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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.


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January: If A Tree Falls In A Forest...
January 2021

Remember the old philosophical thought experiment, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it fall, does it make a sound?”

I suggest Team USA take this approach to viewing the 2020 Mosconi Cup in its rearview mirror. In fact, everyone may want to pretend this year’s Mosconi Cup didn’t actually happen.

(No offense to Matchroom, of course. Expending the time, money and energy in putting the event on against almost insurmountable odds should earn them even greater respect from the pool community than they already enjoy.)

Taking nothing away from Team Europe, stung by successive losses to underdog Team USA in 2018 and 2019, the 2020 Mosconi Cup was a microcosm of the year itself. From the start, nothing was quite right with pool’s biggest event. Coming off of six years of unprecedented growth and popularity, the 2020 version was fighting an uphill battle.

With just a handful of professional events successfully staged before COVID-19 began to ravage the United States and Europe, the player selection became an arbitrary process. The team captains, Jeremy Jones for the U.S. and Alex Lely for Europe, were forced to make their picks based on previous performance and gut feeling. One of the areas that Matchroom has championed in recent years is making more of the slots performance-based, hoping to inspire more players to compete more often in major tournaments. Not surprisingly then, the 2020 selections left many of pool’s vocal railbirds chirping about “politics” and “favoritism,” particularly with some of the Team USA choices.

Additionally, the captains, both newly minted for 2020, had precious little opportunity to conduct training. With European borders largely closed, Lely improvised with training sessions on the meeting platform Zoom, even somehow staging doubles practice. With travel restrictions in the U.S. less limiting, Jones was able to get his players to his Texas home for one-on-one training. He also managed to get the team (except for Justin Bergman) to compete in a pro tournament in Texas, but the well-intentioned effort almost backfired spectacularly. Three of the four players that attended the Texas event, staged just four weeks ahead of the team’s scheduled departure for London, tested positive for COVID-19 in the following week — Shane Van Boening, Chris Robinson and Billy Thorpe. Incredibly, all three managed to recover in time to post negative tests before their departure and upon their arrival in the United Kingdom. Bergman, who did not play in Texas, nonetheless reportedly tested positive around Thanksgiving and had to withdraw from the event, replaced by Corey Deuel.

Can you imagine the aftershock if four of Team USA’s five players would have had to be replaced in the days leading up to the Cup? Would the insistence on staging the Cup in 2020 have been worth it?

As for the event itself, I desperately wanted it to be exciting. But it wasn’t, and it was not solely because the score was so lopsided. Be honest. How many viewers were truly on the edge of their seats, biting their nails and screaming at the television (or tablet or phone) during some of those 5-4 matches?

And bless the players. They tried their hardest to look intense. I could sense their disappointment when they made brilliant shots, only to hear a smattering of claps from their teammates. And the sole guttural scream of the tournament came from Jayson Shaw when the final 9 ball disappeared from sight. Hell, in a normal Mosconi year we’d get a half dozen screams from Shaw in a match on the first day.

Speaking of Shaw, the Scot’s wild rant on social media the week before the Cup, calling Team USA players “snakes” and vowing to make the event “personal” actually did nothing to add excitement or drama to the proceedings. In fact, it managed to make the atmosphere even frostier and more sterile. A real animosity was evident, with players barely recognizing the existence of their opponents. I do believe that the lack of physical contact between players in the eight months leading up to the Mosconi Cup allowed the sniping to reach the level that it did. Regardless, it only made the event more painful to watch.

Matchroom’s efforts to stage the Cup, when everyone in the sport would have given them a pass had they decided to forego a 2020 version, seemed as much from benevolence as anything. For that, they can’t be blamed for pushing too hard. Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer labored long and hard on producing the Mosconi Cup in 2020. And, while she said that her group learned invaluable lessons and became “more dynamic” through the process, she also admitted that the Mosconi Cup is nothing without a crowd.

“All of our content on visual media hit phenomenal numbers and we delivered a great event,” she said. “But the fans are everything to the Mosconi Cup.”

Was it a mistake? Not at all. Pool needed a real event to rally around. Admittedly, I wanted to see the Mosconi Cup take place as much as anyone.

In the end, no one could be blamed for the fact that pool’s tree crashed to the ground without making a sound.

The 2021 Mosconi Cup can’t come soon enough!

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