There has been a lot of talk in the bowling blogosphere (yes, one actually exists) recently about whether handicap leagues are ruining the sport, specifically by serving as an invitation for better bowlers to partake in sandbagging. Sandbagging is when a bowler purposefully bowls below their ability early in the season to establish a lower average, and thus higher handicap, in that league. At a certain point in the season or against particularly good opponents, that bowler will then begin to bowl to the best of their ability to create extraordinarily high games, when combined with their handicap, and collect wins; however, since their average had initially been so low, it will take longer for the sandbagger’s average to reach anywhere close to their actual ability.
So how can bowling as a sport discourage sandbagging? Do away with handicap leagues and force all bowlers to get better? Banish those caught sandbagging from sanctioned leagues? Place a limit on the amount of pins one bowler is permitted in handicap? I am interested in hearing any and all ideas, and here’s why:
I'd like to conduct an experiment. I want to create a league in which we can test the various proposals to discourage sandbagging, but I’ll need your help. I am looking for bowlers willing to submit scores from one of their leagues each week as a contribution to the Sandbagger Prevention League (SPL). The SPL will be comprised of all readers that wish to volunteer, ideally an odd number of at least 7 real bowlers, as well as a fake bowler, Sam Sandbagger. Each week you would be matched up head to head with a different bowler in the league. If I cannot find enough people and someone bowls in multiple leagues I can use your scores from each league, but you will have to bowl against yourself some weeks (did I just blow your mind?). Most often you are bowling against a real person, but occasionally you will be matched up against Sam Sandbagger. Sam will start the season off bowling below his usual average (I will choose this average once I have a list of averages for all participants), but as the league goes on Sam will bowl better. Sam will also bowl over average when he is competing against members with higher averages. I will determine Sam’s scores for the week based on his opponent’s average before receiving the scores of his opponent, so you will have the same chance of defeating Sam as you would if he were actually bowling with you. Bowlers will receive one point for each game they win against that week’s opponent and earn two points by having the higher series.
The SPL will simultaneously run in varying formats. Each week I will calculate the standings as a scratch league, 100% handicap league, 80% handicap league and any possible solutions to solving the sandbagger phenomenon that we can think of, such as dividing the league into two divisions based on average and resetting the divisions at the halfway point. That means that a different bowler could win the league in each format tested. Once the league is over, I will analyze each format to see what type of impact they had on Sam Sandbagger, how competitive they were, and whether or not actual bowling ability is reflected in the final standings. The end goal is to identify a league format that is competitive and rewards good bowling without discouraging newcomers to the game.
So all I need now are a few volunteers and ideas on how we can eliminate the sandbagger from league bowling. Who wants to join the revolution?