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Major Changes Coming

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

In an announcement issued late this evening, ESPN/B.A.S.S. revealed some of its plans for next season. They're big ones — huge — and as such can't be fully explored right off the bat. But following are the initial details.

New 10-Event Tour

Over the past year or so, some in the industry have been saying that six or seven events per year aren't enough to constitute a true professional sport. That's one reason, among several, why most top pros fish both the BASSMASTER and FLW tours.

ESPN/B.A.S.S. seems to have listened, and next season will increase the pro tour to 10 events plus the BASS Masters Classic.

But 150 pros won't fish all 10 events. Initial discussions between ESPN/B.A.S.S. and the pros focused on cutting the field, and that will happen -- after it is first expanded:

> The BASSMASTER Tour will begin the season with 175 anglers, all of whom will fish the first six events.   

> After the sixth event the field will be cut to 100 for events seven and eight.

> The pros who do not make this first cut will be bumped down to the Opens and "will have a guaranteed slot in the pro division for the next season's Open trail of their choice."

> For the last two Tour events the field will be cut to 50.

> The Top 40 of these 50 will fish the Classic.

A smaller field has one notable advantage, one which the fans have said on that they'd like to see: the events can go to different, smaller lakes.

"As the season progresses the fields will narrow in number, allowing the top anglers to emerge from the pack and permitting us to conduct our events at some wonderful fisheries that weren't quite large enough in the past," said B.A.S.S. tournament director Trip Weldon.

FLW-Type Cuts

While the 10-event Tour format is a major change from precedent in the top level of the sport, another change isn't. ESPN/B.A.S.S. will keep the standard four-day tournament, but will make the final two days "cut" days, along the lines of what FLW is doing this season.

That is, all anglers will fish the first two days. Then the field will be cut to 12 for day 3 and then to what ESPN/B.A.S.S. is calling the "Super Six" (Top 6) on day 4.

This season the FLW Tour is cutting to the Top 20 on day 3 and the Top 10 on day 4. On the BASSMASTER Tour this season, all anglers fish the first three days and then the field is cut to 10 on the last day.

Also like the FLW Tour, amateurs fishing the Tour next year will fish day 3 (the Top 12), but won't fish on day 4.

Weights Carry Over

While the cuts between the two tours will be similar, the major difference between the tours -- weight carryover vs. "zeroing" -- will remain.

That is, on the FLW Tour anglers who make the cuts start each "cut day" at zero. They drop their weights. But on next season's BASSMASTER Tour, the prior days' weights will still carry over through the cuts, as is done now -- with one exception (see "Showdowns" below).

Long Off-Limits

ESPN/B.A.S.S. also noted that each fishery will have a 30-day off-limits, instead of the current 7 days. That is totally different from the FLW Tour, where there is no off-limits.

"Increasing the off-limits time will force anglers to use all of their skills and knowledge each week," said Weldon.

Cash Payouts for Pros

Next season ESPN/B.A.S.S. will increase the BASSMASTER Tournament Trail (Tour, Opens and Classic) purse to $9.2 million, a 44 percent increase over this season's $6.4 million.

Not only that, the pros will apparently not have to collect some or all of their winnings in the form of product (boats, motors). ESPN/B.A.S.S. stated: "While the world's best anglers will be awarded prize money, those who fish as amateurs will compete for the chance to win some of the finest boats and motors to hit the water, along with cash."

MegaBucks-Like 'Showdowns'

According to ESPN/B.A.S.S., four of the 10 Tour events will have a new "BASSMASTER Showdown" format modeled on the MegaBucks "hole" format B.A.S.S. abandoned this season.

In the MegaBucks format the finalists had to fish bounded holes in a timed rotation, and it appears that something similar will be done in the Showdowns: On day 3, the Top 12 pros and amateurs will fish 12 holes, spending a specified amount of time in each hole. Other Showdown info:

> All anglers start the day with their weights at zero (it's unclear whether weights are zeroed again on day 4)

> The space covering the 12 holes will be off-limits during days 1-2

Opens: Bye to the West

The Opens also will change significantly next year. Right now the Opens comprise 12 events: four in the East (really the Southeast), four in the Central U.S. and four in the West. Next year:

> The number of Opens will be reduced to nine events total

> The Western division will be gone. Instead B.A.S.S. will have a new Northern division, along with the Southern division (which the existing Eastern division essentially is) and the Centrals.

> Instead of a draw format the Opens will be pro-am, like the EverStarts.

> At the end of each Open season, the Top 15 pro anglers on each Open trail will be eligible to advance to the Tour, filling the some of the slots vacated by the bottom 75 Tour pros who get bumped down to the Opens (no explanation was given for the discrepancy between the 45 anglers moving up and the 75 moving down).


2003 BASSMASTER Tour Schedule

Note the back-to-back scheduling of some sets of tournaments. An asterisk (*) means a Showdown format on days 3-4.

1) Jan. 6-12, Harris Chain of Lakes, Leesburg, Fla.*
2) Jan. 13-19, Lake Okeechobee, Okeechobee, Fla.
3) Feb. 3-9, Lake Seminole, Bainbridge, Ga.
4) Feb. 10-16, Toledo Bend Reservoir, Many, La.*
5) March 3-9, Lake Eufaula, Eufaula, Ala.
6) March 17-23, Santee Cooper, Manning, S.C.
7) March 31- April 6, San Joaquin River Delta, Stockton, Calif.
8) April 7-13, Clear Lake, Clearlake, Calif.*
9) April 28-May 4, Lake Hamilton, Hot Springs, Ark.
10) May 19-25, Alabama River, Montgomery, Ala.*

BASSMASTER Open Schedule

> Aug. 5-10, Potomac River, Charles County, Md.
> Sept. 9-14, St. Lawrence River, Clayton, N.Y.
> Sept. 30-Oct. 5, Hudson River, Catskill, N.Y.

> Sept. 16-21, Lake Murray, Columbia, S.C.
> Oct. 21-26, Pickwick/Wilson, Florence, Ala.
> Nov. 11-16, Lake Martin, Alexander City, Ala.

> Aug. 19-24, Red River, Shreveport, La.
> Sept. 23-28, Lake Ouachita, Hot Springs, Ark.
> Oct. 27-Nov. 2, Sam Rayburn, Jasper, Texas


"We believe this schedule clearly demonstrates our continuing dedication to enhancing the top professional fishing series in the world," said B.A.S.S. general manager Dean Kessel. "Combining the new schedule with format changes and an increased payout will increase the opportunities for exposure not only for the BASSMASTER Tour, but for the athletes themselves."

"Increasing the number of events to 10 is definitely a positive step," said pro Jay Yelas. "It brings us in line a little better with other pro sports which have extended seasons. Also, having all the events take place in the spring will be better because that is fishing season." 


Uploaded: 3/28/2002