It's about time. That seems to be the general sentiment surrounding the recent news that, at long last, team roping will become a standard Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event in 2006.
What that means is that rodeos will not be approved for PRCA sanctioning unless they include team roping. The news, which was decided by a 5-4 PRCA Board of Directors vote on August 16, comes hot on the heels of other eye-opening rodeo developments, such as PRCA Commissioner Troy Ellerman's decision that same week to pull the plug on automatically co-sanctioning Canadian Professional Rodeo Association events.
In the past, money won at CPRA rodeos counted toward PRCA world standings and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification. But CPRA rodeo committees have never paid the sanctioning fee (five percent of their total payoff) to the PRCA like every other PRCA rodeo does for the support the comes with the privilege of PRCA sanctioning. Canadian rodeo officials haven't historically had the same training or had to meet the set of standards as PRCA judges in the States, and CPRA rodeos didn't comply with PRCA sponsorship mandates and policies. Money won at PRCA rodeos does not, by the way, count toward Canadian Finals Rodeo qualification.
It's still possible that at least some CPRA rodeos might be granted PRCA sanctioning in the new year if they comply with all PRCA-approval requirements. But as of August 16, the addition of team roping is added to that mandatory minimum-requirement list.
Just as the fact that CPRA rodeos having never paid the same price as their American counterpart committees comes as shocking news to most of us, it's always perplexed me that team roping hasn't been standard from the start. Team ropers make up more than 37 percent of the current PRCA membership, and that number will only grow with the standardization of the event.
Not surprisingly, there are more team roping contestants in rodeo than any other event. As of July 29, there were 9,107 total PRCA members including card- and permit-holders, and 3,414 of them were team ropers. There are 2,387 tie-down ropers, which is next in the contestant numbers line, and they make up 26 percent of the PRCA membership.
Also not surprising, more fans in the stands team rope than anything else. They love it, but for obvious reasons not many of them leave the rodeo saying, "Hey, I think I'll try that" about the bull riding.
"The goal of the current administration is to run the PRCA like a business," stated Ellerman, a longtime PRCA bull rider and trick rider, who took the reins of the cowboy sport in January.
"So we need to be consistent. At one rodeo you have team roping, and at the next place you don't. That doesn't make any sense to me.
"Team roping should be mandatory. I team rope a little bit, but I have no personal stake in the outcome of this decision. It's just consistent and logical to showcase all NFR events throughout the entire season. The fans deserve it, and the contestants deserve it."
I've known Troy Ellerman virtually all my life, and "consistent and logical" are a couple words I'd have used to describe him when he was a skinny, Spandex-clad little boy rounding arenas at death-defying speeds doing the most amazing stunts along the way. I went to college at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo with Troy, and when half the rodeo team spent evenings knocking back cold ones at local hot spots, Troy consistently and logically walked from the arena, where we parked, to the library to study. He was also raised to know right from wrong, and like his four fellow trick-riding sisters (of Flying Cossacks fame) has never wavered when standing up for what's right.
So, how does the news of team roping becoming a standard event strike the world's top team ropers?
I asked four of the best ever in seven-time World Champions and ProRodeo Hall of Famers Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper, and eight-time and reigning World Champion Team Ropers Speed Williams and Rich Skelton. Here are their reactions, in their own words.
"Making team roping a standard event will drive PRCA membership. And if it'll help the PRCA and team roping, I'm all for it. Anything to help the industry. As far as affecting me in any direct way, it's probably not going to change the way I do my business much. I'll probably go to the same rodeos I do now, unless things really change back East. I'm basically going to go to the major rodeos anyway. It'll be great for the guys who live in the East. They'll get to stay home some and still be part of the PRCA. In the past, team roping's predominantly been in the West. I've been doing this for 25 years, and team ropers have taken a backseat to the politics of rodeo for so many years. We've had to fight tooth and nail for everything, so this is a good step in the right direction and our event being recognized as equal to the others."
"Having team roping at some rodeos and not others is almost like the NBA saying there's a three-point shot in San Antonio, but not in Sacramento," Ellerman continued. "How can a fan follow that? If we have it as a standard event at the NFR, then how come these guys can't compete in Fort Worth, Texas? There are more team ropers across the board than any other event. It's like golf, because everybody can play. It has a broader appeal and following than the other events, but then we don't showcase it everywhere? That just doesn't add up. This association has to be run the same for everybody, and our members all need to have the same opportunities."
According to PRCA Director of Special Events and National Circuit Coordinator Jim Nichols, team roping has been a standard sixth event in the 17 states west of the Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma-North Dakota-South Dakota-Texas line the last couple decades.
"Team roping was standard unless a rodeo had steer roping, then team roping became optional," Nichols explained. "That's why Cheyenne (Frontier Days Rodeo in Wyoming) didn't have team roping for so many years."
Also per Nichols, of the 670 currently sanctioned PRCA rodeos, 167 of them don't feature team roping now. Making the event mandatory will not only drive PRCA membership numbers, it'll also give ropers in certain regions their first shot at the
"There are tens of thousands of team ropers east of the Mississippi, but not many PRCA rodeos at this time," Nichols said. "We lose out on a lot of members who won't join the PRCA because so many of their circuit rodeos don't have their event."
By all accounts, there's a ton of team roping talent out there that PRCA fans have never yet seen. They'll see it now, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of PRCA Team Roping Event Representative Bret Tonozzi, who also serves alongside steer wrestler Leon Vick as one of two timed-event directors on the PRCA Board of Directors. NFR veteran heeler Tonozzi, who's spent more time fighting for ropers' rights than roping the last 10 years or so, deserves a standing ovation for his tenacity and perseverance.
"Making team roping mandatory helps the circuit guys so much," Tonozzi said. "In the states where it wasn't standard, there were a lot of pro rodeos that didn't have team roping, so they couldn't even go. This will benefit the circuit guys, especially the guys back east. And it'll benefit the PRCA, because a lot more guys will buy their cards now. I put on a lot of schools back east, and ask guys there why they don't have PRCA cards. They tell me it's because there are only five rodeos in their circuit, so it's not worth it. That's a pretty high-dollar card."
Per the minutes of that August 16 PRCA Board meeting, Tonozzi, Vick, Tom Reeves, Kelly Wardell (who are the four contestant representatives on the PRCA Board) and Contract Personnel Director and newly elected Board Chairman Tom Feller voted in favor of standardizing team roping. Voting against the 5-4 decision were Rodeo Committee Directors Troy Weekley and Cotton Rosser, and Stock Contractor Directors Casey Beard and Steve Gilbert.
Clay O'Brien Cooper
Clay O'Brien Cooper:
"I wish they would have done this about 30 years ago. There have been rodeos that haven't had team roping that should have, with really no excuse for not having it. We're a strong event. We're the most popular event as far as the membership is concerned. All my old bull riding, bareback riding and bulldogging buddies are team ropers now. It didn't make any sense not having it everywhere, other than the stock contractors didn't want to do it. They already have the rodeos, for 30 years in some cases, and now they have to bring a set of steers. They don't want to have to do that, but it's just the right thing to do. There's right and there's wrong. Team roping has always been treated like it was not accepted by the other events on many different levels. When I first got into the PRCA, there wasn't equal money anywhere, but we have double dues, double fines, double PROCOM fees (for the PRCA central-entry system). They doubled us to death, but when it came to divvying out the money, they didn't look at it the same way. They paid us half and called it good. We were treated like second-class citizens. We've slowly made some progress throughout the years. This is one of the final steps of just doing what's right. Right always prevails eventually. We've all just hung in there and tried to make it better. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. We have equal money at the National Finals, and hopefully more rodeo committees will follow suit there, too, because that's what's right. As far as how this changes what I do, I live kind of close to the West, so I can go to plenty of rodeos. But look at guys in the East who are team roping fanatics like me. They've never had a chance. In the Great Lakes Circuit, there are 61 rodeos and only 15 had team roping. Now there are 61 rodeos that guys can rope at in that circuit alone. That's awesome. Some of those guys have had to stay thousands of miles from their houses to make a living. I applaud the guys who voted this in. I appreciate them taking a stand on what they think is right."
"I think this should have been done a long time ago.
I think it'll be exciting. It'll add a lot more rodeos for a lot more guys to go to, especially as popular as team roping has become. In the team roping, all the top 30-40 guys go to every rodeo together. This is going to spread the field out a lot more. Guys will be able to stay closer to home more, and spreading everybody out will give more guys a chance to win, too, because every top-15 guy won't be there every time. As it's been, we're pretty much hooked away from home for months at a time."
"I give all the thanks to the Board members who listened, stood up for what's right and did the right thing," Tonozzi gratefully said. "Making team roping standard will be good for the circuit cowboys, the top 15 types and the rodeo committees. It's just good for everybody.
"Our commissioner really stepped up here. Troy's the best commissioner we've ever had. He has common sense and integrity, and his motivation is for the sport. He wants to keep rodeo alive and growing, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get that done. He's not into self-interests. He wants what's best for rodeo."
That's because rodeo is in Troy Ellerman's soul. He doesn't need this job. His paychecks were exponentially fatter at the Northern California law firm he left to take on the thankless challenge of his life. None of us at Today's PRCA needs the headaches at this point in our careers. But we love it enough not to let it go without a fight. And with Captain Ellerman at the helm, it's perfectly possible we'll turn the sinking ship from $3.2 million in the red, which is the bank account Troy inherited from the last administration, to $2 million in the black within a year. That's progress, and I'm so proud of Troy and Company for going all out on behalf of the stars of the show-the cowboys. This is the Professional Rodeo COWBOYS Association, after all, and it's such a relief to have people in place who remember that.
Team ropers will continue to count 60 rodeos toward their official PRCA earnings. In case you're curious, tie-down ropers and bulldoggers can count 75 rodeos a year, bareback and saddle bronc riders have 100 to play with and bull riders can official 125 rodeos a year, though only 75 rodeos count in any event toward the all-around. Those numbers are determined by each event director.
"I think it'll be good. Having team roping at every rodeo should help the PRCA get more members, and it should help us stay home a little more. I think it'll allow us to take some younger horses to some PRCA rodeos that we aren't counting (as official), whereas in the past we'd just have gone to amateur rodeos to do that. We'll be going for the money at more PRCA rodeos, even when we don't count them. It's just a better deal for everybody and for every reason."
Team roping becoming a standard event is such a victory. I hate to get greedy and ask for more, but I couldn't help digging a little deeper when talking to Troy. We now have a world champion header and a world champion heeler, as opposed to the days when he with the most money won was the champ, whether that meant one titlist or two. It takes two to team rope, and both guys pay PRCA dues, entry fees and double diesel (which in my part of the country is $3.29 a gallon right now). When they're in town for the rodeo, they both buy a steak when they go to dinner. So, Troy, how do you feel about equal money in the team roping?
"I think that's our next project," he said without hesitating even half a second. "I don't know that we'll get it the first time out of the box. But I agree with it. I'm for it. The team ropers have the same expenses and are operating under the same obligations as everyone else, so they should have the same opportunities. Some rodeos are making them split the added money between two people. The bareback riders and bull riders aren't going to cut their money in half. It makes common sense to make this thing consistent. We're on our way." STW