By: Don ďCheeseĒ Akerlow
LAS VEGAS, NV - May 24, 2004
I had the opportunity to speak with Mark Griffin after the BCA Nationals in Las Vegas, so he could give his side of the sale of the BCA leagues and bring us all up to speed with what he plans.
DďCĒA: The questions that I am giving you have been compiled from feedback that Iíve gotten from players and league operators in my area and other sources, people that I have know throughout the years. They have some valid concerns as a lot of the players do, and Iím sure you have addressed a lot of them this past week.
MG: Yes, I did and a lot of times the meetings were on an emotional note.
DďCĒA: From the meetings that you had in Vegas this past week what did you come away with, the feeling from the players, from league operators and just basically in general?
MG: I think the biggest thing is their feelings are hurt by the way the BCA handled the sale. Nobody can disagree that the BCA handled the sale very poorly. But you have to understand that the BCA hired a professional broker, and at that point itís the brokerís job to get the word out and chase down the leads, whatever, thatís his job. And thatís where they keep saying, ďWell you should have told all ÖĒ They didnít realize that I had nothing to do with it. The BCA should have contacted all the league operators and told them the league was going to be for sale. I donít know if thatís right or wrong. Itís water under the bridge, nothing we can do about it now except rebuild everything.
DĒCĒA: The players and the league operators feelings are hurt, they feel betrayed basically, in the feedback that Iíve gotten. You are the target because you are the owner now.
MG: Iím not even sure that Iím the target in that respect. I canít change the past. I have to try to make them feel with a degree of assurance that I have their interest at best. A lot of the turmoil is being intentionally stirred by certain individuals. They are intentionally putting stuff out that is not true, to add fuel to the fire.
DĒCĒA: One of the concerns that I had found out was that there hadnít been a player representative on the BCA board for at least 2 years.
MG: Thereís a room operator representative. There is not a player rep on the board now. Myself and Greg Hunt are the two room operators and thatís why we were both opposed to the sale. That would impact the room operators more than anything else. Itís in their home room, so to speak, but Iím going to probably agree with you but for 2 years I donít know. There is not a player rep right now.
DĒCĒA: Are you going to have on your board a player rep?
MG: My board is going to be an advisory board and everybody will be sensitive to the players side. There will be some players, there will be some referees, some instructors. It wonít be manufacturers unless they are planning on wearing another hat that directly relates to the players. Thatís the only thing my board will be made of. I donít have a real number yet, Iím still soliciting volunteers and suggestions. Iíve got a whole pile of names and for the next month or so, Iíll start contacting them. Itíll probably be about a 12 Ė 16 person board. Then the question comes up Ė thereís a lot of things I donít know, but I try to have people around who I know can get the answers, kind of a ďgo toĒ guy. So if somebody says, ďWhy donít we have a tournament, or another tournament, or whatever, or do this or do that.Ē
Iíll use these guys and/or other people to decide, for example, the question of who is a master and who isnít. Iím terribly upset at some of the things that happened this year. I donít know if youíve heard about them or not. It was ridiculous. The BCA, when John Lewis was making the rules and regulations for the leagues altered the definition of ďmasterĒ and people were bouncing all over the place from the Open to the Masters and back again. Itís not fair to the Open players. Iím really going to be monitoring that one as closely as I possibly can. Open players should be playing Open players.
DĒCĒA: Are you still on the BCA board?
MG: I am Ė as a room owner representative and you realize that I was not Ö and the BCA was extremely sensitive to this Ö I wasnít even involved on the vote as to whether to sell the league. I said strongly, ďDo not sell them etc. ď and I excused myself from the room and thatís the last discussion I have ever had in any meeting, on the league sale.
DĒCĒA: There has been a rumor going around through emails that there was a conspiracy from the board and someone or some ones on the board wanted to sell the BCA leagues. Iím wondering if thereís any truth to that? For somebodyís personal or professional agenda?
MG: Not that Iím aware of. The board is made up of its own people and there were 14 board members, 3 of us were excused from the room.
DĒCĒA: Who were the other two excused?
MG: I excused myself. Greg Hunt excused himself, because at the very beginning when it was first announced that the leagues might be sold, he said he might be interested. Rene Pohlman of the APA was excused and probably just because of the conflict issue, with her position and being on the board. All three of us were never involved in those discussions.
DĒCĒA: When this first came out a couple of months ago to the public, there was a lot of talk about non-profit versus for-profit, what is your view on that and why didnít you go non-profit?
MG: Thereís a couple of reasons why I didnít go non-profit. First of all, Iím not non-profit. I think itís a hollow argument. Itís not whether youíre for-profit or non-profit itís what is the direction of the entity. You can have a lousy board and keep running in circles or you can have a very good sole proprietor that keeps the straight and narrow. Thereís an interesting article that says for-profit also has the potential to be for-loss. Thereís no assurance that a for-profit organization makes a profit. The only difference between a non-profit and a for-profit for its structure is the for-profit pays taxes and in theory the non-profit doesnít. There are no incentives, the real incentive is for the for-profit venture. I first said and I have said everyday since, I will not make a dime off of league operation. So in essence, I am a non-profit. However, Iím structured in the for-profit and a lot of that is just for the purpose of operation. I heard that the ACS made the statement that, ďYou never have to question the motives of a non-profit.Ē Iím sorry, but I just cannot buy that sentence. Itís just not true. You have hundreds of non-profits every year that get in all kinds of trouble, misappropriating funds, expensive salaries, benefits, all kinds of things. I have to laugh when two months ago all this for-profit, non-profit stuff started erupting, that same day in the Metro section in Las Vegas, some local charity had two and a half million dollars unaccounted for. Thatís a ludicrous statement. That shows somebodyís not paying attention to reality. The structure means absolutely nothing to the integrity of the business. And most people think that non-profits are very prevalent but all large sports groups are organized as for-profit: Golf, Tennis, Nascar Ö you name it. All those things are organized as a for-profit and purses and salaries did not get large until the sport became successful as a for-profit. I just think itís a hollow, feel good argument. I donít think it has any validity and I think thatíll be known. Look here, the BCA is non-profit and they have a board. Thatís the other part of dealing with a non-profit. They have boards and boards get political. Thatís just a fact of life and their right intentions are not on the same sheet usually. A prime example is the Billiard Congress of America. It was founded as a players association in 1948 and now itís a trade association. They had a complete turn over the last 50 years. There is nothing to say that that wonít happen again.
DĒCĒA: Itís my understanding that you can use the BCA name for three years?
DĒCĒA: Then you have to change it?
MG: No and possibly longer, itís still under negotiation. I HAVE to use certain portions of the name for 3 years because of the national championship. There is still some legal mumbo-jumbo going on. Again, the name isnít a critical factor.
DĒCĒA: It is if itís something people identify with and with the 60-80,000 players across the country, when you mention what league youíre in (whether if its BCA, APA, VNEA or TAP) there is a name recognition and rules that are being played.
MG: I pointed this out in one of our meetings, so everybody says it has to stay BCA, thatís fine but what if Nike comes rolling down the street and says, ďYou know, we think weíre going to sponsor this pool tournament youíve got or this pool league and Iím going to add $2 million a year but youíve got to change the name to the Nike Pool League.Ē or something. Hopefully that day will come.
DĒCĒA: I think part of the concern on the players part and league operators was that maybe youíd change it to Diamond because of your affiliation, because of you bringing in the Diamond tables next year or the year after, which would make perfect sense.
MG: Iíve said this from day one (on my website in Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)) April 2nd when I put this out. What tables will be used? Valley tables in 2005 and Diamond thereafter. Will there be a Diamond League? Absolutely not. Diamond tables will continue to be available to all leagues. Will leagues or state associations be required to use Diamond tables? No. All league and state associations will be free to use ANY table they prefer. You can play on a Sears table.
This is just people in hysteria. Iíve said it from day one. There will never, ever, ever be any pressure, any requirement, to play on any tables.
DĒCĒA: My question was whether the name would be changed? The table you use Ė you can still keep those rules there that they can play on any table, because it would immediately limit the number of locations and I think you see that and understand that. But at nationals youíd be on Diamonds after í05 but the name being Diamond League or the Diamond League of BCA or whatever configuration you could come up with would seem to be a natural trend to go to.
MG: Nobodyís ever asked that question before. They all are saying ďis there going to be a Diamond league?Ē and Iíve always answered that no one will ever be required, so thatís an interesting question.
DĒCĒA: So itís probably more sowhether instead of being the BCA League play on any tables Ė Diamond League play on any tables.
MG: I donít think Iíd ever go that far. But again Iím going to say something like I did with Nike. Diamond has nothing to do with the BCA league other than common ownership through me. But I have nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of Diamond. So I donít think thatíll ever happen but you never know. I guess in theory Brunswick is gonna write me a check for a gazillion dollars, so if they write me a check, thereís requirements on that. I will not make any money off of the league so if somebody was to write a check for $3 million that goes against the prize fund to better the sport. When I say prize fund, I probably should word that better, as player benefits. There are other issues besides just added cash to make things better. I donít for see that ever happening.
DĒCĒA: Now the ACS seems to have the support of the larger league systems, the operators, how is that going to effect your leagues, the BCA leagues, and possibly did you buy an empty league?
MG: Nobody buys a league. I admit that. There are memberships but the membership is only from June 1st to May 31st. Every league, every league operator, every anything with this league ceases to exist on May 31st. Thatís the way its been for years. The ACS has misrepresented what the state officials are saying. If you go to the ACS website and see state officials and officers, get the list from the BCA people. I just think thatís wrong. I think they are showing their moral fiber here and ethical background. They may think that people are stupid in the short run, they probably are, but in the long run their integrity has been damaged. Once youíve damaged your integrity, it is very, very difficult to regain it. Now these state officials, the only reason they became state officials is that they had to promise them something to become a director. But when these gentlemen are speaking, they are only speaking for themselves. If you read their press releases and everything else it alludes to that they represent the players in their respective state Ė well, they donít. They only represent themselves and possibly their own league if they are a league operator. I cannot understand how these gentlemen and ladies donít feel that they are in a conflict by wearing a BCA hat and telling everyone to join the ACS. I donít care if they join ACS. They have the right to do that. The ACS has the right to form its own state association, but I donít think it has the right to hijack the existing BCA organization. I think they are forgetting common business deals and that shows because some of these people havenít been in business before. John Lewis have never really been in business, heís been working for non-profits all his life, for the last 15-20 years. How will that effect things and the outcome? I donít know. I donít think they know. I plan on being here, when its all over and done with. They may too, so we may have two leagues. Iíve relaxed the definition that John Lewis has on Dual Sanctioning and that type of thing. That just changed a few years ago, so Iím encouraging people to play in all leagues and play in mine also where the ACS is putting restrictions as to whether they play on the BCA, which I think is improper. They keep saying theyíre for the players and I think theyíre trying to make the players choose. I donít think thatís appropriate behavior. The players know where they want to play.
DĒCĒA: You announced the BCA 9-Ball Championships thatís going to be held in November. Now the ACS has announced their National 9-Ball tournament the week earlier in Reno. Do you have any comment about that?
MG: Obviously they have the right to schedule a tournament anytime they want to. I think if they really had the players best interest in mind they would be sensitive to the players cash requirements, for lack of a better term, for how many tournaments they can go to. Itís quite obvious what theyíre attempting to do and I just think it shows again a weak ethical and moral decision making process. They have the right to do that if they care to.
DĒCĒA: Does the split of the league system BCA, put other leagues in a superior position for picking up prospects from disillusioned league players looking for a stable organization?
MG: I have reached out and had several conversations with some of the leaders in ACS, some of the executive board members, we just canít see eye-to-eye on certain things. I think itís terrible for the league players. All itís going to do is cut everything in half or something. But, I will rebuild it because I think I have the tools to do it. The fact that Iím part of the company that designed the tables connected to our own tournament and that keeps all the money paid out for table rental and things like that Ė keeps that intact and allows me to use those funds to promote pool. Itís not an expense anymore, itís and income to help promote. I think I can do something that most people canít and I have the time to do it. As far as this split possibly going to allow other leagues some of the BCA players and leagues, may spin off to other pool. It may also create more players, itís a possibility with the turmoil and everything. I donít really consider anybody out there competition. We should all be working together against the competition from video game, TV, bowling Ė all these other items. Weíre supposed to work together to get 800,000 organized pool players not the 400,000 that the industry has. I canít say that Iíve had any greater success convincing those people of my philosophy however.
DĒCĒA: Some of the players have questions because they have doubt in you and I think a lot of that doubt comes because you were on the board and the perception that you allowed the league to be sold, and you bought it. Thatís what Iíve heard from people. You allowed the leagues to be sold and then you bought them.
MG: All I can say is, and maybe I can get the BCA (Billiard Congress of America) to make a release on it Ė they were very sensitive on any conflict. I excused myself from every meeting. They all agree. People know that I was most adamant about selling the league. I made a short impassioned speech that they were just nuts to do this and that they would lose probably the majority of their room members. Be that as it may, it was out of my hands. I wasnít in the room, I was out of there and they voted (I donít even know what the vote was), in favor of the sale. So then I have a decision to make.
DĒCĒA: Thereís been some talk for a player boycott of the companies that are now seated on the BCA board that approved the sale of the league. What effect would this have on our industry?
MG: The BCA board was not capable of running the leagues properly by design or by intent, who knows why, it just didnít work. Everybodyís under the impression that the leagues are such a great deal financially. These leagues donít make any money. They never have made any money. The never have made any money over the years and everybody thinks this is such a money making proposition. When you only charge $10 a year, youíre not going to get very far. You have to pay all your overhead, rebates, goody bags, youíre probably down to $6 a person to function on. There is no money in the league program and everybody has misconstrued that. I think a for-profit entity that can round up some sponsors hopefully, that can do some things more player oriented. I think that the players should look at this as a blessing in disguise. Thereís a big wide world out there. Why would they want the BCA to keep it?
DĒCĒA: I think itís running on emotion. They feel that something is being taken away from them, something that they could count on, look forward to every fall.
MG: But that will still be there and more things will be there. One of the first things we did was bring back the National 9-Ball which hasnít happened since 2001 and all I hear about is, the BCA took away this tournament or took away that.
DĒCĒA: I agree if you stop and sit down and think about those things and weigh them out then you understand. But most people are doing a knee-jerk reaction, something is being taken away.
MG: I agree.
DĒCĒA: Do you have anything youíd like to add?
MG: Some people have been accusing me of being greedy and Iím going to steal all the money. First of all there is no money to be made, believe me. And thatís just not what Iím here for. Iím here to get pool off the dime and itís going to cost me a lot of time and probably some money. I sympathize with everybodyís feelings but thatís no reason to go out Ė some of these people take it way too personally. I found that once I got a chance to talk to somebody and explain some of the thing that occurred, they have a whole different outlook. Very few people know that Mr Lewis was terminated. They are painting this picture of this honorable giant that is going out doing these things. I like John but he should be more forthright, even their press releases have a lot of half-truths. They donít quite tell the whole story. I think thatís improper. I think itís demeaning and I think itís treating the players with disrespect. Above all, the players run this show, anybody that thinks 10 or 15 operators run the show are mistaken, the players run the show. I expect it to be a little choppy for the next year or two. I have a lot of faith in what Iím doing and I know my reasons are right and Iím not carrying the baggage that some of the other individuals in this industry are. I just think I have a proven business head but also a pretty good moral bearing on this whole thing and I just wish that everybodyís ethics were a little higher. I know that everybody says this pool business is a dirty business, well it doesnít have to be. And Iím really upset with the tactics that a few of these people have taken. I think itís going to catch them in the end. I really do and theyíll have nobody to blame but themselves, but believe me they wonít blame themselves Ė theyíll blame everybody else. Itís unfortunate that some of these things occurred but I donít view them as a competitor. I view them as a compadre, or whatever you want to call it. We should be working together. They unfortunately donít see it that way. Their goal is to destroy the BCA and everything it stood for and I think thatís the wrong attitude, the wrong direction. I think itís unnecessary. I just donít think itís the proper way of doing business. Thereís an old Polish saying, ďIf youíre out to bury somebody, you better dig two graves.Ē Iím really upset at some of the slams some of these people have thrown at me and they donít even know me. I return every call I get. Now, I may not be too punctual when I get so many of them or Iím doing other things, but I return every call. I canít believe how many people donít return my calls. Iím talking about these state officials that take sides without even knowing the facts. Iíve gone out of my way many times to try to find them, to talk to them. It just shows that they either donít want to know the truth or theyíre afraid of the truth. A lot of these people I think were misled. After their first press release, I actually called all the people I could get in touch with on their director list. Two of them didnít even know what I was talking about. Iím big on doing but Iím not really a talker. There should be common decency, after all weíre all in the same industry. If they donít have any respect for phone calls how are we supposed to work together. I canít work with them if I canít find them.
The other thing I will say and itís a question you didnít ask that keeps coming up is: ďWhat happens when you sell it to somebody else down the road, like the BCA did?Ē Iím not going to do it and Iím tired of paying attorneyís bills but if somebody is an attorney or knows an attorney, have them write up where it will be transferred to a trust on my demise. Iím not planning on selling it, but I am planning on dying. What you see is what you get. Iím not lying to anybody. I donít see the ACS saying the same thing. They could do it, they could sell it too. There are a lot of misconceptions out there. Their board is only going to be a five member board. It starts with 15, the next year it goes down to 10, the next year it goes down to 5. Thatís not a whole lot of player input. I can tell you who those 5 people are, itís the same old click. It just seems that the people that have the deals are the people that are there. Itís the same old click and thatís what I just donít agree with. They accuse me of having a small pool of decision makers and Iím actually going to have a wider range of people.
DĒCĒA: Thanks Mark for taking the time to answer the questions.
MG: Youíre welcome Cheese. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.
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