Bowling study finds the obvious: lane patterns matter more than ball technology, other factors, Bowlers Journal reports

Republished from The 11th Frame with permission from Jeff Richgels.

If you recall, back in 2012, the United States Bowling Congress and the World Tenpin Bowling Association announced a partnership to study all of the factors that influence scoring with the goal of determining new standards for the WTBA World Championships.

As I reported in this blog, tests were to be done on balls, pins, conditioners and patterns “to determine a point within any/all specifications that help create a line of distinction” and that it would be “just for the WTBA World Championships.”

It was emphasized that the study and any possible new specifications would not impact general bowling rules and the general bowling population.

I said then that the average league and even non-elite scratch bowler shouldn’t be concerned by that, while true elite bowlers and those who are fans of elite bowling should embrace it.

I could not find a news release from World Bowling or USBC, but Bowlers Journal International on Thursday reported the summary of the study in its e-newsletter.

BJI reported that the study found that pins with lower center of gravities “would not create a desired affect on scoring within the level of bowlers being considered in this study” and noted that heavier pins have an adverse effect on pinsetters and are very difficult to manufacture.

That led the rejection of an idea for special set of competition pins.

The ball tests compared the differences between scores from sessions using any USBC approved bowling ball the bowler wished to scores from sessions where bowlers used only bowling balls that fall within limited specifications.

The greatest observed statistical difference between the two sets of scores was 7.18 pins per game, which led to the conclusion that “To go down the path of allowing only a limited list of bowling balls at world competition for a minimal difference in scoring (less than one full mark per game) would mean putting in substantial time and effort for very little return,” BJI reported.

World Bowling President Kevin Dornberger said in an email Thursday that potentially scoring could be impacted by around 5 pins a game by removing close to 90 percent of the balls on the market today.

“Too much pain (more likely impossible from a practical standpoint) for not enough gain,” Dornberger said.

On lane patterns, analysis showed that bowlers who bowled both the 2013 PBA World Series of Bowling and the 2013 U.S. Open averaged 14 to 30 pins higher on the World Series of Bowling oil patterns, which are Sport compliant but not nearly as difficult as the flat U.S. Open pattern.

In addition, the 2013 USBC Queens on a 3-1 pattern and 2013 U.S. Women’s Open on a 1.5-1 pattern found that women averaged 14 pins higher at the Queens.

BJI reported that “The World Bowling Executive Board has decided to try out some lower-ratio lane patterns at a few 2015 World Bowling events. A few of the WTBA patterns will be adjusted for the start of 2015. The ratios of these lane patterns will range between 2:1 and 2.5:1.

This avenue allows World Bowling to create a playing environment that can be practiced on outside of the competition sites. The elite bowlers of the world will continue to be challenged and rise to meet that challenge.”

In other words, lane patterns are the most impactful, feasible way to make the bowling environment more difficult.

Obvious, yes, but at least the study quantified this.

Drastic changes to bowling balls could somewhat lower scoring and increase the challenge, but — my views now — that will result in a top level of bowling playing a totally different game than other bowlers. This is highly problematic and leads to all kinds of issues.

The ultimate answer remains an oil-less lane, but that doesn’t seem any closer today than it was a quarter-century ago.

Here is a powerpoint presentation from World Bowling.

Bowlers Journal does not have the study posted on its site, so I can’t offer a link.

Instead, here is the e-newsletter segment:

World Bowling President Kevin Dornberger said data from the 2015 World Bowling events would be considered when determining specifications for future world tournaments.

There is a general belief among high-level bowlers that technology has surpassed regulation when it comes to specifications for the sport of bowling. With that in mind, World Bowling, the new name for the World Tenpin Bowling Assn., partnered with USBC and the Hong Kong Sports Institute to conduct a study on bowling specifications. Specifically, the goal of the study was to create a distinguishable platform for elite world competition, with scoring being the key measurable. That study has been completed, and here is a summary from World Bowling…

# # #

During the development phase of the study, bowling was broken down to the following components: lane conditioner, pins, lane patterns and balls.

Lane conditioner is always evolving and Kegel is the lane maintenance partner for World Bowling. As such, it was decided that the new Kegel lane conditioner, Ice, would be used during the test. According to the manufacturer’s website, “Ice is designed to be pinsetter and house ball friendly while also delivering a high level of durability.”

Due to these properties, it made sense to try out this lane conditioner since it is desirable for the playing conditions to hold up and have the lane conditioner be friendly to the environment during testing.

Data on heavier and lower center of gravity bowling pins were examined. This data showed that pins with lower center of gravities would not create a desired affect on scoring within the level of bowlers being considered in this study. Heavier bowling pins were also considered, but after looking through the previous test results, heavier pins had an adverse effect on the pinsetting machinery and are very difficult to manufacture.

After looking into these aspects, it was decided that the logistics of having special competition sets of pins that are within different specification ranges from standard pins would be far too complicated from the manufacturing front, equal opportunity for each country to have them to practice on, as well as shipping and installing at all competition sites.

World Bowling has a set of lane patterns that are Sport Bowling compliant. There are four short patterns, four medium patterns and four long patterns. Each country is familiar with this set of lane patterns. A new lane conditioner is being used in the study, so lane patterns were chosen from the current banks of patterns to gain insight on how the conditioner would work within the already existing patterns.

This left the specifications on bowling balls as something that could be further investigated. The question was presented: If the specifications on bowling balls are limited, would a significant difference in scoring be seen?

Once the main question to be answered was developed, a test method was chosen utilizing Six Sigma strategies. USBC would have 12 different bowlers bowl six games on two different WTBA lane patterns twice using any USBC-approved bowling ball they wished. These same 12 bowlers would then bowl using only bowling balls that fall within tightened specifications — again, six games on two different WTBA lane patterns twice.

For every session of bowling, each bowler would record their game scores, the ball they were using, if they made a ball change, which frame(s) the change was made in, the surface grit of their bowling ball, etc. Lane tapes were also taken and used to verify that the lane patterns were the same for each test session on the particular pattern. This same process was to be done by bowlers at the HKSI, so a replication of the test could be conducted.

Researchers turned to the USBC Ball Motion Study to determine which bowling ball specifications to focus on for the study. The USBC Ball Motion Study produced results that showed Surface Roughness measurement of Ra, Low Radius of Gyration, Total Differential and Intermediate Differential were all top influential factors on ball motion that can be measured on a ball. Specifications on these factors were to be limited in the study.

Data from the last 10 years of approved bowling balls was examined. Specifications were pushed as tight as possible for the study. Once results were available, if shown applicable, a specification could be loosened.

The limited specifications were selected by examining a distribution analysis on each specification from bowling balls over the last 10 years. The distribution analysis along with the associated probability plots allowed researchers to understand what percentage of bowling balls would be eliminated based on where the limited specifications were set.

Once the bowling sessions were complete, all of the data was entered and the differences between scores from the sessions using any USBC approved bowling ball the bowler wished were compared to the scores from the sessions where bowlers used only bowling balls that fall within the limited specifications.

Running the data through a two-sample t test showed that the greatest observed statistical difference between the two sets of scores was 7.18 pins per game. At this point, USBC representatives discussed with the World Bowling Executive Board the difference between statistically significant differences and practically significant differences. The test showed that, statistically, there is a significant difference between the scores with any bowling ball and the scores with only balls from within the limited specifications. It is very important to consider how that difference fits into the bowling environment and decide if it is practically significant within this situation. To go down the path of allowing only a limited list of bowling balls at world competition for a minimal difference in scoring (less than one full mark per game) would mean putting in substantial time and effort for very little return.

The Board discussed recommendations presented based on the difference in scoring produced. First, the specifications had been tightened on the balls to the point where there were not many left within that range for use. Specifications could be narrowed further, but that would even more drastically limit options available on the market for use. It was decided that something other than bowling balls would have to be examined.

The next recommendation proposed was to see what could be done to the lane patterns. The ratio of the current banks of WTBA lane patterns has not changed significantly in several years. A very rough analysis on scoring data from the 2013 PBA World Series of Bowling events and the 2013 U.S. Open was conducted. The World Series of Bowling is conducted on oil patterns that have ratios around 3:1 (the same ratio as World Bowling lane patterns). Bowling’s U.S. Open was conducted on a 1:1 ratio oil pattern.

Analysis showed that bowlers who bowled both the 2013 PBA World Series of Bowling and the 2013 U.S. Open averaged 14 to 30 pins higher on the World Series of Bowling oil patterns.

To examine this even further, the 2013 USBC Queens and 2013 U.S. Women’s Open were considered. The Queens was conducted on an oil pattern that had a 3:1 ratio, while the U.S. Women’s Open used an oil pattern that had a 1.5:1 ratio. Within these two events, bowlers who bowled both events averaged 14 pins higher at the Queens, which trends similarly to the difference seen with the PBA bowlers.

The World Bowling Executive Board has decided to try out some lower-ratio lane patterns at a few 2015 World Bowling events. A few of the WTBA patterns will be adjusted for the start of 2015. The ratios of these lane patterns will range between 2:1 and 2.5:1.

This avenue allows World Bowling to create a playing environment that can be practiced on outside of the competition sites. The elite bowlers of the world will continue to be challenged and rise to meet that challenge.