Splits, spares and strikes: PBA trying out blue-tinged oil for early telecasts

The Professional Bowlers Association is making its annual debut Dec. 1 on ESPN. That Sunday at 1 p.m. and most Sunday afternoons through mid-April have events on the network’s main channel.

The first seven Sundays through Jan. 12 have 1 p.m. start times, then vary from noon to 4:30 p.m.

Sundays skipped are Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 2, and a couple NCAA late-season basketball weekends, March 9 and 16.

I didn’t get to check which events are live, but I suspect that all but a couple will be taped, the exceptions being majors like the USBC Masters and PBA Tournament of Champions.

The new wrinkle for this season is the experimental use of colored oil conditioner on the lanes for the “animal pattern” events early in the season.

That’s the first four weeks of the season for the World Series of Bowling’s Cheetah, Viper, Chameleon and Scorpion championships. Sounds like a good tie-in with the World Wildlife Federation, but it’s actually just a marketing technique. The animals represent four distinct oiling patterns used on the lanes.

The original idea for oil conditioner, probably going back at least a hundred years, was to protect wood lanes when balls first make contact.

Bowling balls, including the old black rubber ones, would beat up even the hardwoods used in the heads – the first 15 feet or so past the foul line – and I can tell you from actual experience what happens when you don’t protect the lanes with lubrication.

I attended Michigan Tech University in the early 1980s, a time when men donned double-breasted pinstripe suits and had handlebar mustaches and women wore hoop skirts and petticoats and carried parasols.

OK, just a small exaggeration. Anyway, the six campus lanes in the basement of the Memorial Union Building were oiled using a squirt gun, and often weren’t oiled much on the heads because, I was told at the time, that the prevailing draft in the room would carry some of the oil airborne out of the squirt gun onto the approaches, a real no-no if you’ve ever stepped on a lane and tracked oil back to area where everyone tries to slide. Let’s just say Sticky City.

So the often-unprotected MUB lanes had all kinds of burn marks just past the foul line, where balls first hit the lane and skid before getting into a roll.

An even application of oil just for protection has evolved over the years into the general idea of putting the most oil near the foul line and in the middle of the lane, tapering to virtually nothing halfway or three-quarters of the way down the lane and also near the gutters.

This idea has been tweaked and taken to the extreme and is part of what’s turned out ever-increasing scores in leagues and some tournaments, known derisively by elite players – like PBA pros – as “adult bumper bowling.”

Yes, I’ve had nights myself where I could almost set the ball down anywhere on the right side of the lane and watch it go in the 1-3 strike pocket. Those nights are few and far between, and you still have to line yourself up correctly on the approach to take advantage.

All of this is to explain the colored oil conditioner the PBA will try out. I saw a so-so-quality photo online showing what looked like a Smurf had rolled around on the lane, adding a fairly distinct blue tinge from just past the foul line out maybe 40 feet everywhere but within a few inches of the gutters.

Apparently, this is just an experiment as they aren’t pushing the idea that heavier oil applications will be darker blue, or that streaks can be seen where balls track oil onto the back end of lanes.

Still, it should be interesting to see something that has always been invisible to us in the know and unknown to those who aren’t.

Now onto the Mining Journal Bowlers of the Week for Oct. 25-31:

The men had an ultracompetitive race with Wayne Ross of Thursday Fun League at Superior Lanes claiming honors at 175 pins over his 191 average with 748 on games of 234, 246 and 268.

Close behind were Don Beck of the Wednesday SIR Credit Union League at Country Lanes at plus-172 from his 187 average with 733 and a 278 high game, and Dave Stevenson of the Wednesday Industrial at Superior at plus-166 from his 200 average with 766 and a 277 high.

For the ladies, Sandy Hebert shot 124 over her 118 average in the Tuesday T&T Ladies League at Country with 478 on games of 161, 154 and 163.

Runner-up was Tammie Kovarik of the Friday Nite Mixed at Country at plus-108 from her 162 average with 594 and a 206 high, then Liddia Wells of the Monday Northern Michigan University Class at Superior with plus-89 from her 92 average with 365 and a 145 high.