Bowling is fun for many people and a good way to socialize during the colder months of the year. There are many leagues all over the US but if you can't find the right one, you may want to start your own. I ran one last year with one other person and with just a couple of hours of work per week, we found it entirely achievable and fun to do.
Who does what
There are generally 3 roles required to manage a bowling league: President, Treasurer and Secretary. The President is in charge of all executive decisions, communicating with the captains, dealing with the alley and most other human-resource type things. The Treasurer's job is to collect the money, pay the alley, allocate expenses and prizes and either keep the physical cash safe or manage the account it's kept in. The secretary's job is to keep track of all things related to scoring including the overall statistics, ongoing team ranking, awards, setting up the computers, handling substitute players and assigning lanes every week.
In summary, the President deals with people, the Treasurer deals with money and the Secretary deals with the game/scoring. All other tasks should be able to find the appropriate official. If you're not sure what you're doing right now but you're the only one doing it, then just assume you're the President.
When asking people to join, they will generally want to know how much it will cost, when it starts, how long it will run, what day and time it's at and how competitive it's going to be. You may not know your day and time just yet, but you should at least be able to answer all of the other questions.
Determine a start and end date with a number of weeks. You can do as few as 10 weeks or as many as 30. We ran 12 weeks of bowling for our rec league and it was about as much as anyone could handle. More serious leagues tend to run longer seasons. If you're going to be giving away prizes, make sure to factor that in to your weekly league dues. The amount charged per person by the alley is variable, often times between 5 and 10 dollars. It's common to charge 20 per player per week and put the remainder into a prize pool.
Tally up your bowlers
Before you can start asking alleys about your league, you'll need a rough idea of how many people and teams you'll have. Talk to everyone you would like on the league and set a date for them to get back to you with teams. 2 weeks should be adequate. Teams generally consist of 4 people with 1 being the captain, who is in charge of all administrative functions for the team. Make sure to have the team assign a captain right away so that you only have to deal with that person for the team. It will make your life much easier.
Try to end up with an even number of teams if possible. It's much nicer that way as you don't have to have 1 team play a phantom (empty) lane each week.
Find your venue
Now that you know how many bowlers you will have, you can find an alley that will accommodate. Call around local bowling alleys to find one that you like with the right price, size and time. Make sure to get a guarantee on your spot. Now is also a good time to make deals with them for drinks, food or any other amenities they may have to offer. Often times you can get them to put on a special just for your league, such as $10 pitchers of beer. Calculate out how much money they'll be taking in off of standard player fees as well as food and liquor and try to use that to leverage. You'll be glad you did later.
Before leagues start
If you don't want to do all the work yourself, assign people to be the treasurer and secretary.
The treasurer needs to either set up an account, or get a fire-safe box ready to hold the cash. Also it's time to write up a budget. Expenses are generally weekly awards, special weeks (for food, entertainment, etc) and the prize pool for after leagues are over. If you've never set this up before, it might be a good time to learn a little excel.
The secretary and president must decide on a point system and on handicapping. Handicaps are used to even out the skill of the players. A handicap generally is described as a percentage of a cap, so 90% of 200. What this means is that a player with an average of 100 has that subtracted from 200 then 90% applied, so 90 would be his handicap. At the end of each game, your handicap is added to your score to get your final handicapped score, which is compared to the other team's score to determine the winning team. Mathematically what that specific handicap did is make it so that the difference between a player with a 100 average (hcp 90) and a player with a 200 average (hcp 0) is now only 10 pins, because if they both threw their average, the scores would be 190 vs 200. This makes it achievable for the 100 average player to beat the 200 average player. If you don't want to use handicaps, then you'll be running what's called a "scratch" league. This means you just use the raw pin count, which can lead to a very one-sided league. This is generally only used in more competitive and professional leagues.
We used a 4 point system for our league, which means that for every match consisting of 3 games, there can be 1 point scored for each game and then 1 point for overall pins for the series. The team with the highest number of points at the end of the season is the winner.
The actual numbers used for handicaps depend on the league, but it seems that 90% of 200 or 90% of 210 are fairly standard. If a player doesn't have an average established from a previous league, their first game determines it and then the handicaps are applied retroactively to determine points.
The secretary needs to set the league up in a scoring system and make a schedule of match-ups. I used www.pinsetter.com and found it to be a little buggy but adequate. The schedule is kind of a pain to set up if it isn't automatically generated in the software you use. The trick is to try to make it so that every team plays every other team an even number of times and every team plays evenly across all the lanes of the alley. I started with team 1 vs team 2, team 3 vs team 4 and then took it from there.
There are also special weeks called Position weeks that need to be factored in. A Position week is one where the top ranked team plays the bottom and the second ranked team plays the second lowest and so forth. Position week gives the worst team a chance to take some points from the best team. Position weeks should be held in the middle of the schedule. The actual match-ups can't be determined until the end of the week before because you don't know the teams' positions until then.
On league day/night
Make sure to tell everyone to come 15 minutes early and have the lane assignments posted clearly for everyone to see. Also, have envelopes ready and numbered per-team to collect dues. Talk to your alley to see if you can set up the computers ahead of time or if they have to do it. If they do, you can probably give them a print out of your lane assignments for them to use.
If your league starts at 7pm, then usually you'd have practice start at 6:45 and the games starting promptly at 7. Be ready to get on a microphone to announce everything as the alleys can get really loud. If someone is absent when the games begin, they must be marked absent for that game and the absent score given. We used the player's average score minus 10 points. If a substitute is there, they must play under their own name as to not skew the averages or have an unfair advantage against the other team. Their own average and handicap should be used.
Tell everyone to hand their money envelopes to the treasurer and their scorecards to the secretary, unless the scoring is all held by the computer in which case it should be printed by the alley manager at the end of the night.
It can be a lot of fun to bring your own music to the alley if they allow it. Make sure to ask first. Also, there are many trophy makers, but you will want to order them well ahead of time. It generally takes 3 weeks to have a large set of trophies made. Other weekly prizes are fun as well, such as setting up special headpins that on a strike get you a free beer, soda or burger. Most alleys will set that up for you if you ask them.