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Friday, March 29, 2002

Late Wednesday evening
ESPN/B.A.S.S. announced its tournament plans for next season. With such a wholesale rewrite of the status quo, many questions naturally arise.

To get some answers, sat down with B.A.S.S. tournament manager Mark Cosper (tournament director Trip Weldon was out of town) and asked him to fill in some of the blanks. Here's what he said.

The Tour


B.A.S.S. announced that 175 pros would start off the Tour season, that the bottom 75 of those pros would drop from the Tour to the Opens, and that the Top 15 Open anglers from each of the three new divisions would move up to the Tour. That leaves a gap of 30: 100 + 45 = 145, not 175.

When asked about the discrepancy, Cosper had a two-part answer:

1) Next season the following anglers will be eligible for the 2003 BASSMASTER Tour, which starts in January:   
> The Top 100 at the end of this Tour season
> The Top 25 from this season's Eastern and Central Opens, and the Top 20 from the Western Opens
> The Top 15 from each of the three new Open divisions, competition in which will finish in November of this year

On the face of it that looks like 215 anglers, but B.A.S.S. is betting that not all open anglers will make the jump and that there will be some redundancy -- meaning that some Open qualifiers will be among the Top 100 of the Tour.

2) In future years there appears to be a 30-angler gap. Cosper said that B.A.S.S. will probably increase the number of Open qualifiers to 25, thus eliminating the gap, or might have more Open divisions.

Also, B.A.S.S. is not yet certain whether past Classic champions and Anglers of the Year will automatically get berths into the Tour, as has been done.

Can Tour pros fish the Opens?

Cosper: "Yes they can, but there's a pecking order by which they can get into the Opens. The guys coming down (from the Tour) are not on top (of the pecking order)." For more on this "pecking order," see the Open section below.

Will Tour payouts be any deeper?

Right now the BASSMASTER Tour pays down 40 places on the pro side. The FLW Tour pays down 75 places.

Cosper said that for Tour tournaments 1-6 (175 anglers), payouts will be through 75th place on the pro side. For tournaments 7-8 (100 anglers), B.A.S.S. will pay 40 places. And for tournaments 9-10 (50 pros), either half or the whole field will get paid. "We're still working on it," he said.

Will entry fees increase from current levels?

Pro entry fees for tournaments 1-6 will be $1,500, same as they are now. But for tournaments 7-8 this will increase to $2,000 and for 9-10 will increase to $2,500. Why? "It comes down to basic accounting," Cosper said. He notes that ESPN and CITGO should get credit for the fact that payouts next year will be "well over" $1 million beyond what ESPN/B.A.S.S. takes in from the tournaments.

Will anglers who make the cuts fish from their own boats or from boats provided by B.A.S.S. boat sponsors and decaled with B.A.S.S. corporate sponsor logos?

Cosper said B.A.S.S.'s "current plans" are to have anglers fish out of sponsor boats on days 3 and 4 of the tournaments. This is just like what happens on the FLW Tour.

How much practice time do the pros get?

After the new 30-day off-limits, pros will get 3 days of practice time. Three days is the same period of practice the pros have now. However, next season practice will be Monday-Wednesday. Tournaments will be Thursday-Sunday instead of Wednesday-Saturday as they are now.

Will B.A.S.S. still drop one tournament in calculating Angler of the Year?

B.A.S.S. will no longer drop an angler's worst finish when calculating Angler of the Year (AOY) points, as it does now. The FLW Tour has never dropped a tournament when calculating AOY.

Note about Showdowns

B.A.S.S. spokesman Chris Murray said that weights in the new hole-format Showdown tournaments will zero for the Top 12 cut (day 3), but will carry over from that day to the final Top 6 day.

The Opens

Why three tournaments per division instead of four?

Cosper said there was no solid reason for this, other than trying to cut the amount of time anglers had to take off from work and anglers' travel time to tournaments. He also noted that there is a more compact period of time (Aug-Nov) in which the Opens have to take place, and that B.A.S.S. has a finite tournament staff that has to handle all of the Tour, Open and Federation Divisional tournaments.

What states do the new divisions encompass?

Cosper said B.A.S.S. didn't look at it that way, but rather looked at "where (most) anglers live and where the lakes were that could handle these tournaments." But if he was pinned down, he estimated that tournaments in the Southern division will be east of the Mississippi River and south of Tennessee; the Northern division "wasn't really defined" and is "more of an eastern-type trail;" and the Central division will remain mostly Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, as has been the case for a while in the Centrals. Cosper added that B.A.S.S. would not have geographical constraints when choosing Open venues, other than making sure anglers didn't have to travel from New York to Florida, for example, to compete.

Why did B.A.S.S. get out of the West?

Cosper wasn't in a position to comment on this question. ( will ask Weldon about this next week.)

How do people qualify for the Opens?

B.A.S.S. will have a "pecking order," or registration order. In other words, registration will take place in the following order: the 75 Tour pros that lost their "Tour card" that season; the Top 50 in Open points from the prior season; Federation state champions; call-in registration, which includes Tour anglers.

More on Tour anglers fishing the Opens:

> Tour pros must fish all three Opens in a particular division
> Tour pros will still be able to qualify for the BASS Masters Classic via the Opens also
> In cases of double-qualifying for the Classic, B.A.S.S. has qualified an angler off the Tour and moved deeper on the Open list. Cosper wasn't sure whether this will still be the policy.

What will off-limits and practice time be for the Opens?

These won't change: a 7-day off-limits and 3 practice days.

Will the entry fee change?

Open entry fees will increase to $800 from $600 per tournament, but Cosper said B.A.S.S. is "increasing the payback" for these tournaments.

Is B.A.S.S. considering a shared-weight format as is done out West?

Cosper: "We are not entertaining that thought."

The Classic

How many slots and who qualifies?

For the 2003 Classic and beyond: > The defending Classic champ (same as now)
> 40 pros from the Tour (an increase from the current 30)
> 5 from each of the three Open divisions (virtually the same as now)
> 5 qualifiers from the Federation, one from each division (same)

This is the first year that B.A.S.S. has automatically qualified the reigning Angler of the Year. Cosper wasn't sure whether that will still be the case after this Classic.

Will there be a final-day cut-off?

This year (2002) the 52-angler Classic field will be cut to 25 for the third and final competition day. This is the first time B.A.S.S. has had a cut at the Classic. Cosper was unsure whether the Classic cut will remain in place for 2003.

More on the Federation

According to B.A.S.S.:

> Opens: "Each Federation state champion will have a guaranteed opportunity to enter on the pro side in the BASSMASTER Open series of their choice." Also, "up to half the 200 amateur slots in each field will be filled by Federation members."

Tour: Up to half of the amateur entries will be filled by Federation members.

"Basically, the B.A.S.S. Federation will have first shot at half of the amateur entries in our events," said tournament director Trip Weldon. "Because of the increased opportunities overall, our general membership and the Federation each have greater access to fish in a BASSMASTER event than ever before."

"I’m extremely pleased that the B.A.S.S. Federation will play such a huge part in the future," added Al Smith, B.A.S.S. Fe
deration director. "Federation members have long been an integral part of the BASSMASTER Tournament Trail in many ways, and now that involvement will be larger than ever."

Uploaded: 3/29/2002