The hall, considered one of the best in the country, now covers Dechaine's entry fees for tournaments. And another sponsor, Predator Cues, provides him with equipment, cash, and bonuses based on performance.

Dechaine, who recently moved to Providence, is thankful for what he's got. But the truth is, there's just not a lot of money in pool.

The sponsorships, paltry compared to the money flowing to golfers and tennis players, come mostly from within the industry. And outsiders who dip into pool don't stick around too long.

Dechaine says elite players can make around $100,000, but they might plow a quarter of that back into travel costs.

The problem, at its base, is that the sport is a marginal one. Players and observers date the last significant boost in pool's popularity to the 1986 film The Color of Money, starring Tom Cruise as a young player on the make and Paul Newman as his aging "stakehorse," funding the hustle.

The culture hasn't paid much attention since then — ESPN and other networks don't televise many events — and the industry's chronic dysfunction hasn't helped matters. The players association is weak. And there is no national men's tour, just a collection of regional events with relatively meager payouts; some promoters don't even produce the promised prize money at the end of the event.

More important, the sport seems to lack for visionaries or any sense of common purpose. Howerton, of azbilliards.com, says players and promoters seem focused on grabbing their share of a small pie rather than growing it.

And while pool claims a certain underworld mystique — on a recent visit to Snookers, this reporter heard stories of 48-hour matches and wheelbarrows of cash — that sexiness doesn't much adhere to the professional game.

Indeed, the fever of the most recent Mosconi Cup aside, pro pool is a pretty staid sport. It is quiet. There are long pauses. And the strategy — thinking two and three shots ahead, deciding when to take a chance and when to play it safe — is often lost on the uninitiated. "Unless you know what you're looking at," Howerton says, "it can be pretty boring to watch."

It seems unlikely that a single star could pull pool out of its morass. But star power, no doubt, will be integral to any broad-based revival. And it's not clear that the current #1 American player — Shane Van Boening, 29, of Rapid City, South Dakota — is well suited to the task.

His commitment to the game is impressive: he practices incessantly, lives the sport. But he is hearing impaired. He doesn't drink or smoke. And while likable, he is not terribly charismatic.

Dechaine, if he can climb to the top, may be a better fit for the role. His petulance, and the disdain he inspires in other players, make for intriguing story lines. And outside the pool hall, he's actually a quite genial character — outgoing, with a broad smile and an easy laugh. He's even had the requisite celebrity romance, dating rising women's pool star Brittany Bryant for a time.

When the time is right, Dechaine says, he'd like to make a play for a major sponsorship from a beer company or a prominent New England business of some kind, pushing the sport out into the mainstream in the process.

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  Topics: News Features , pool, Mike Dechaine, York Hall
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