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Rough Bowling Balls Lend Unfair Edge

Golf has oversized drivers. Baseball has corked bats. Bowling has rough balls.

The United States Bowling Congress recently released the results of a two-year study on the science of bowling balls that found that the roughness of a bowling ball, not the shape of its core or the oil on its lane, is more likely to result in strikes and higher scores.

The study was originally undertaken to restore what many feel is a lost balance between engineering know-how and player skill that saw a steady rise in the number of perfect 300 games and the overall rise in players' scores.

"Over the past 20 years, the technological advancements in bowling...[have] jeopardized the credibility of the sport of bowling," reads the introduction to the 16 page-long USBC report.

The battle over bowling balls began in June 2005, when the USBC issued new specifications to limit the technology in bowling balls. Bowling ball manufacturers objected to the new regulations.

"They felt the new specifications were kind of made up, that there wasn't a lot of hard scientific data behind them," said Paul Ridenour, a researcher at the USBC.

To combat those concerns, the USBC formed the Bowling Ball Specifications Task Force. Staffed with representatives from each ball manufacturer and the USBC, the BBSTF's goal was to study the science behind bowling and create new science-based ball standards, instead of the original arbitrary standards initially proposed.

Over the next two years the BBSTF tested more than 75 bowling balls at the USBC's testing facility in Greendale, Wisc.

A robotic bowling ball thrower, nicknamed Harry, threw each ball past 23 cameras linked to a computer. The scientists studied 18 different bowling ball characteristics, from the amount of oil the outer ball coating absorbs to the shape of the inner core, searching for their effect on a ball's speed, spin and direction.Harry

The variable that most affected bowling ball performance, the USBC discovered, was bowling ball surface roughness.

A bowling ball might look and feel smooth, but under a microscope tiny ridges and valleys appear. These are the result of chemicals and resins used to manufacture the balls.

Those ridges and valleys determine how much grip the ball has on the lane. The more grip a ball has, the easier it is for it to curve, resulting in more strikes and higher scores.

Based on data from the study, the USBC made several new ball regulations, the most important of which caps ball roughness at 50 micro inches (1 micro inch is one millionth of an inch), slightly above the average of the balls tested.

The new specifications are '"our way of controlling the technology in bowling," said Ridenour.

The new regulations won't go in effect until April 2009, but ball manufacturers are already adjusting.

"This definitely has an effect on what could do," said Steve Kloempken of Storm Bowling Balls.

While Kloempken wouldn't discuss any specific changes Storm was making to their bowling balls, he reiterated Storm's support for the new specifications.

"We want player scores to reflect their physical ability and not let the technology outweigh the skill of the bowler," said Klompken.

Eric Bland, Discovery News

We would love to hear you thoughts about the scheduled changes that USBC intends to make next year. Please feel free to leave your comments about this post for all of our readers to view.