Maynooth Economists Determine the Optimal Handicapping System for Ten-Pin Bowling
Researchers at NUI Maynooth have determined the optimal handicap system needed to create a level playing field in the sport of ten-pin bowling. Many sports operate a handicap system in which scores are adjusted in an attempt to equalize the probability of victory in contests between players of different ability levels. This increased competition aids development and promotion of the sport. However, there has been a growing concern that the current systems used in bowling do not achieve the stated aims, with the same teams and players filling the top positions in the league every year.
The research carried out by Professor Donal O’Neill and Sarah Keogh in the Economics, Finance and Accounting department at NUI Maynooth uses statistical analysis to evaluate the handicap systems currently in use. They show that with the current systems higher ability bowlers are still significantly more likely to be successful even after scores are adjusted. They also show that the weighting scheme recommended by the U.S. Bowling congress shifts the balance too far; under such a scheme low ability players are more likely to defeat their higher ability opponent. League organisers worry that such a scenario would encourage players to “sandbag”; this is a situation in which players bowl below their ability level for a period in order to obtain bigger handicaps for upcoming tournaments.
Using a goodness-of-fit statistic Professor O’Neill and Ms Keogh determine the optimal handicap system for bowling. Their proposed system allows lower ability players to compete against higher ability opponents while still maintaining a small incentive for players to improve their skill levels.
The full paper is available here and the results of their analysis will be published in The American Statistician, a prestigious journal of The American Statistical Society.