By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
John Cox has had to make several decisions this year in regard to tournament participation as he's attempted to fish a rigorous three-tour schedule. Now one has been made for him: B.A.S.S. has ruled him ineligible for its season-ending Elite Series event at the St. Lawrence River, which gets under way July 15.
Cox was a Top-10 finisher in the recent MLF Bass Pro Tour event at that venue, the timeframe of which fell within the off-limits period for the Elite Series derby. He said he knew the situation he finds himself in was a possibility when he embarked on this journey, but there was still uncertainty about the New York events in late 2020, when he was making his plans, due to ongoing coronavirus concerns. He said he didn't get final confirmation from B.A.S.S. about the DQ until last week.
"I understand the rule, but I'm just disappointed with the outcome," he said. "I'm just kind of shocked that some way couldn't be found to work around it.
"I did bring it up at the beginning, but they (B.A.S.S.) weren't sure either. They said they'd look at it when it got closer, but it was never set in stone what it was going to be. At that time, nobody knew if we were even going to end up going (to New York)."
In a statement issued to BassFan late last week, B.A.S.S. emphasized that it won't alter its off-limits rule to accommodate an individual angler's schedule.
"The Bassmaster Elite Series competition rules are very clear that the off-limits period for events begins 28 days prior to the first practice day," the statement read. "B.A.S.S. is committed to maintaining the integrity of our tournaments by holding every angler to the same rules. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that an angler has been disqualified for violating the off-limits rule."
Cox bypassed two MLF Pro Circuit events (Lake Okeechobee and Lake Murray) in order to compete in Elite Series tournaments on those same dates. The DQ leaves him with a more difficult path to qualifying for the 2022 Bassmaster Classic via the points list.
He's 37th in the Elite Series Angler of the Year standings going into this week's event at Lake Champlain (which he will participate in). He won the Pro Circuit derby at Lewis Smith Lake in March, but is 105th on that list due to having competed in only three of the five tournaments held thus far. He's 20th in the BPT points race and on track to qualify for the 2022 REDCREST.
Cox had petitioned his fellow Elite Series pros via email in an attempt to garner support for his cause. Two veteran Elite anglers contacted by BassFan said that most were supportive of Cox's unprecedented quest, but they were also in favor of the off-limits rule being upheld.
Upon the conclusion of the Champlain Elite event, he might remain at the lake for the Northern Division Toyota Series tournament (July 15-17) or may return to home. The progress of Tropical Storm Elsa, which is scheduled to reach Florida in the next day or so, will be a factor in that decision.
He said his current predicament won't deter him from competing on all three tours again next year.
"I'm sure there's going to be some that overlap, but I'll just be wiser about the ones I skip. I just want to be sure up front without any 'maybes.' If everything's good, I'm okay with skipping certain events."