The APA (American Poolplayers Assocation) is the largest of all the pool leagues in the US (and arguably in the world). As such, it is probably the most likely league which you are going to be a member of, or encounter in your billiards travels.
The APA, as one of its founding principles, prides itself on its particular flavor of (secret) handicap system, which, according to the APA, makes it possible for “anyone to win on a given night”. Much of this is true, as I can personally attest. However, there are a few caveats you should be made aware of.
The APA system relies on a rating for its players, which is established over the course of several matches by keeping track of a player’s record. The record keeping is actually pretty extensive: Innings are counted, defensive shots, 8-on-breaks, 8-and-runs, etc. Essentially, after about 10 completed matches, every player has an established rating from 2-7 (3-7 for men, 2-7 for women), and based on this rating, the number of games (or “rounds”) each player must win against another established player is calculated, using a preset matrix which outlines the various iterations.
For example, two players with a 3 rating would have to win 2 games (whoever wins 2 first, wins). A 2 vs. a 7 would be a race of 2 games to 7 games, respectively, and so on.
The general theory holds true, as I have seen strong players defeated by lower ranked players, and vice versa. The handicap works.
Or does it?
Well, folks, I have to admit, there are a few inconsistencies in the APA.
First of all, in the APA system, as one would expect in any amateur sport, most of the players are not in the upper echelon. Most players have ranks in the 2 to 5 skill levels. Only a select few players are given the coveted 6 and 7 skill levels. However, at the highly advertised and “respected” national tournament, roughly half of all players that survive the local and regional individual tournaments are 6 and 7 skill level players. How can this be?
How come 15% of APA players take up 50% of the national tournament?
For example, in the last couple of years of the national APA individual tournament, less than 30 skill level 2 & 3 players showed up (approx 15% of all APA members). However, over 200 skill level 6 & 7 (approx 15% of all APA members) were found in the same tournament??!
Other inconsistencies which have come to light over the years:
APA players contribute approximately $54 million per year into the league, and yet only about $1.5 million is given back in prize money at the national level ($1 million for the team tournament, and $500,000 for the individual tournament). To the defense of the APA, it does provide a “travel fund” at both the local and the regional tournament level, whereby some of the prize money is allocated separately from the national tournament, but even at this level there is a “pattern”.
For example, a single league will contribute approximately $800 every night it plays, for approximately 46 weeks per year (the APA has 3 sessions of 15, 15, and 16 weeks each year). 46 times $800 equals $36,800. How much of this goes back to the team to help them get to the regional tournament? Approx.: $6300 over three sessions. Another $1500 will go towards the winning team at the regional tournament (approximately 1 in 8 teams at regionals win, and the travel fund is approx. $1500 per player). This leaves approximately $29,000 for each league which goes towards the national tournament, the regional league operators, and the national office.
That would be $29,000 x 5 (5 leagues per night) x 300 (the APA currently has approximately 300 regional operators). The total comes out to approx. $43.5 million. Subtract the $1.5 million and divide by 300, and you end up with an average yearly salary of approximately $140,000 per league operator. Now, mind you, many operators own more than one region, and also the fact that the individual tournaments (“local boards”) have a separate entry fee ($160 for 4-8 players). All my calculations are based on basic facts which are verifiable on the APA website, not to mention making assumptions such as: each operator only owns a single region, not counting the income from local individual tournaments. Also, there are basic costs missing from my calculations: Some operators maintain actual offices (although most operate from home), pay salary to some workers for paperwork, pay the APA franchise fees and insurance, as well as sponsor local tournaments etc.
In short, joining the APA should never be about (1) winning to go to Las Vegas, and (2) making money while playing pool. Essentially, if you want to go to Vegas, just buy a plane ticket and go, and if you want to make money in pool, CLEARLY, become an APA league operator instead.