Mike Sigel, the living legend, took some time out of his busy day to chat with me about his career, and about the new league he has formed, called the United Billiard League (UBL).
When asked how he got his start in pool, Mike said his older brother by 3 years, at 16, got interested in pool. Their father sold auto supplies and sporting goods and for Christmas, he brought home a wobbly 3.5’x7’ table and situated it in the living room. It sat there for a week or two; his father was waiting for some help to move it to the basement. Waiting to go to school one day, 13 year-old Mike grabbed a cue, started hitting balls, and fell in love with the game.
Because we were both inaugural members of the International Pool Tour (IPT), we discussed the IPT and his friend, founder Kevin Trudeau. He had initially approached Kevin about doing a league because he saw the huge potential in recreational and league players, but Kevin decided to go another route, with the pros. Mike thought about this league for over 20 years, and had the chance to help form the APA, but his career was just starting and he wanted to play pool back then, but he always knew that his time would come to start a league. He envisions women, juniors and a World Championship, all put on television with unprecedented purses.
We talked about Fargo scoring and handicaps and the UBL has a unique system, where the weaker player can have up to 6 Ball-in-Hands per game, irrespective of any other BIHs earned from their opponent fouling. This may be modified to 5 maximum in the future. The way he created this system was playing his 9 year-old son who had just started playing pool and who was apt to miss any shot he tried. So he thought, “How can Mike Sigel play his son even up? Not spotting games on the wire, not spotting the 1 through 9 in 9 ball, so what is the difference between my game and his? Positioning the cueball for easy situations. A bad player always has hard shots and a good player has easy shots.” So the only chance they have, is to pick up the cueball and place it where it would land for Mike. So first, he gave his son 3 or 4 BIHs per rack of 9 ball, then he went to 7 BIHs, then 9. It was a little tougher, but he missed with BIH occasionally. Finally, he gave him 10, and suddenly, Mike had a tough game. Now he’s playing an Efren Reyes or Earl Strickland!
So then he would go around the country offering league players the chance to play him a race to 11 with 9 BIHs a rack for $10,000. He said Larry Neville could break for both of them. They said sure! Then Mike would lower the number of BIHs offered, and they surely wouldn’t do it for 1, but possibly 5. So he knew there was a number that someone felt good at.
The UBL is going after not only pool players, league players, or recreational players. They want to reach anyone who has picked up a cue in their lives, similar to poker – the doctor, the lawyer, the guy who brags he made his way through college playing pool. When Mike started the UBL before 5 years ago, he had 50 teams, and the average player was a 2 to a 4 (a -1 is pro caliber). He said the average player now that’s a 5 or 6 would fall in that 2-4 range because he’s talking from the viewpoint of running out every game. Incidentally, that league was 5 years ago, but the backer died. All the money was paid out plus an extra $20,000. His team now carries key man insurance.
Scoring in the UBL is different because it’s a team score. You play 5 matches a night, 5 people on a team. If all 5 people win their matches, you get the highest score, and conversely, if no one wins their matches, they get the lowest team score. After 16 weeks, the highest 20% in points in the whole league play off and all win prize money. Now that could be all the teams from one spot, or none of the teams from a particular room. Starting out, everyone gets 3 BIHs. It will take 6 weeks for scores to fall into line to determine a true handicap. Every 2 weeks you win in a row, your handicap drops a ball in hand, and vice-versa.Weeks 7-16 are when the points really start counting. You can’t cheat or sandbag to get into the playoffs. You want to win every time you step up to the table.
In the Playoffs, each team member will play the ghost – 3 racks of 8 ball by themselves, with the lowest handicap that you had in the session. Each ball is worth 1 point and the 8 ball is worth 3, for a total of 10 points possible per game, and 30 points total for their match. All of the team members’ scores are added together for a maximum of 150 points.
Out of 200 teams, the top 40 (20%) will playoff. 1 in 5 gets money, 1 in 20 go to Vegas. When whittled down to the top 16 teams left, they will all go to Chattanooga, TN (or Vegas), and play the end-of-year Championships. Then they do a regular tournament with a draw and play best 3 out of 5 (with your 5 players). Qualifying in more sessions, give you more chances to win.
There’s an app that does all the matching up, handicaps and scoring…it’s all calculated; there’s no paperwork to deal with. It can also keep track of stats like most 8 ball breaks and break and runs.
The $25 league joining fee is waived through June 2021. Dues are $12 per week per player. The team Captain collects the money and submits it online. Rules are old school – 8 on the break counts, you are what you make, BIH in the kitchen on the break, you can shoot through a ball even if it’s not frozen, no jump cues allowed, shooter is always correct, any dispute -you flip a coin. Coaching is allowed. Experience has shown that a weaker team has a better chance to come away with the top prizes.
The first teams started in March 2018 and the next session starts January 7th, then again in June 2019 in which he envisions the Championships will be televised.
Mike foresees that within the next 5 years, they’ll be giving out a quarter million to 5 million dollar purses, and beyond. In 7 years, 100 million dollars for first is his prediction. The draw to the average person, is that they have a chance to win big money, even if they aren’t that good, because of the amount of BIHs they get. There is a population of 30-40 million people that could potentially play in the UBL. This will be a worldwide league. LoreeJon Hasson is on board, as are Oliver Ortmann and Ralf Souquet in Europe, and a player in Argentina. Canada is already in the league, and Mike has contacts in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. He envisions having a World League Championship, with the winning teams from all these countries playing for a cup like the Ryder Cup.
He also is planning on manufacturing his own cues and equipment, and possibly starting a 9 ball league, or even possibly a new game that might be a combination of 8 ball and a rotation game. He’s still in the process of figuring out what the handicaps would be for those games.
We talked for over an hour and a half and Mike’s enthusiasm for his United Billiard League is brimming over. With his knowledge, contacts, and enthusiasm, I know it will be a huge success.
All rules and details can be found at www.unitedbilliardleagues.com.
Author: Linda Carter
Editor: Chris Freeman
Sponsored by Jacoby Custom Cues