You Earned Your Dream, Now What?

My point in Tuesday’s blog entry was to comment on how incredibly difficult it is right now to get into the Elite Series. That’s pressuring some anglers who might otherwise be inclined to leave to stay around, because no matter how confident they are in their skill sets, they know that if they ever want back in it’s not necessarily an easy path.
While that was my point, once I posted the piece on social media all sorts of interested parties cast their own spin upon it. Most of them seemed to focus to the financial realities of competing at the tour level, a worthy concern no doubt, and fodder for many past and future editions for this blog.
One thread that particularly interested me, however, related to the percentage of Bassmaster Opens competitors who would accept the Elite bid if granted. Online I speculated that 60 to 80 in each division might have that as a goal, pretty much pulling that number out of my butt.
Last year, the Opens averaged about 170 competitors apiece, with the season-openers typically starting in the 190 range and then dwindling by about 20 competitors in each successive event. That attrition makes sense, especially if the Elites are your primary goal, because if you have a triple digit finish at the start of the season, you’ve pretty much prevented yourself from finishing in the top five at season’s end. There may be other reasons to continue to compete – to represent sponsors, to try to win and qualify for the Classic, or to gain additional experience – but in the immediate term that particular Elite entryway is blocked.
Of course, there are other reasons that anglers compete in the Opens. Some think they have a legit shot at winning an event on their home water. Others are pulling out all of the stops to qualify for a Classic where they think they’ll have a leg up on the competition. Some just want to see if they can compete against the big boys while others are just looking for a week away from the issues at home. And obviously the rationales are not mutually exclusive – you can have two or more goals on your dashboard at all times.

So what percentage of the Open anglers would take an Elite Berth if it was offered to them?
I suppose that matters when you ask.
Remember, deposits for the 2016 Opens were paid in 2015, with the possibility of qualifying for the Elites in 2017. It’s not a full 24 months, but it’s almost a year and a half, and a lot can happen in that time period. A guy who was gung ho about fishing the Elites with the “sponsor” support and a no-show job from his wealthy father-in-law can be served with divorce papers and lose that opportunity. Or maybe the wife stays with him, but becomes pregnant with triplets. That’ll change your lifestyle, too. Or what if he has a great oil field sponsor in 2015, supportive of his dreams and his wallet, but decreasing gas prices or a new marketing director changed the company’s direction? Sorry, do not pass “Go!” do not collect $40,000.
There’s also the matter of when you qualify. The final Southern Open took place in May whereas the final Central Open was completed at the end of October. That’s a difference of five months to make the decision and get the financing in place, although not necessarily in that order.
Those are just the external factors. I’m sure that some of the anglers themselves are fence-sitters and can be sent one way or the other by a variety of factors. I know that if I qualified by finishing 10th, 20th and 50th in the three Opens I’d be less likely to pull the trigger than if I finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The opportunity is the same, and you’ll start at zero the following year, but the two slates of finishes would lead me to vastly different levels of confidence. Every year it seems there’s a guy who qualifies and isn’t really sure if he wants to go. Usually the reason for declining is that he couldn’t pull together the sponsorship bucks. Sometimes it’s because he has a good job he doesn’t really want to leave. But I have to assume that in at least a few cases the money is there, but the desire to risk it all in an uncertain and highly competitive venue is not.

So what's the number?