Authored by: Gritty
It has been a rough weekend for the Crbn brand. Here’s a bit of an abbreviated timeline of the sequence of events: (1) Thursday evening we start hearing rumblings about the Crbn being banned from US Open. (2) Friday morning, Today in Pickleball reports the Crbn is banned from the US Open for pro events. (3) Today in Pickleball provides further update on Friday that Crbn is no longer on USAP list of approved paddles. (4) US Open releases statement later on Friday that Crbn recalled their paddles on April 29, 2022 (Friday), asked their players not to use their paddles and the US Open requested all players not use the Crbn paddle. (5) PPA Tour releases statement Friday evening that Crbn will not be allowed at PPA events for all players and starting May 15, 2022 they will be doing “on-site paddle testing protocols for all professional divisions”. (6) USA Pickleball releases their statement on Saturday morning regarding Crbn paddle testing and timing.
Okay, did you get all of that?
So I’m going to try to give a little more context, which we alluded to in our live blog, and put out our thoughts on everything that has happened. We are undoubtedly missing some facts here so I’ll also make clear where we are doing more speculating on things.
One big takeaway from what has happened is that everyone involved is at fault. This has been handled poorly at all levels. There is not much of an excuse for having a paddle that doesn’t meet the required specifications and, by all accounts, Crbn’s grit level on the paddles were significantly higher than what is allowable. Today in Pickleball reported on March 15th that the Crbn was going to be banned by the PPA Tour. While the report did not turn out to be correct, clearly there has been some smoke around the legality of Crbn paddles and Crbn has not done anything over the past month and a half to resolve that. That’s on them.
On the other hand, none of this should have been a surprise for USA Pickleball either. To conduct an “in-field test” at the US Open and to take steps to ban the paddle in the middle of a tournament is the wrong way to go about all of this. Their most recent statement emphasizes a level playing field but there is something to be said about disallowing the paddle part-way through arguably the most prestigious tournament of the year.
Neither the US Open nor USA Pickleball provided any sort of statement or announcement until after a lot of the information was out through other sources. Furthermore, given our knowledge of the situation, for the US Open to frame this as a Crbn recall appears to be misleading. If USA Pickleball does not take these steps to test the paddle in the way that they did, the Crbn is not recalling their paddles yesterday. Take these steps after the tournament, not right in the heart of it.
However, that still leaves one major question of the timing of all this. Why would on-site testing occur at the US Open when this was already a known concern from players and manufacturers? It has been evident that Crbn has been getting a lot of positive publicity that has led to Crbn getting a disproportionate share of the market in terms of sales of their paddles. In short, business has been very good for Crbn.
What we have heard is that Ben Johns and/or JOOLA have been the driving force behind the Crbn being tested/banned – this is apparently what led to the PPA looking into this. The motivating factor is not entirely clear, but part of it apparently comes down to JOOLA coming into the market with this big splash only to be outdone by Crbn’s organically generated publicity. They are not alone in this as other paddle manufacturers have been upset because of how good Crbn’s sales have been and other pro players have not been happy about having to play against it. Regardless of where exactly the pressure is coming from, the hastiness of the testing of the Crbn from USA Pickleball seems to have been the result of external pressure. That’s not confirmed but it sure looks that way.
The ironic thing about the pressure is that there are rumblings that there are JOOLA paddles that may have compliance issues. We had heard about there being a video of JOOLA paddles failing an informal grit test with official equipment, but we were not planning on reporting on it since we had not seen the video. This afternoon, this video has been shared online, including in our comments.
The video shows two different JOOLA paddles in that look like they read over the allowable grit 40.0 number. The testing in the video is being done by Donn Paben who is the Managing Director of Pro Player Relations and Equipment Compliance at USA Pickleball, who appears to turn a blind eye to what he determines to be non-compliant paddles. Although not an official test, as the kids say, not a good look.
(Update: We had someone reach out to note for is that there is a grace period USAP provides a paddle company before they deem a paddle “illegal” as part of their bylaws.)
It was also interesting to see Electrum with a very targeted Instagram post yesterday describing their paddle as the “roughest compliant paddle in the game”. The Electrum post is obviously a shot at Crbn, but is it also a shot at JOOLA or even other competitors that have not been tested? The PPA says they are going to do on-site testing but we’ll be curious to see what this testing consists of. When does this testing get done? Is it random? Every paddle used by a pro? What happens when paddles are not compliant? I’m sure we’ll get a complete and transparent outline of the protocols from the PPA in due course.
Frankly, I get it from these paddle companies. I would be incredibly pissed if a non-complaint paddle was taking such a big market share of paddle sales. Believe me, I would be up in arms about this too. If I was a player, I wouldn’t be happy either. Is it happenstance that the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place men’s singles players all played with a Crbn paddle? We can never know for sure but it is notable.
As anyone who follows this paddle stuff likely knows, Electrum had a similar problem a couple of years. Eventually, Electrum quietly received sanctions from USA Picklball and worked with them to fix the issue. This has been a public debacle for Crbn though, particularly with the paddle getting removed from the USAP approved list. Again, this is really Crbn’s own doing at the end of the day. But the way in which it went down feels wrong.
Humor me for a minute. Since singles pro was already completed, there is not a single top 5 ranked or top 5 known player in the US Open that is a Crbn sponsored player. What are the chances that the Crbn gets banned in the middle of the US Open if Ben Johns or Tyson McGuffin is using a Crbn?
The paddle has to be banned. It is unquestionably illegal. No one disputes this. It’s the fly by night approach of dealing with this. Even more concerning is the possibility that other paddles on the market are not compliant and that Crbn is getting an unfair shake in comparison with either more established and/or brands with more influence. In any event, the timing is not “unfortunate”. It is flat out wrong. They made this choice. And if you’re going to do it in the middle of a tournament, then come out and own it right away.
There is still a lot more to shake out from all of this. All we can say now is that, from our vantage point, this is being managed terribly by everyone involved.
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