World Snooker’s new Q School will replace the Pontin’s International Open Series as the way amateurs can qualify for the professional circuit.
Q School consists of three week long tournaments played at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield.
The four semi-finalists in each will qualify for the main tour in 2011/12.
The closing date for entries, which cost £1,000, is March 1, although there are separate criteria for professionals who drop off the circuit at the end of the season.
Unlike in previous years, they can return immediately rather than spend a year in the green baize wilderness.
Amateur players who enter Q School must be members of their national governing body.
The new qualifying system is based on a similar model in golf.
I’m sure most amateurs would prefer a proper Challenge Tour but it isn’t World Snooker’s job to organise one.
The PIOS consisted of eight events, worth £3,000 to the winner of each with the top eight qualifying for the pro circuit.
Amateurs can now play in the 12 Players Tour Championship tournaments, which gives them good match practice and the chance to earn prize money.
But there are no qualifying places for the main tour at the end of it.
Q School is consistent with Hearn’s ethos: the rewards are there if you are good enough.
But restricting a qualifying system to the space of a single month will mean any players suffering from illness or unable to get time off work for such a long period will be disadvantaged.
On the other side of the coin, if you are a player from outside the UK it would be easier to attend a qualifying event that lasts a few weeks than have to keep flying back and forth to the UK, or even base yourself here full time.
Q School is also a way of raising money for World Snooker coffers. An entry of 500 players would net the company half a million, to be reinvested in other events.
Is Q School a fair qualifying system?
In some ways it’s not unlike the old pro-ticket qualifiers of the 1980s. It takes away the season-long qualifying tour but, with the PTCs, doesn’t actually reduce opportunities for amateurs.
There are four more places available through Q School than there were through the PIOS.
But, under any system, the cream should rise to the top. If a player really is good enough not just to turn professional but also to have a successful career than they will make it regardless of the qualifying set up.
The Q School site is here.