"Fill the field" is the cry for players as National Billiard League launches
Skip Maloney - AzB Staff
Apr. 9, 2020
He’d been ‘tossing it around’ for about 10 years. Thinking about it seriously for the last five or so. And now, at a time when we could all use a little light peeking out beyond a distant and difficult-to-predict horizon, Ed Liddawi, owner and manager of Sandcastle Billiards in Edison, NJ has gone public with an idea that is arguably long overdue – the institution of a national Pro tour, which he has labeled the National Billiard League (NBL). 
 
One can almost hear the universal outcry from anywhere you happen to be.
 
“Yeah, right!!” says the (hypothetical) cry, “here we go again!”
 
Among the many things for which Kevin Trudeau was blamed when his International Pool Tour (IPT) initiative bit the proverbial dust in late 2006, was the demise of the pool hustler, an archetype of Americana, similar to a Wild West gunslinger, only with a cue stick (they don’t call young emergent pool players ‘young guns’ for nothing).  The hustler moved from town to town, fleecing the local citizenry and riding out with a wad of cash in his/her saddlebag. According to L. Jon Wertheim, a former senior writer at Sports Illustrated and author of Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious (Dan Basavich), the Last American Pool Hustler (2007), “the pool hustler wasn’t murdered by any single suspect, but the last man holding the knife was Kevin Trudeau (who) out-hustled the hustlers and killed off a national archetype in the process.” Mr. Wertheim also cited us here at AZBilliards, specifically, our Forums, as being among his ‘suspects.’
 
“Even before Mr. Trudeau, hustling was on its deathbed,” he wrote in an Op-Ed for the New York Times in November, 2007. “Time was, a player could score big in, say, Cheyenne, WY and by the time word got out over the pool transom, the hustler was already in Lexington, KY or Laredo, TX. But then came the popular online forum, AZBilliards.com. Suddenly, a player would score big and his exploits would be publicized by sunrise.”
 
But it wasn’t just the iconic pool hustler that metaphorically died. So, too, did trust in the sport itself and for all intents and purposes, the prospect of any nationally organized and administered pool tour. The pool world moved in the direction of regional tours and ‘big money’ independent events. And it’s been mired there ever since. This, in spite of repeated exclamations by a variety of (though not all) industry professionals that a national pool tour was desperately needed to ‘save’ the sport.
 
The first question we asked Ed Liddawi was how he would respond to the legions of ‘naysayers’ who were sure to surface when he announced these plans.
 
“There are going to be ‘naysayers,’ no matter what,” he responded. “It’s OK. There are only going to be 32 slots available in your local area. Someone will be happy to take it. You can sit back and watch your friend win the money.”
 
“I’m used to it (the ‘naysayers’) in the billiards industry,” he added. “Especially in the billiards industry. We have a lot of those negative people out there and if they’re not doing something themselves, they give you no credit.”
 
He believes himself to be poised in what he calls a “perfect position” in terms of resources and connections in the industry to pull it off. He’s been a part of the industry for 27 years and has owned and managed Sandcastle Billiards for the last 12 of them. He has established relationships with all of the major entities in the industry and currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Billiards Congress of America (BCA), who, he says, “have an open ear to get things going on the play side of things again, especially with the junior players.”
 
“It would be foolish of me not to take action and utilize these resources at my fingertips,” he said.
 
In the early years of considering options for his developing idea, he used his experience working with several organizations around the world to “study the algorithms and formats of successful events of other countries” and discussed his ideas with a number of major contributors in the industry; representatives from Diamond (tables), Aramith, Simonis and with other members on the board of the BCA, for example. Why, he wanted to know, have we gone from being the kings of pool in the 60s and 70s, to being the laughing stock and to the disorganized, random and independent events of today? He utilized his research into the question to develop a three-sided approach to his emerging ideas.
 
“Standardization, organization and professionalism,” he said. 
 
All of the NBL’s events, which will be a combination of 10-ball and 8-ball events, will operate utilizing the same format, the complete details of which will accompany official announcements as the projected date for the first qualifier approaches (January, 2021). These events will be run with the same-size tables and the same rules, which will embrace professionalism at all levels.
 
“We have to unify under one blanket organization, the NBL,” Liddawi explained. “It’s not going to be like a local bar league. It will be a season, a series of events, like the NBA and the NFL.”
 
“All players will be wearing the same uniform, (differentiated by) their name and state,” he added, “to create an image, a professional look.”
 
As the idea picked up some momentum, he began to reach out to venues, in search of 32 (Sandcastle Billiards, of course, being one of them) that would host the eight qualifiers (Jan./Feb., April/May, July/August and Oct./Nov.), as well as the four main events with projected $200,000 prize packages in March, June, September and December. The search emphasis was on pool rooms.
 
“One goal is to re-stimulate activity and bring pool back where it belongs,” he said. “in pool rooms. Not the bars, not the casinos, not in the hotel ballrooms. Everything – the qualifiers and the main events – is based out of pool rooms.”
 
The enterprise will be, says Liddawi, self-sustaining, with the players who participate providing the funds with entrance fees, as they do in the current regional tour/independent event scenario. And it will be based on a simple formula – 32 (locations) X 32 (players at each location) X 2 (qualifiers, leading to the quarterly event with the $200,000 prize purse). Money over and above the entrance fees and payouts in the qualifying events will be used to pay for qualifying players’ flight, hotel, and entry slot to the quarterly event and a tour card for the rest of the year (after the quarterly event, making them eligible for the next qualifying event) and two official NBL jerseys to wear at the Main Event. 
 
As Liddawi continues his search for pool rooms to hold the NBL’s first (and future) qualifiers, he is mindful of the presence of regional tours and attempting to coordinate the NBL’s schedule with the regional tour schedules. With his plan to hold the NBL’s qualifying events on the same day, nationwide, he’s likely to encounter some scheduling conflicts and has indicated a willingness to work with regional tours in having a qualifying event become part of a given tour’s schedule, albeit with the understanding that said event be conducted under the rules that the NBL will have established, in terms of format, rules, and prize money. 
 
“Integrated would be fine,” he said. “The NBL would be happy to support and promote all independent events, tours, and organizations, by offering them advertisements, as they sponsor their players.”
 
While firm commitments to a variety of formatting and organizational issues remain in the future, Liddawi has received principle support from Scott Frost at his Freezer’s Sports Bar and Grill in Arizona, Big Tyme Billiards and Skinny Bob’s in Texas, Big Dog’s in Iowa and Breaktime Billiards in North Carolina, to name just a few, along with commitments from a variety of people who’ve agreed to be Tour Director when a venue opens up in their area. When he spoke to us, he was hard at work securing a number of locations in the Northeast. As of yesterday, a promotional video on NBL’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NationalBilliardsLeague) says that there are only eight venue slots left.
 
Liddawi is supporting something of a mantra as he forges ahead with his plans. Since he identifies the plans’ weakest link as ‘player participation,’ he is trying to cement a simple phrase into the hearts and minds of interested players.
 
“Fill the field!!” he said. “Fill the field! Fill the field.”