Some might laugh at the notion of beer pong being a sport. Those that are snickering probably never hit the last cup in a crowded casino, with $20,000 on the line.
Three hundred participants will descend upon the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City this week for the right to be crowned national beer pong champion. The tournament, now in its fourth year, is the brainchild of Sam Pines. The 28-year-old has turned a frat house diversion into a career.
"All my friends got real jobs after college," said Pines, commissioner and CEO of World Pong Tour, LLC. "I didn't want to do the whole rat race thing. I had to keep a steady job, it's good to control my own destiny."
Pines, who graduated from Marist with a degree in sports communications, was looking to change perceptions about beer pong -- kind of. Players still swill beer and stare at half-naked women, but rules are strictly enforced. For one, the cups are filled with water, instead of beer. Part of that is for legal reasons. The other is because Pines wanted pong to be recognized as an official sport.
"We're not trying to promote excessive drinking," he said. "By using water, we can allow 18-year-olds to compete, make it more of a sport. Those of legal age can purchase alcohol and drink it on the side if they want."
He's also turned the hobby into a profitable business. Thirty-one states, plus Canada, run tourneys and 300 teams (it's $65 entry free per player) are registered. When he started four years ago, they had around 100 teams.
"It's a full-time job for me," Pines said. "If you can play golf and make money, you should be able to make money by throwing a ball in a cup."
Pines is looking to expand into other cities and run multiple events, hopefully up to four major tournaments per year. Noting is set yet, but Pines cited nearby Bethlehem as a possible target. Yes, business is booming.
"Living the dream," Pines said.
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Pines had experimented with different rules --which are enforced by "beautiful girls" in referee outfits -- since founding his company in 2006. Here are the important ones to know:
There are 10 cups lined up in a triangle formation on a 9-foot-table. Each game has a 6-minute time limit, or the first team to hit 10 cups wins. There is also a 5-second shot clock.
A ball is considered in play from the time it leaves a shooter's hand until it hits anything other than the cups.
Two re-racks are allowed. They must be asked for at the beginning of a possession.
If both players sink their cups on the same turn, they are rewarded with throw-back shots.
Leaning is discouraged. You may not cross the line drawn 12 inches behind the legs of the table.