The 2017 PBA League Draft, held Nov. 2 at South Point Bowling Plaza in Las Vegas, sparked controversy involving two particular players who went undrafted and others whose omission was at least as notable. In a Facebook post, five-time PBA champion, Mike Fagan, who is attending the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, said “the Commissioner was visiting all teams to ‘remind’ them to pick active players and mentioning myself and Mika [Koivuniemi] were not actively competing.”
Clark later told BJI, “It is sad that my integrity is challenged in this way, due to someone posting something with sour grapes and making it personal, without even asking for facts first,” adding that Xtra Frame viewers saw him consulting with managers because this year they agreed to grant him a “Commissioner’s veto,” a power ultimately he did not enact at the draft but one that allowed him final approval of all selections to ensure the league does not become a “friends list, old-boys network” or full of teams assembled by ball company affiliation.
Koivuniemi, a 14-time PBA Tour titlist whose primary occupation now is his role as coach for the U.A.E.’s national teams, said Silver Lake Atom Splitters Manager, Mark Baker, called him after he considered drafting Koivuniemi and that the conversation left him convinced he “did get a fair opportunity to be on the teams even with all those rumors I heard about the draft.”
Baker said, “I am not trying to slight anybody, and I understand the financial implications of getting selected, so I am doing my very best.” He selected Shawn Maldonado and D.J. Archer.
Another team manager confirmed that Fagan and Koivuniemi indeed had been designated as “inactive” on the draft pool sheet given to team managers. To Clark, that was a statement of the obvious. “I think people knew without me telling them that Fagan and Mika had basically stopped bowling PBA. Is that breaking news?”
Clark also said “the fact Mika and Fagan were as high on the list as they were despite relative inactivity” was “a compliment rather than a detractor.”
Fagan, who was not present at the draft, said, “I bowled the WBT Final, PBA League, and two other events in 2016. Not sure how Tom is defining ‘inactive.’” He added, “Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, whose team I was on last year, was under the impression that Mika and I were off the list. Not quite sure how that came to be, but [Dallas Strikers manager] Norm Duke was under the same impression.”
Neither Dorin-Ballard nor Duke returned BJI’s request for comment. Respectively, they selected Danielle McEwan and Sam Cooley for the NYC WTT KingPins, and B.J. Moore and Rhino Page for the Dallas Strikers.
Other notables left undrafted included reigning PBA World Champion, Gary Faulkner Jr., reigning PBA Players Championship titlist, Graham Fach, and PBA Hall of Famer, Amleto Monacelli.
The managers who spoke with BJI all emphasized the importance of chemistry.
Brooklyn Styles manager, Johnny Petraglia, said those who think “you automatically should choose the best player” have “a different idea about team play.” He added, “I have two USBC Team eagles. On paper, we were far from the best team, but we bowled great together. That’s the criteria I use in picking my team.” He drafted Jason Sterner and Jon Van Hees.
L.A. X manager, Andrew Cain, said, “I was not pressured to select any particular individuals. Ultimately, I selected Osku Palermaa and Jakob Butturff as the two players who my team and I best felt rounded out the L.A. X.”
Del Ballard Jr., who manages the Motown Muscle, pointed out that managers “don’t get any money out of it, but the players do, so I consult my team and that’s who I was told they wanted to bowl with.” Ballard selected Dick Allen and Francois Lavoie.
Portland Lumberjacks manager, Tim Mack, who did not return BJI’s request for comment, drafted Bryon Smith and Kyle Troup. Philadelphia Hitmen manager, Jason Couch, also did not return a request for comment. He drafted Ronnie Russell and Dave Wodka.