Life in the (inspected) fast lane

Terry Bigham
USBC Communications
Published: March 24, 2016 |
ARLINGTON, Texas – Every sport has its ups and downs. This year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament once again has shown us that.

But the only thing athletes want is a level playing field. Sure, one team or one person might “look better on paper” but we know games are contested on perfect fields where ability, and perhaps a little luck, determine the best.

In bowling, our playing field is the lanes. Each year the USBC Equipment and Specifications Team works with associations throughout the country to make sure the playing field is the same for all bowlers as we continue to build a future for the sport.

Making sure lanes are set to specifications should be simple, right? Well, it would be easy if all lanes were constructed the exact same way with identical materials. But some bowling lanes are made of wood and others are made of synthetic materials. Those wood lanes, for example, need protection – we’re not even talking lane oil yet – and there are several substances that can be applied to keep the wood from being damaged by heavy balls being rolled or thrown on them.

Besides the lane itself, you also would need to check the gutters, the pin deck (where the pins are set), the kickbacks (the sides of the lane at the pin deck), and many other things to make sure a bowling ball rolls the way it is supposed to roll and the pins react the way they are supposed to react.

So how is it possible to check every lane in every center? Well, that’s where the local associations step up to help. Each year, USBC local associations visit the bowling centers in their area and use a variety of tools to perform a physical inspection of the lanes.

Because center certifications expire on Aug. 31 of each year, the inspection process usually starts in April with inspectors contacting centers. Associations can inspect the center and give the center operator time to make needed corrections, then re-inspect and certify the center before the center’s certification expires. Associations do try to handle their inspection before the middle of June so it can submit the paperwork needed to have a center approved for certified competition.

While the center inspection is detailed, late last year USBC and Lane Analytics took the inspection process a little deeper leading into the U.S. Open with a “comprehensive topography evaluation” was performed on the lanes of AMF Garland Lanes.

To explain what we mean, let’s start with that word “topography” … which is the science of elevation mapping or, more simply, showing where things rise, where they dip and where they are flat. If you look at a map, for example, and see ^^^^ then you know that is where there are mountains, right?

So now we’re back to the “comprehensive evaluation” part of the process. How comprehensive? Well, each board of each lane was inspected and leveled every 42 inches in 18 locations per lane. This basically reduced the severity every dip and every hump on every lane.

If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty technical part of this, each lane was within twenty-thousandths of an inch of flat. That’s 0.020 when the standard is +/-0.040.

So why are a center’s lanes inspected each year and why did USBC team with Lane Analytics and Bowlmor AMF to do the “comprehensive topography evaluation” before the U.S. Open?

Because it is important for bowlers to know that when they walk into any certified center, they will be competing on a level playing field. Every sport needs standards, and someone to make sure the standards are followed.

So the next time you walk into a center, take another look at the USBC Certified Center sticker on the door and take pride in knowing that you, as a USBC member, are helping to build a future for the sport.

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