An end to the perfect 300? Hungry to be in Olympics, World Bowling eyes radical overhaul

About a month and a half ago, Kevin Dornberger and his Swedish friend Christer Jonsson were watching a tournament in Hong Kong. They made it through most of the afternoon before Jonsson, the secretary general of the World Tenpin Bowling Association, looked at Dornberger, the president of World Bowling.

"This is boring," he said.

Dornberger — who has bowled since he was eight, had a 40-plus-year competitive career, has rolled 16 perfect 300 games and who now heads the sport's international governing body — nodded his head emphatically.

"I've watched more world championships competitions than anyone in the world," Dornberger told The Associated Press on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Asian Games bowling competition in Incheon, South Korea. "And it has occurred to me that the people who say we are boring have a point."

Dornberger's solution, which he wants to see implemented by the 2016 World Championships in Doha, Qatar is a radical overhaul of the very heart of the sport — its complicated, but to bowlers beloved, scoring system.

What he would like to see is an arrangement similar to the soccer World Cup that would pit players against each other in a group format culminating in finals. Scoring, possibly only in the finals, could be simplified into a frame-by-frame showdown. The player winning the frame would get one point. Any player getting to six points would automatically be the winner, and that would be the end of it.

Another radical suggestion being considered is to make every strike count for 30 points, no matter what the next ball is. Spares would count for 20. That would make the math a lot easier, but retain the 300 as the perfect score for a game — a tradition many bowlers would be very unhappy to see vanish.

"I'm open to anything because I love our sport," Dornberger said. "I love tradition, but it's vital that we become an Olympic sport. If we have to be dragged into the 21st century to do that, I'm ok with that."

Here's how bowling currently works:

Each game is broken down into 10 frames. If a bowler rolls a strike, that counts for the 10 pins knocked down in that throw, plus the pins knocked down in the next two throws. If the bowler fails to knock down all the pins on the first throw, there's another chance. If the bowler knocks over the remaining pins, that's called a spare, and it counts for the 10, plus however many pins that bowler knocks down in the next throw. If the bowler fails to get a strike or a spare, the score for the first frame is registered as however many pins are knocked down in the first two attempts.

Simple enough, right?

Dornberger and a lot of people trying to figure out how to keep sport bowling out of the gutter don't think so.

At big international competitions, where dozens of bowlers are playing at the same time and the winners are determined by cumulative scores, not finals, it's hard for spectators to get emotionally involved because no one knows the winners until the whole day's competition is over.

"It took 11 1/2 hours to complete the two rounds of play today," said Bill Hoffman, a five-time world champion and Hall of Fame bowler who is coaching Hong Kong's team at the Asian Games. "That is way too long for climaxes."

Hoffman said the changes would likely face the most opposition from the 10 or 15 players who are at the top of the world standings, since the system is working for them the way it is. But he added that he thinks major changes are required to attract spectators and sponsors and win the backing of the International Olympic Committee.

"I think we will see change," he said. "I think the industry in general knows the need for change so that we are more relevant on popular culture again."

Mike Seymour, an Australian who is the World Tenpin Bowling Association's vice president, said a working group is scheduled to make four or five proposals at an executive board meeting in December in Abu Dhabi.

Seymour said top-level bowling could soon start to look more like tennis. With each game shorter, finals could be played in a best-out-of three format. But he acknowledged that, even for supporters of the overhaul, letting go of the magical 300 is hard to imagine.

"Maybe for the average league-type player a few more years down the track if the 30-point strike system has been established and proven that might take over," he said. "I don't like banishing the old 300. I'm a traditionalist and I've been around for a long time in this sport. I can't see it being banished forever, maybe just a change at the top end."