(Editor's note: This is this final part of a 2-part article on John Sappington's thinking about next season and the future of the sport. Scot Laney is also weighing in today with a plea for ESPN/B.A.S.S. and FLW Outdoors to right the ship.)

John Sappington won the 2002 FLW Championship and now has new deals with Snickers and Ranger Boats. In part because of that, he will only be fishing the FLW Tour next year. It's a decision he feels good about, but he's also sad about it.

"It's upsetting to me," he said. "I was fishing the top two tours in the United States and I was very proud to be fishing both. That was my dream when I started in 1997, and now that's over.

"That's not to say that sometime down the road they won't realign the circuits to where it's possible to fish both, but right now (for him) it's not possible.

"It's upsetting," he said again. "Two of my goals were to win the FLW Championship and to win the BASSMASTERS Classic." But a run at the Classic is out for Sappington, at least for now. "It's a shame."

Growing vs. Splitting

"I want this sport to grow and I want to do anything I can to help it grow," he said. The leagues say the same thing, but because of competition between the two, Sappington doesn't think "that every decision both B.A.S.S. and FLW makes is for growing the sport of bass fishing. I think that some (are) directed at one or the other (league).

"I think this sport isn't strong enough to have that. Everything both circuits do needs to be geared toward growing the sport."

It also seems that the tours are gradually splitting down boat company lines, with Ranger, Stratos, Javelin and Champion on one side and Triton, Skeeter, Nitro and Bass Cat on the other. Sappington also sees that happening and thinks it's "bad. It's segregating the sport.

"Look at NASCAR. There are 48 drivers in NASCAR. Out of those 48, probably 20 of the top guys have a really strong following. They're why most of the people are watching the sport. In bass fishing you had 175 guys, probably 60 or so (of whom) were fishing both tours." The upper 20 percent of those 60 anglers carried most of the fanbase, he said.

But with pros choosing one tour or the other, "you now have 350 guys and you just diluted your fanbase, in my opinion. The sport is not strong enough to where you can dilute your fanbase like that and grow the sport," Sappington said. "When you split (fishing) up between Ranger and Triton, it dilutes it.

"I think it's a detriment to the sport to have to decide which circuit you want to fish. Personally I think that B.A.S.S. made a mistake (scheduling) two tournaments a month. They're making a lot of people choose one (tour) or the other.

"This sport is growing, but it's also fragile," he noted. "The way you grow a sport is by getting a fanbase. Someone wants to watch Kevin VanDam fish, and my mom and dad want to watch John Sappington fish (laughs). When you make it to where (pros) have to choose, both circuits lose."

Would Go Back to B.A.S.S.

Would Sappington ever fish the BASSMASTER Tour again? "If B.A.S.S. had gone to where you couldn't get any help in the 30-day off-limits, I would have continued to fish both," he said. But he would not have worn the Busch patch.

"When I started I had some opportunities -- no actual offers, but opportunities -- to go after sponsorships that were alcohol-related. But I said from the beginning that I would try to promote myself as John Sappington. And there are some things I want to stand for, and some things I don't want to promote."

A Whole Life

While the rest of the world is evaluating all of the patch-related issues in a largely academic sense, the tour pros are the ones for whom the issues affect everything.

As Sappington said, "You put your whole life into this. People who don't fish for living think, 'What a cool job.' But they don't understand how tough it is. You can have three Top 10 finishes in a year and still go broke."

In that light, wearing a patch or picking a tour is a major decision. "I know a lot of guys who don't want to (wear the patch) but don't have a choice," he said. "You can't give up your whole career and life's dream because they're telling you to wear a patch.

"A lot of guys are compromising their beliefs, which is a shame. I'm fortunate enough to where I had an option. A lot of guys I've talked to don't want to wear the patch, but what do they do? Quit fishing and go get a job? We're living our dream."

- End of part 2 (of 2) -

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