Month: July 2015

BREAKING NEWS- Pennsylvania State Academic Competition Switches to NAQT

EDIT (1/23/2016): It appears that while the tossup questions will be from NAQT, there will still be fanfare rounds and no major changes to the format or rules. While still a great and welcome change to ensure that the questions are fair, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. 

In a watershed development yesterday, pyramidal question supplier NAQT announced that they will become the new question source for the official Pennsylvania State Academic Competition in Harrisburg. Let us say we could not be happier with the news. Years of hard work and campaigning for better questions free of hoses, misleading text, and without good alternate answer lines have come to fruition. The writers of this site would like to thank all of the students, coaches, parents, and friends of the game that have worked to make this change happen. We could not have done it without your support! Additionally, we commend the showrunners of the state competition and NAQT for working together to strike a question supply deal.

With this change comes immense potential for good quizbowl growing across the Keystone State. Many IUs will be affected by this switch, and thus many local competitions will now have good questions used throughout the school year. Further, every school in Pennsylvania now has every incentive to play good quizbowl. With a regular, unambiguous topic distribution, the coveted state title is more obtainable than ever for students who want to put in hard work and master the quizbowl canon. The new state competition also offers the enticing benefit of winning money for each team’s school as well as honor and prestige.

A plethora of outreach opportunities have now opened up. The work is not yet done. As supporters of good quizbowl in Pennsylvania, we must continue to ensure tournaments run smoothly, that we raise awareness in schools without quizbowl teams, and that the state continues to expand its presence at national tournaments. For today, though, we must celebrate Pennsylvania’s new tournament as a major victory for the game.

-The GPQB Staff

Quizbowl National Championships: A Guide

One sometimes-confusing aspect of quizbowl is the presence of multiple tournaments that claim to be the “national championship” of quizbowl and similar academic competitions (Scholars Bowl, Brain Bowl, Knowledge Bowl, Academic Challenge, etc.). For teams and coaches, getting multiple emails throughout the year telling you that you qualified for different national championships can be a bit of a baffling experience.

This is a brief guide to explaining what these tournaments are, which ones have fair questions and formats (and which ones do not), and how your team can qualify to attend the ones that will provide the best experience for your team and players.

The Quizbowl National Championships:

 NAQT’s High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT)

Sponsor: National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT)
Location (2016):
The Hilton Anatole, Dallas TX
Location (2017): Marriott Marquis, Atlanta GA
Field Size:
Approximately 272 teams (based on the 2016 field) 
Written by NAQT and follows the NAQT HSNCT distribution. The difficulty is significantly harder than regular IS-sets and the questions are slightly longer than regular IS questions. 
10 power-matched games (against opponents with similar records) over 16 rounds on Saturday. All teams with a winning record (i.e. 6-4 or better) make the playoffs on Sunday; other teams can come back for consolation games. Playoffs are double-elimination for all 7-3 or better teams; 6-4 teams start off in the loser’s bracket and are eliminated with one loss. 
How to Qualify:
Finish in the top 15% of any tournament that uses NAQT questions. NAQT highlights those teams in the results when statistics from a tournament are published on their website (see here for an example). Wildcards are also available for teams who did not qualify normally to apply for in hopes of getting a spot; for teams that got close to qualifying in a strong field or did not have a chance to play often, this is a good option to pursue.
Previous Results:
Available from NAQT’s website from 1999 onward. Click on each year to see more statistics. 
HSNCT has rapidly grown into the largest national championship, with over a thousand players taking over a hotel each year to play quizbowl. The power-matching format used in the preliminaries usually ensures that each match pits you against a team more and more similar to your team’s skill level, so the matches tend to be close. The double-elimination format of the playoffs also can be exciting to participate in or watch, though making the playoffs can involve a little bit of luck of the draw for many teams close to the middle of the pack.

PACE’s National Scholastic Championship (NSC)

Sponsor: Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence (PACE
Location (in 2016 and 2017):
Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL (a suburb of Chicago next to O’Hare International Airport) 
Field Size:
Approximately 96 teams (based on the 2015 field)
Written by PACE members. The distribution is similar to the college ACF distribution and tossups are often 6-8 lines, with 20 point (instead of the usual 15 point) powers and no negs for incorrect answers. Unlike the HSNCT, there are no pop culture questions at the NSC and more of an emphasis on the fine arts and the humanities. Bonuses are bouncebacks, meaning that if one team misses a bonus part the other team gets a chance to answer that part for points. Similar to HSNCT, the difficulty level for the NSC is significantly higher compared to most regular season high school tournaments. 
Seeded preliminary pools initially, then rebracketed playoff pools, then another rebracket to superplayoff and final placement pools. Basically, every team continues playing games that help determine final placement throughout the tournament. This also means that all teams play at least 18 games (!) over the two days of the tournament. 
How to Qualify:
Qualification depends on finishing highly at various PACE-affiliated tournaments. Almost every quizbowl tournament on good questions is PACE-affiliated, but the exact percentage of teams that qualify from each tournament depends on what level of certification PACE awards. See this page for a more detailed explanation, but in general the top 20-25% of the field qualifies. Wildcards are also available like with NAQT by emailing with a record. 
Previous Results:
Available on PACE’s website here
Comments: I
f you want lots and lots of quizbowl, the NSC gives you the most matches out of any of these tournaments on one of the best-written question sets of the year (see last year’s set here). The NSC field tends to be more “elite” on average than the HSNCT, so a team that finishes at 5-5 in the middle of the pack at HSNCT may finish in the lower tiers of NSC and with a much higher percentage of losses. Some teams prefer the bounce-back bonus format of the NSC since it keeps all teams listening on the bonus regardless of which team got the toss-up question.

NAQT’s Small School National Championship Tournament (SSNCT)

Sponsor: National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT)
Location (2016 and 2017):
 The Hyatt Regency O’Hare, Rosemont (Chicago Area) IL 
Field Size:
Approximately 80 teams (based on the 2016 field) 
Written by NAQT and follows the standard NAQT distribution. The difficulty is approximately the same, if slightly tougher, than regular IS-sets.
9 power-matched games (against opponents with similar records) over 11 rounds on Saturday. All teams with a winning record (i.e. 5-4 or better) make the playoffs on Sunday; other teams can come back for consolation games. Playoffs are double-elimination for all schools with records of 6-3 or better and single-elimination for those at 5-4.
What NAQT defines as a “Small School”: [Via NAQT’s website] “A public high school with 500 or fewer students in grades 10-12 that has a non-selective admissions policy. This excludes all private schools, magnet schools, and home school collectives; it also excludes some charter schools.”
How to Qualify:
[Via NAQT’s website] “Finishing in the top 30% of the small schools at a high school varsity tournament that uses NAQT questions and includes teams from at least three schools (of any size). This includes traditional one-day tournaments, leagues, televised tournaments, and all other events that use questions provided by NAQT whether or not they use NAQT’s official format and rules.” NAQT highlights those teams qualifying for the SSNCT separately in the results when statistics from a tournament are published on their website (see here for an example). Wildcards are also available for teams who did not qualify normally to apply for in hopes of getting a spot; for teams that got close to qualifying in a strong field or did not have a chance to play often, this is a good option to pursue.
Previous Results: Available from NAQT’s website from 2014 onward. Click on each year to see more statistics. 
SSNCT is a great option for smaller schools, from open-admission urban charter schools to rural schools that might not have the resources and student base as larger schools. You can listen to some previous SSNCT matches to get an idea of the level of competition here.


HSAPQ’s National All-Star Academic Tournament (NASAT)

High School Academic Pyramid Questions (HSAPQ
Location (2016):
The University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 
Field Size:
12 (although maximum is as many states that register) 
Written by HSAPQ at a very high level comparable to a normal-difficulty college tournament. Distribution is here.  
A round-robin followed by rebracketed playoffs 
How to Qualify: 
Since this is an All-Star tournament, all states are eligible to send a team. Pennsylvania’s team last year was selected by tryouts and looking at individual statistics from tournaments. If you are interested in competing against the best high school players of each state on very challenging questions, this is your tournament. The 2015-2016 PA NASAT teams can be seen here
Previous Results:
See here.


A few frequently-asked questions about the HSNCT and the NSC:

Which national championship should my team attend?

Besides their different locations (which usually rotate every year), the biggest differences between the national championships are the timed rounds at HSNCT vs. the untimed rounds at the NSC and the different question distributions at each. The use of timed rounds at HSNCT adds new strategic elements and means that readers tend to go a lot faster, making games a little bit more frantic. You can see video of the finals of the 2016 HSNCT here to get an idea of what it’s like. Small schools should definitely consider attending SSNCT, but can also attend HSNCT as well if they’re up for the challenge.

The distribution of the question subjects for each tournament also varies in small but important ways: the HSNCT question distribution has more current events, geography, and pop culture/sports; the NSC has more fine arts, more religion, myth, and philosophy, and no pop culture. The formats of each tournament also differ slightly as outlined above. One nice thing about having two national championships is that if you can’t make one due to graduation or prom, the other is still a possibility. Either of these are a good option for teams looking for a challenge and a fun end-of-season trip.

When can/should you register for a national championship?

You should register as soon as possible after you qualify and work quickly to firm up travel and payment plans. The HSNCT and NSC fields historically get close to filling up by late February. While you can get a spot on a waitlist and hope slots open up  later (which tends to happen at the HSNCT in particular), by late March both fields are likely completely filled. Note that both tournaments are now requiring that schools pay a deposit by some point to reserve spots in the field due to high demand, so it’s crucial that you start making arrangements to attend as soon as possible and perhaps budget for nationals attendance at the start of the year if you think you’ll be likely to qualify.

How do we get a wild card into these tournaments?

At a certain date, the HSNCT, SSNCT, and the NSC will open up applications for wild card teams. You should have a good reason explaining why you were not able to normally qualify, such as a lack of tournaments nearby to attend or consistently finishing just out of the qualification level at many tournaments against good teams. Just applying for a wild card does not mean you will be accepted–you need a good reason and must demonstrate strong results to get a wild card to either national.

Can multiple teams from the same school qualify for nationals?

Yes, but generally they must qualify at the same tournament. If Franklin High wants both its A and B teams to qualify for nationals, both teams must finish in the top percentage of the field at the same tournament. If Franklin A qualifies at one tournament (but not Franklin B) and then at the next tournament Franklin B qualifies (but not Franklin A), Franklin can still only send 1 team from Franklin to the national championship. Some schools have sent A, B, C, D, and even E teams to nationals (and done quite well).

Are there special divisions for schools of different sizes?

NAQT runs a separate Small School National Championship Tournament. If you are a non-selective, public high school with fewer than 500 students in grades 10-12, definitely take a look into the SSNCT, which runs on a separate set of NAQT questions at a different location than the HSNCT, usually sometime in April. PACE awards a top small-school title at the NSC, but small schools compete normally alongside other schools. Otherwise, all schools compete together.

Should we attend a national championship even if we know that we won’t win?

Even if you’re not in the running to win, you get to play the best teams from around the country and see just how well you measure up to teams outside of your local region. Knocking off a “name-brand” team or getting revenge on a rival local team can be great fun and just getting a few questions against the best teams in the country can be a rewarding experience. There’s also something about being in the same building as thousands of others involved in quizbowl and getting to meet people from all around the country. You’ll also have the best readers in the country flown in to read some of the toughest yet still well-written questions of the year. The final matches at these tournaments are always open to the public and are often thrilling to watch.

That said, quizbowl nationals are expensive, with a minimum of $800 or so for hotel and registration fees plus the cost of travel. You can attend a lot of other quizbowl tournaments with that funding, so consider your team’s interests and goals early on in the year so that if you do qualify for nationals, you can make sure you can secure the funding (hosting a tournament or two can really help with the cost too). Many teams enjoy the chance to travel and give seniors an appropriate send-off on the best competition quizbowl has to offer.


Other Competitions that claim to be “National Championships”

An organization known as Questions Unlimited runs a competition they call the National Academic Championship (NAC). At one time, decades ago, the NAC was the only game in town. Today, however, the NAC has four major problems that make it the quizbowl equivalent of college basketball’s NIT and not an actual national championship in the eyes of GPQB. In fact, we strongly advise schools to stay as far away from the NAC as possible based on the following issues:

Poorly Written Questions
A defining feature of the NAC is a lack of commitment to good quizbowl practices in question-writing, as documented rather extensively here. While there are some quasi-pyramidal questions, the vast majority appear to focus on trivial details and lead to buzzer races. Others also have swerves, hoses, and other aspects of bad quizbowl. One infamous “audio” question asked teams to identify the sound of a blender; others asked about the sounds of barnyard animals. Widely varying difficulty and distributions contribute to the unevenness of the outcomes. In short, the NAC’s questions are, in the opinion of GPQB, extraordinarily unfair to the players and a poor platform for academic competition.

A History of Plagiarism and Question Recycling
Last year, a team at the NAC actually stopped a match because it had heard the exact questions before in a practice packet. This would be unthinkable at any other national quizbowl tournament and exemplifies the history of plagiarism and question-recycling in the NAC.

An Unwieldy and Unfair Format 
The preliminary matches at NAC seem to be very roughly (if at all) seeded, which can lead to lopsided preliminary schedules of widely varying difficulty for different teams (a problem that’s compounded by the use of total points scored for playoff seeding). Unlike other national championships, only 6 games are guaranteed and those are read in an odd game-show-like environment with the focus on the “host” rather than the players.  The playoffs at each tournament site also are single elimination and the winners of each of the three sites come together to play weeks after some of them last played. This, suffice to say, does not seem like a fair format for determining a national champion.

The Best Teams Do Not Play NAC
The repudiation of NAC from former players, coaches, and even former NAC moderators has been nothing short of extraordinary in the past decade. As this graph shows, over time the NAC’s field has been surpassed in number by the HSNCT field. Almost all of the top 200 quizbowl teams in the country on the Morlan HSQBRank poll choose PACE or NAQT over NAC and more continue to abandon NAC every year, further diluting the NAC’s field strength. Additionally, more and more teams at the NAC come from a smaller handful of states like Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New York.

Few teams play both the NAC and the other nationals, but when they have played in good quizbowl tournaments the NAC attendees have not come off well. For instance, the national NAC runner-up in 2015, Lusher Charter, finished 59th at the NSC; a year before, the NAC runner-up in 2014, Pingry, finished 63rd at the NSC.

Put all these together and there is no good reason to attend the NAC. Going there only supports a bad quizbowl organization and will deprive your team of a legitimate national championship experience. If your team does not qualify for a good quizbowl national during the year but you still would like to travel, we recommend attending a regular-season tournament in April of May further away than normal.

Some other competitions also claim to be “national championships” of buzzer-based competitions, but those have even less claim than the NAC. The “National Tournament of Academic Excellence” [currently on hiatus] only attracts a small handful of random schools from a few states to Disney World to play a few very expensive rounds of bad quizbowl. “Hi-Q” sometimes claims to decide a national champion by a Skype match, but they’re only playing a tiny number of other schools from a few very specific geographic regions. And there may be others out there. But for our purposes, the only quizbowl national championships are the HSNCT, the NSC, the SSNCT and the NASAT.

How to Spread the Gospel of Good Quizbowl

We now have more coaches, parents, and players than ever who are playing good quizbowl in Pennsylvania and around the country. That said, there are still hundreds of schools within Pennsylvania and thousands across the US who unfortunately have never heard of quizbowl or who are forced to play on bad questions.

If you want to help change that, you’re a part of a growing outreach effort across the country to actively work to help get more schools and students involved in playing on good quizbowl questions. The decentralized nature of quizbowl means, however, that most outreach efforts are locally based–there are few national organizations actively working on getting new teams across the country since most have their hands full just producing good quality questions. That means that if you want to get more schools playing on better quizbowl questions, the best approach to outreach is to start in your own area.

There are three important principles to keep in mind when conducting outreach, besides the basics like being polite and professional in all communications:

1. Relationships are the key to effective outreach.

You need to get other people to trust you to take time out of their lives for quizbowl. You may know quite well that good quizbowl is awesome, but whoever you’re talking to might not. Others won’t be open to the idea–regardless of all the advantages of good quizbowl–unless they trust you. For instance, if you just bombard people with random emails that aren’t personalized, you’re just going to be some random emailer who annoys them. If you don’t bother to talk to people at tournaments you host other than to take money from them, don’t be surprised if they go back to their non-pyramidal tournaments with people who know them.

2. Doing outreach is better than talking about doing outreach.

If you keep posting on the HSQB forums lamenting how bad the state of quizbowl in your city/county/IU/section of the state/etc. is, you’re not doing much of anything productive for outreach. Rather than complain about the lack of quizbowl events in your area, try to change that by hosting more events. There are very real problems with the state of academic competition in Pennsylvania and it is important to document the problems, but the only way to change that is through action, not just talking about it. Of course, you don’t want to do too much–sending multiple emails in the same week to every coach in your area is probably not a good idea–but you want to be doing something rather than just saying how bad things are.

3. Get the facts right.

Good quizbowl is better than bad quizbowl on the merits and quizbowl is arguably better than most other academic competitions. But don’t stretch the facts or make assumptions. Make sure you understand the history of whatever local format you are trying to change. There are reasons bad quizbowl continues to exist and, though the facts are on the side of good quizbowl, you need to be accurate when discussing changes no matter how obviously bad the old format may seem. Make sure you know for instance where the bad questions are coming from, which can be useful in pointing out issues with plagiarism and question re-using. Polite inquiries and persistence are usually more effective than drama and hysterics.

Here are some more specific suggestions for how to go about outreach depending on your role in the game: a high school player, a parent, a coach, or a college player:

If you are a high school player:

Use your social networks. Get your friends at other schools interested in quizbowl through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, in-person (how old-fashioned!), whatever. If you’re at another type of academic competition (say, Science Olympiad or History Bowl), ask people from other schools about their quizbowl team and encourage them to start one if they don’t have one. Make quizbowl a fun, social experience–some of the most active and best circuits in the country have strong Facebook groups where like-minded quizbowlers can socialize and organize things more easily than if they just stuck to their individual schools.

Talk to new teams at tournaments. If you find yourself next to an unfamiliar team in the auditorium at the start of the tournament, strike up a conversation. If you’re playing a new team. Be sure to compliment them on good buzzes and in general be civil and polite (this should go without saying and apply to all teams). New teams often lack confidence on the buzzer and have no idea of where to start with quizbowl studying, so feel free to ask if they know about the quizbowl resources out there. Also, don’t snap at them if they don’t know all the rules–let the moderator gently remind them if they talk out of turn or something.

Help staff tournaments if you’re not playing. If there’s an easy novice tournament going on nearby, volunteer to help read if you’re good at reading or to keep score or run stats for it. It’ll help take the burden off the host more and give you the opportunity to talk to new teams. You may also be able to get more of your friends interested in staffing as well even if they’re not as interested in playing.

Work with your coach if you’re dealing with other adults. If you’re trying to invite new teams to your tournament, you may want to work with your coach so that you can jointly write emails and send them to other coaches. Unfortunately, many teachers and administrators might be more inclined to respond to a fellow adult than a student.

If your coach opposes good quizbowl, then things get complicated. After talking with him/her and finding no way to change his/her mind, it might be time to involve more people like another teacher or an administrator or parents. This is a more complicated situation though and it might be worth posting some details on the HSQB message board to help get feedback on it.

Feel free to reach out to college players as well. All the GPQB staff are happy to talk to interested high school students. Don’t worry if someone’s in college–we’re all on the side of better academic competition for everyone.

If you are a parent who wants to help promote good quizbowl either on the team your daughter/son is on or in general throughout the area:

–  Encourage your school’s coach to attend more tournaments. Offer to take over driving to tournaments if you can. Most tournaments are fine with having a parent rather than a teacher accompany the team.

Offer to help out at quizbowl tournaments. You can even do so at tournaments that you child’s school is attending not hosting. This often nets your child’s school a discount and if you’re a good reader, you can open up slots for more teams to attend tournaments by increasing the reader pool.

If your school’s team only does bad quizbowl competitions, you should speak up. First go to the coach and explain the merits of good quizbowl. If that doesn’t work definitely feel free to contact your school’s principal, the school board, and other administrators. Parents often have immense power here and a parent who’s determined to get his/her voice heard can have a powerful effect. Sometimes the coach may be trapped in bad quizbowl by the administration, so you should feel free to voice your concerns. Make sure, however, that you have the facts right–be sure to ask questions and take notes if need be to make sure that you communicate effective.

If you’re attending a tournament, follow some of the same guidelines as for the players above–be pleasant, don’t get involved in protests (leave that to the players and coaches), talk to other parents/coaches if you have the opportunity, and in general make sure the atmosphere is enjoyable for everyone.

If you are a coach (usually also a teacher):

Look to other coaches as potential friends and colleagues rather than enemies who must be plotted against. Some coaches take a very zero-sum approach to the game, but you’ll have a much better time and may gain a lot of useful advice–if not friendship–from simply treating the other coaches like colleagues instead of enemies. You never know if you might hear about a professional opportunity as well.

When hosting a tournament, take the time to write individual emails to contacts. It feels a lot better to get an email from an actual person addressed and personalized to you rather than as part of some mass BCC. Also, never be afraid to call up schools who may not have a listed quizbowl coach and ask them if you’re not sure or who might be the best person to talk to about sending a team.

Be welcoming to new schools at tournaments. One of the more alienating experiences I had was at my only pyramidal tournament in high school where a very well-known and experienced team from the Southeast had a coach who encouraged her team to go ballistic after we pulled ahead, claiming we were violating “recognition rules” (we were not, as a lengthy back-and-forth with the hapless moderator and TD eventually proved). Unfortunately, this left a sour taste in many of my teammates’ mouths and they didn’t want to go to tournaments after I graduated with that experience in mind. Understand that new teams might not know the rules as well as you do and, most importantly, if you’re going to bring up a rules issue make sure you accurately know the rules.

Do not tolerate misconduct or outrageous behavior from other teams or your team. If another team has players who are muttering slurs or doing something alienating to people, speak up. If they’re cursing loudly and slamming the tables against you, they’re probably doing it against other teams too. The moderator and/or TD should be prepared to do something about that. Also, if you have a hint that your team may have heard the same questions before at another tournament somehow or someone on your team is performing suspiciously well, immediately stop the game and figure out what’s going on. The fewer incidents of misconduct we have in quizbowl, the better for everyone and quizbowl’s image as well.

If you are forced to participate in a bad quizbowl league or tournament due to administrative pressure, make the best of the situation. Talk to other coaches in the league or at the bad quizbowl tournament to see if they understand the problems with bad quizbowl and the advantages of good quizbowl. Take charge in coaches’ meetings to push for improvements to the format and questions of the bad quizbowl event. Remember that bad quizbowl harms everyone it touches.

If you are a college student who wants to help spread good quizbowl around where you’re going to college:

Make sure your college team hosts tournaments. Even if it’s just a small local tournament, a well-run tournament that attracts just nearby schools is both good marketing for your college and a great opportunity to expand quizbowl to schools who might not normally attend far away tournaments. This is predicated, of course, on you having a reliable college team of at least enough moderators for your field size.

Help out at local high school tournaments. Most high school tournaments need experienced moderators and scorekeepers and statskeepers. You and your college friends, especially if they have experience from playing in high school, are perfect for this. Plus you get an opportunity to talk to more of the local teams and be a part of more quizbowl tournaments. Definitely worth doing if at all possible.

Feel free to work with high school students and coaches. Don’t be bound by being a college student; mentor local high schoolers, befriend local coaches, go talk to local leagues if there aren’t any good quizbowl advocates on those leagues. You may have less credibility than a high school coach or parent might have unfortunately, but you should never be afraid to undertake outreach.