was every bit as ridiculous as the WPA’s original effort. “I see only negatives and no positives,” one American player posted. “Nothing to help the players. Just fines and being excluded from events if they don’t comply with each and every part of the contract.” Several players threatened to “have my lawyer deal with them,” as if… And, in humorous irony, a few players who scoffed at the notion of signing a player license had already signed the very license in question earlier in the year in order to participate in other WPA-sanctioned tournaments! While the actual contract isn’t nearly as heavy-handed as the “slave agreement” label a few players gave it, the WPA’s lack of foresight and poor handling of the situation was comically predictable.

All of this was, of course, avoidable. While the players generally overthink, overanalyze and overreact, the WPA constantly exacerbates problems with its nonchalance.

“I’m really surprised that this has become such an issue,” said Ian Anderson, seemingly the WPA’s president-for-life. “The Player License has been working for some months now, and was a requirement at the men’s World 9-Ball Championship in July and the China Open. Virtually every foreign player attending the U.S. Open has already signed the license.”

Hello! The largest contingent of players at the U.S. Open were American, and only a handful of those players travel to overseas events. It seems unlikely that an American player like, say, Keith Hargrave spent much time discussing the pros and cons of the WPA Player License with Taiwan’s Pin Yi Ko or Austria’s Albin Ouschan. Add in the fact that players in the U.S. are notoriously the most skeptical, cynical and untrusting players on the planet, and it seems relatively obvious that the WPA should have announced the license requirement long before the U.S. Open and should have promised to have a representative at the event prior to the players’ meeting to explain the license and answer questions.

A modicum of foresight would have rendered the issue almost moot. Based on the text of the license, no one could blame players for wondering why the license was necessary in the first place, and what kind of restrictions it would place on their ability to play in various events.

Had the WPA been on hand (or even had the intelligence to post a few FAQs with answers online), the players would have learned that the license can be canceled at any time by the player. As for limitations on events in which a licensed player can participate, Anderson said the WPA is simply trying to protect promoters of WPA events from having their events undermined by other promoters. Additionally, the license only pertains to WPA events, meaning events that are not WPA-sanctioned are open to all players, so long as that event doesn’t meet the WPA’s sanctioning criterea and is run at the same time as a WPA event. In the end, the confusion resulted in virtually no licenses being signed at the U.S. Open. In fact, for the most part, players left Norfolk no more informed about the WPA Player License than they were prior to the event. Shocker!

• Is anyone really surprised that Pat Fleming ran a catastrophe-free U.S. Open in his first effort? Hardworking, level-headed and detail-oriented, Fleming gave the players exactly what they’d hoped for — a tournament that ran smoothly, treated them with respect and paid them promptly and in full. Were there hiccups? Sure. A few players noted that the tables were too close together. And the lack of seeding is surely an issue that Fleming will want to rectify in 2017, should he agree to return as the event’s producer. The live-stream was a problem the first few days, but that is an Accu-Stats issue, not a U.S. Open issue.

Barry Behrman’s legacy tournament appears to be in good hands.


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