As the Professional Bowlers Tour gears up for its 34th season on ABC with Saturday's finals of the AC-Delco Classic from Lakewood, Calif. (Ch. 2, 2:30), Chris Schenkel has an answer for one of the burning questions of our time:
Precisely why is bowling, a sport with little apparent mystery, so darned popular on the tube?
"You find the darnedest people bowling. What you have is a nation full of bowlers, more than 70 million to be precise, and they're striving to improve, so they tune in to see how it's done," said Schenkel.
If anyone can explain the lure of bowling to a televised audience, it's Schenkel, the Keith Jackson of the tenpin set, who has called the PBT every year since it made its debut on ABC in January 1962 -- eight months after "Wide World of Sports."
Though network executives and folks in general have wondered why Schenkel sticks with the sport, he has never wondered.
"I'd go to the Masters and people would come up to me and say, 'Geez, what a heck of a bowling show you guys do.' I was smart enough to know that this had a big following," said Schenkel. "I like it. I like the people. They're fun to be around, and they're consistent."
Schenkel, who has been teamed with analyst Nelson Burton Jr., a Hall of Fame bowler, for the past 21 years, has seen the popularity of the sport explode.
One of the big boom areas, said Schenkel, is the college campus, from where a number of new stars, such as Walter Ray Williams Jr., a graduate of Cal-Poly Tech with degrees in computer science and physics, are emerging.
"The NCAA has not recognized the college bowling program, but it's been a good farm system. Very few [top] bowlers come off the lanes anymore," said Schenkel.
Sounding off on the stripes
Add Fox analyst John Madden to the chorus of those who have criticized NFL officiating, but, in a twist, Madden, who will join Pat Summerall in the booth for Sunday's NFC championship game, assigns blame for the mess to league officials and their desire to jazz up the game.
"When they put in the rules, they have to think about the officials and whether they can call those rules. Right now, they put in rules and they have a system and the system doesn't work," Madden said during a teleconference yesterday.
As an example, the former Oakland Raiders coach pointed to the rule that prohibits contact on wide receivers once they have gone 5 yards past the line of scrimmage as nearly unenforceable.
"They're piling too much on them, like that rule. It's like the Competition Committee meets in Maui and they put in all these rules and they sound good, then they take them to the owners and it sounds good, but they dump too much on the officials," said Madden. "They've put too much on the shoulders of the quarterbacks, and they're putting too much on the officials."
The league has fought the Bulls and the station for years, with the valid argument that to have one team present a host of games on a channel that can be seen across the nation would devalue the overall product for all teams.
NBA commissioner David Stern, who said the league will appeal, had managed to persuade Ted Turner to take his Atlanta Hawks off his superstation TBS for the good of all, but there was no such luck in Chicago.
Stern should have seen this coming. After all, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who also owns the Chicago White Sox, is one of the architects of the baseball owners' hard-line union position.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune, which owns WGN and the Cubs, once sued former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent for trying to move the Cubs into the National League's Western Division, because the shift would dip into their television revenues.
In other words, Stern is dealing with the biggest snakes in a nasty pit of vipers.