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Medford's status as PBA stop uncertain

The Professional Bowlers Association schedule for the 2004-05 will lean to the east, but what impact that has on Medford is uncertain.

In a state of the PBA conference call Tuesday, commissioner Fred Schreyer said the schedule won't be finalized and announced for at least a couple of weeks.

He wouldn't say if the Rogue Valley, which for three years has hosted the hugely successful Medford Open at Lava Lanes, will remain in the fold.

We love Medford, said Schreyer. It's been a great stop for us. The people there have been very cooperative. The host center and the involvement of the city have been great, and we hope it works out.

Ric Donnelly, owner of Lava Lanes and the driving force behind the tour's presence here, would not comment other than to say he and his staff and the Medford Visitors and Convention Bureau are working on it.

— Schreyer, without offering specifics, said the tour will experience an eastern migration.

Everything is somewhat up in the air, he said. It's fair to say we'll have a heavier concentration in the East, Midwest and South. I don't think we'll have as much of a West Coast swing as we've had in the past. That's a safe statement.

When Hall of Famer Pete Weber won the Medford Open in January, effectively ending the center's three-year deal with the PBA, there was much speculation on the tour's future here.

There was no doubting the success of the tournament or the players' fondness for the center and the reception they received.

Further, Medford appeared to be perfectly positioned.

The second stop in the tour's second half, it came after the Earl Anthony Classic in the Seattle area ' home of PBA headquarters ' and before the first major of the West Coast loop, the ABC Masters at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev.

On the negative side, Medford was the smallest of the 20 fall-to-spring stops and significantly so.

Schreyer said the schedule is close to being in place but needs fine-tuning.

We're tinkering, I guess, with the path the tour follows and where we go, he said. We're 90 percent there and trying to lock up a few things here and there. I don't think it would be smart to make an announcement before we have everything firmed up. The worst thing we could do is make an announcement and then have to backpedal.

Among other topics, Schreyer discussed women being allowed to join and compete on the men's tour, TV ratings and the success of the exempt tour.

The PBA announced Monday that women are now allowed to join as long as they meet the same membership requirements as men: maintaining a 200 average or greater for two consecutive 66-game league seasons.

Women can compete in regional events and the weekly qualifier at tour stops.

Obviously, said Schreyer, we did not want to take the position that would undermine anything that's going on with the women's tour and attempts that are being made to resurrect or salvage that.

We're not running women's tournaments or running a women's tour. Women will decide where they want to bowl.

The Professional Women's Bowling Association canceled its tour schedule last fall over a lack of operating funds and was taken over by a new ownership group in September.

On the ratings front, Medford was an exception to the season as a whole.

This was the first year PBA ratings on ESPN dropped off slightly, said Schreyer, but it remains the network's strongest Sunday program apart from NFL shows.

Conversely, the Medford Open drew the third-largest audience in the history of bowling on ESPN. More than 1.25 million households watched, or 1.41 percent of the homes in the United States that get ESPN.

The exempt tour ' the top 50 point leaders and champions earned their way onto the tour next year ' created a buzz throughout the season.

Never was it more evident than during qualifying for the season-ending World Championship earlier this month in Taylor, Mich.

The intensity and electricity in the center was unbelievable, said Schreyer. It became a huge issue. The players had it figured out game-by-game and match-by-match who was moving where (in the standings).

Tour officials weren't anxious over who would be left standing, he said.

The competition takes care of itself, said Schreyer.

Several players who made marks in Medford figured prominently. Ricky Ward and Bryan Goebel, the first two Medford Open champions, did not make the exempt field.

And Tom Baker, a 27-year veteran of the tour who rolled a 300 in qualifying here, made the leap from missing the cut line to exempt status by defeating roommate Brad Angelo in the finals of the major.

Tom Baker exemplified everything about the exempt field, said Schreyer. I got as much pleasure from watching how his fellow pros reacted while watching him bowl as anything. You could see the fondness and esteem they had for him and how they hung on all of his matches. It was great theater.

Will that theater continue its run here? Stay tuned.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail