by: Don “Cheese” Akerlow
Recently I interviewed John Lewis the new Executive Director of the American CueSports Alliance (ACS). John is the former BCA Director of Leagues and Player Programs.
D”C”A: Good Morning John.
JL: Good Morning Don.
D”C”A: I’ve seen two different initials for the Alliance, what is the official one?
JL: American CueSports Alliance, CueSports that’s one work with the S in sports being capitalized making it ACS and Alliance is silent.
D”C”A: What are the plans for the leagues and when will they start?
JL: Everything starts on June 1st when your fiscal offices start up. In the meantime, myself and Betty Harris, who was my main assistant from BCA, are working to put everything inline with the cooperation and guidance of our board of directors. There was a formation meeting in the Chicago, Illinois area March 27th and 28th by many of the larger leagues in the BCA system and some of the more influential state associations were present. I was not at that meeting; Betty was not at that meeting. We were offered positions after that.
D”C”A: I had also read that the BCA had given up on the Olympics. Is the ACS going to pursue that?
JL: Absolutely. In fact we’re the only group that can pursue it. It will take a few years to get affiliation with the United States Olympic Committee. The United States Olympic Committee wants to see a track record of any organization applying to it. However, I spent time, a week and a half ago with the ex-president of the United States Olympic Committee. He’s praised our efforts, he has a pretty good idea what’s going on in the cuesports industry.
D”C”A: Good, I like seeing that and I want to see that advance as well. It was a shame that the BCA gave up on it and went another direction.
JL: Here’s the BCA’s take on this from my understanding. A little over a year ago the BCA board made a decision to spin the league players program off to an all non-profit association that could still apply to the United States Olympic Committee. By doing that, that would allow the board of directors, which is all trade association people now, to become strictly a trade association. I think they had decided that the leagues and player issues were too distracting to the focus that they wanted to have. And when they made the decision, I thought it was a very wise decision and I still feel that way. However, somebody explained to this board of directors the next few months or at the next board meeting, just about nine months ago, trying to get into the Olympics would possibly never happen in our lifetime, and not sure that this situation would ever go. So if we’re going to spin these league player programs off why don’t we sell them and make some money. Now, what a lot of people don’t understand is Steve Ducoff, the Executive Director of the BCA, who served on the United States Olympic Committee board before, tried to explain to the board over the years, is that applying to the United States Olympic Committee is not necessarily about getting in the Olympics. It is an extremely small step. There’s 200 national Olympic Committees out there from 200 different countries around the world and each cuesport federation that’s in existence in those countries is attempting to apply to their own national Olympic committees and the more you have on board, the better face you can give to applying to the International Olympic Committee. The United States Olympic Committee has very little to do with getting in the Olympics but that still doesn’t mean that it’s not a big thing. What happens is there are about four different strong benefits to affiliating with the United States Olympic Committee. First is you’re able to be in the position to become a Pan-American sport. Once the ACS becomes a Pan-American level member to the United States Olympic Committee, (we have a very close relationship with our South American confederation in the World Billiard Association) they have some very strong Olympic contacts down there. Now it’s only a short matter of time to become a Pan-American sport. Once you become a Pan-American sport you get subsidy money from the United States Olympic Committee, a fairly sizeable amount, which can be used towards things like, instructor programs, junior programs and referee programs. Programs that help develop your sport to a higher level. The athletes can come in at a higher level. That’s two of the big issues right there. The BCA board in my opinion, in naivety never even considered to be important. They were only looking at the long term getting the Olympics and just figured that that wasn’t going to happen. There are a couple of other issues, once we’re at that Pan-American level, we’re bonded with these other sports that have had recognition with the United States Olympic Committee. You don’t have to go through all this hassle of , “Are you even a sport – or not a sport”, that debate is out the door at that point. And we develop a bond with other credible sports out there in the public eye. A major fallout of that will be that we are possibly able to get corporate sponsorship from sponsors that are interested in sports that are tied in with the United States Olympic Committee. Those are the types of corporate sponsors that right now in the history of our sport in this country, that we can’t even touch. When you get in with the United States Olympic Committee, you start being able to open doors to these types of corporations. Again, Steve Ducoff, tried to explain that to the board but the board, in my opinion, never really saw the advantages of that. They just kept thinking in the short term, “either we get the Olympics or we don’t get the Olympics. That to me was very shortsighted, they think this is the point of this whole thing. They used that as one of their reasons, one of their justifications for spinning off the league system.
D”C”A: You mentioned about the youth pool and of that I’m a strong supporter. I support it in “The Break” as well. My concern is and correct me if I’m wrong, the BCA held on to that end of it.
D”C”A: As parents, as pool players and those of us that support the junior pool, whether it’s billiard suppliers, pool rooms or wherever it may be, why should we trust the BCA that they are not going to bail out on the players there?
JL: I don’t think the BCA will. I think the BCA Trade Association has the resources to support that program to a greater extent than anyone else does and that’s why we want to support the change of program under the BCA Trade Association, at least for the short term. I think Carrie Benson is doing a very good job with that program. They get direction from the President of the Billiard Education Foundation, Tom Riccobene, who is looking strictly towards the future of the junior players and how this program can expand to more educational programs in the school systems around the country. We feel that that program is headed in a very strong direction and the ACS would not want to do anything but support the BCA Trade Association.
D”C”A: I agree with the support of the junior pool, but a year ago you probably wouldn’t have thought that they would have sold the leagues off either.
JL: You’ve got a point. I understand your concerns there and maybe that’s just going to be the general publics concern. The ACS will not let anything happen to the junior program through the BCA. We’ll do our own program if necessary and we do want to have junior programs in the long run but whatever we do we do not want to undermine the BCA program. We feel they are headed in the right direction. We certainly don’t want to bring the junior players into the politics or anything like that. We want to do exactly what’s right for the future of our sport and that includes the juniors. The ACS is going to be very sensitive about this but we have a very good relationship with Carrie Benson, of the BCA. We will be very supportive of the BCA Trade Association as far as the junior programs go. D”C”A: The BCA has been relatively silent, if not at all mute on decisions that they have made, whether it’s informing the league operators or about the balloting for the Hall of Fame. I have read a lot of emails that I’ve received, as well as online about why the BCA doesn’t make things public. The voting on the Hall of Fame, who got how many votes, is a curiosity. Do you know why the BCA didn’t release that information? Will the ACS be doing the same type of thing or are you going to release to the players the voting on what decisions are made?
JL: Being a more player oriented organization, it’s our responsibility to make our membership (composed of players, league operators and league players) aware of what their board of directors, that they elected, is up to. The BCA Hall of Fame, I think it gets more criticism than it deserves. There really isn’t any hush hush stuff going on. They have a nomination committee, a Hall of Fame committee, made up of knowledgeable people. I think they come up with good nominees. There is an election process. There are ballots that go out in a very proper manner and some people would question, “Yeah, but they go out to the mainly industry people to vote on it”, and that’s the only thing that some people would have a problem with.
D”C”A: They don’t release the numbers off of it either.
JL: It’s not proper to state that one player go so many votes, and another player got so many votes. I don’t believe that’s the proper thing to do.
D”C”A: They do in other sports, you see it on ESPN all the time.
JL: I’m not going to defend the BCA here, but my own take from being inside the BCA is that the BCA does things in a proper manner as far as the Hall of Fame goes.
However, I would like to explain that when the Board of Directors nine months ago made the decision to hire a broker to sell the league player programs, that was an astonishing thing to me. I really was aghast. First off, the Board of Directors did not ask me to address them on their decision. Being the league players program director I would’ve expected them to take all things into consideration before making their decision. It’s only proper to hear the opinions of their directors who they’ve hired to oversee that program. Yet, I think there were some people on the board, that just felt that I would interfere with what they wanted to have happen. So once the decision was made we were given directions as the BCA staff not to tell anyone about the board’s decision. This was supposed to be hush-hush, as long as the BCA could keep it hush-hush. They were worried the leagues would find out about it. It could cause controversy and they didn’t want to see any of that happen. Surprisingly, this is something that nobody has printed or published, our staff was honoring that. A week after the board’s decision to hire a broker, last September, they had an annual referees committee meeting in Colorado Springs and the Executive Director announced at that meeting, to the referees present, that the league program was for sale and that a broker had been hired.
Now, I wasn’t present at that meeting, but when I came back in the office a couple of days later and found out that was announced, I’m like, “Holy Cow! Those guys will spread it everywhere.” Over the next few weeks I started getting calls from some of the larger league operators and others within the system. They were giving me very pointed questions. The kind of questions that I didn’t feel that could aptly be spun off to a broker to answer. They wanted to hear straight from the source. Once I told them, I started picking up a lot of irritation from the league operators finding out about this. Again, many of them found out from the referees meeting. Over time, they pretty much sold me on the concept that this was a decision that was not going to work on practical terms for the BCA Board of Directors. I started working towards a new association after a while. I got offers to help them out if the association got off the ground. I was kind of in a Catch 22. I had loyalty towards my employer, BCA, but I also had loyalty towards the membership that I oversee. It’s very obvious to me that the Board of Directors did not work in a responsible manner towards their membership. I got caught in between dual loyalties. Loyalty to the BCA Board of Directors and loyalty to the BCA membership that I felt responsible for. As far as I’m concerned both of them paid my paycheck.
Mark Griffin about a little over a month ago offered me the job to oversee the new for-profit league system he was planning on buying. It’s going to start up June 1st and I told him that I would not work for him or anyone else in a for-profit league system. That’s not what this whole system is about. I don’t think it will work as well under a for-profit owner whether it’s John Lewis or Don “the Cheese man” or Mark Griffin. I have no problems with Mark Griffin. I’m sure he’s well intentioned. He’s a nice enough guy. He knows the players very well but that’s not what he is about. I think at that point I became the enemy. Of course, he told the board that I was not cooperating. Interestingly enough, the board, without conferring with me, had put in the bid that I was the key employee in this whole thing. I felt that the BCA board and Mark Griffin became angry with me when I wasn’t going to go along with the policy. Again, without conferring with me, they announced this many months ago in their advertisements to future players. D”C”A: Mentioning Mark Griffin, I had heard that you are not allowed to be down at the BCA Nationals and somebody had put a restraining order on you, not to be able to be in the playing area?
JL: I’m not aware that there is an actual physical restraining order. I will respect whatever the board decides. The BCA stated today that I will not be allowed in the tournament area.
D”C”A: Is there a meeting scheduled with everybody, the Friday before the BCA Nationals starts - at the Hilton?
JL: A meeting of league operators? During the tournament?
JL: That hasn’t been finalized yet, and there will be some league operators meetings and it will be open to the press. They’ll be an announcement when it’s finalized. It’ll be off premise. We don’t want to interrupt the tournament in any way. We certainly want to see that the tournament, because it is the final BCA National 8-Ball Championship, end in a fitting way. We want it to be as successful as its ever been. D”C”A: I also heard that the ACS will be holding a National tournament starting next year.
D”C”A: In 2005, in May?
JL: I would like to announce that by June 1st for both the 8-Ball and 9-Ball Championships. I imagine that Mark Griffin will be announcing the same thing.
D”C”A: At the same time?
JL: No, I don’t think we would want to go heads-up with each other. I don’t think that would be good for the players.
D”C”A: Did the Riviera put an ultimatum to Mark Griffin, “either you get the number of players or it’s going to cost you to reserve that time”?
JL: I imagine the performance clause in the contract would show that because the BCA has a contract with the Riviera for one more year. The BCA also has Gary Benson under contract to provide the equipment until 2005. I would imagine that it would be on the Mark Griffin part of the bid, that he honor these contracts. It could come back to the BCA to make sure that these performance clauses are made. They may be the ones financially liable. I’m not sure if Mark Griffin would be financially liable or BCA. The contracts are with BCA so I would imagine that even though Mark Griffin owns the league company, it could still be the BCA that is liable for the performance. I don’t want to get away from what I should speak properly. One of the two parties is going to be liable for it under the performance clause, at the Riviera if it happens.
D”C”A: I know a lot of players like going to Vegas. They like being there, the atmosphere, what’s not to like about Vegas? Plus you get to play a lot of pool and see a lot of people. Now the BCA had their pro event there also, is something in the works for the ACS being able to create something in that respect?
JL: No. The BCA Open 9-Ball Championship is a strong financial liability to any group that takes that on, including the BCA Trade Association.
D”C”A: Are they going to keep that together?
JL: Well, I don’t know. They were sent a lot of warning letters that I saw from some league operators that were forming the association months ago, stating that “you’re going to have a tough time seating spectators for your pro 9-Ball event if you only have 500 players for the 8-Ball Championships – if you’re depending on that group to fill up your seats for the 9-Ball”. My impressions from those letters was that the BCA board was duly warned. Yet the BCA board still decided to go forward with the sale. They were bound and determined to do so. When I talked with Mark Griffin over a month ago and he offered me the job, he explained to me that he was aware he was the only bidder on the table. There were no other bidders. Now that’s not what the BCA had said. I understand in their recent press releases today that they’re not being entirely truthful there. I think that’s kind of “spinning”.
D”C”A: I believe Mr Griffin was not in on the vote to sell the leagues, being a board member, he excused himself because of conflict of interest.
JL: Absolutely. Mark had made it clear early on in the process that he would be interested in the sale. There was another board member that stated the same, both themselves and Rene Pohlman, from the APA, would excuse themselves from those discussions. I believe the BCA board handled that in a proper manner.
D”C”A: My question is should he not have resigned from the board in order to buy the league. It seems to be improper to me and others that I have talked about this with. It seems like it would be in the same respect as on Wall Street being “insider trading”?
JL: I’m not aware if Mark is on the board right now. He may have resigned. If he hasn’t resigned I could see that that’s a perception that people have, that it’s improper. He may have resigned for all I know. I would say that to have a contract like that with the Board of Directors and to continue on that board is a conflict. I think as long as he asked to be excused on the voting, discussions and board meetings prior to the sale, I don’t think it was improper. I don’t think it’s proper to ask anyone to resign just because you’re bidding. Once you win the bid, that is a different situation. I do know the BCA is going all out to support Mark Griffin on his new league company. A couple of thing that I need to stress to your readers is that if people long for the BCA league system, as they are used to having it prior to June 1st, 2004, they want to continue with that then they want to go with the ACS. The ACS is exactly what the BCA league system was and they are used to with one exception: it will now have an elected Board of Directors from their membership that’s made up of their peers as opposed to a trade association board that had little in common with what their membership was about. The other organization that’s now going to be formed that’s called BCA Pool League is in fact further away from the BCA league system than the ACS is by far. It’s a company, a for-profit entity, and it’s run by a national owner-operator. One of the reasons the ACS came into effect is because so many leagues communicated among themselves that there is no way they would sanction under a for-profit body because they were already used to sanctioning under a non-profit, under the BCA, and they wanted to continue doing that.
D”C”A: I also read somewhere that Mark Griffin would have to change the name from BCA.
JL: Three years, is our understanding, is part of the deal. The BCA Trade Association and Mark Griffin want to have BCA in the name so it’s misleading to people, so that people can still think that they are being part of the BCA league system.
D”C”A: Is there anything else that you’d like to add or tell the players?
JL: Well, the one thing is that this is now an opportunity. What came out of this whole board decision is a real positive in this whole thing. There is now, independent league operators and players going to have the opportunity to be in charge and self-govern their own national association, something that they haven’t had the opportunity for decades because everyone looked to the BCA Trade Association to do this. If they’re to go under the BCA pool league owned by Mark Griffin, they’re going to lose that opportunity to selfgovern themselves and the ACS is all about encouraging the league operators and players to take advantage of this opportunity.
D”C”A: Are the rules going to be the same?
JL: Absolutely. We follow the world standardized rules. They’re published by the World Pool Billiards Association (WPA). The ACS will follow those rules word for word as written down by the WPA just like the BCA does. And we have permission from the WPA directly to do so. I researched this when I was at the board meeting with WPA a month ago to insure that we would be allowed to use WPA rules. So, being the Secretary/Treasurer of the World body, I’m able to find the answers out very quickly.
D”C”A: John, I would like to thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. We appreciate you giving our readers the opportunity to know the ACS’s point of view.
JL: Thank you for the interview. I hope to see you in Vegas.
For more information about the ACS visit their website at: www.americancuesports.org