On Friday, April 28, 2017, 24 teams from most corners of the state of Pennsylvania gathered in Harrisburg to participate in the annual Pennsylvania State Academic Competition (PSAC). It was a rather exciting day of several intriguing storylines including a surprise but worthy champion. We saw some great buzzes from teams all throughout the day, as well as some items for improvement that remain embedded the structure of the competition just like last year’s PSAC. All told, it was a fascinating day that very, very slowly (and often repetitively, given PSAC’s insistance on needless complete re-readings of questions) unfolded in the chambers of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate.
In a fairly shocking upset, Lincoln IU #12 representative Spring Grove, out of York County, took home the title of PSAC champion. Spring Grove, even though we have not seen them attend a Saturday pyramidal tournament, showed a great aptitude for the rigors of the NAQT questions used from the beginning of the day for the tossups. They claimed the #1 overall seed heading into the playoffs, albeit with a fairly easy schedule that featured only one eventual playoff team. After a rough semifinal, in the final match they defeated two of the top 100 teams in the country, defending champions Lehigh Valley Academy and Great Valley, with a series of extremely impressive buzzes. In that final match they demonstrated great real knowledge to pull away from their competitors and claim a 5 point victory. Congratulations go out to Spring Grove for their victory, and we hope to see them come out to play in some weekend pyramidal tournaments going forward!
Though they may have lost in the finals, Lehigh Valley Academy and Great Valley both looked very impressive on the day. Alex Schmidt continued his incredible play this season, especially in LVA’s win in the semifinal-of-death over Manheim Township and Friends Select. Great Valley also played very well on their road to the finals with a real team effort, certainly earning their berth in the final three.
Outside of the regular pyramidal tournament attendees, some newer schools also did well in showcasing their knowledge. Upper Dublin (Montgomery County), Haverford (Delaware County), Blue Mountain (Schuylkill County), and Bethlehem Catholic (Northampton County) all qualified for the playoffs, with Burrell (Westmoreland County) missing out on the final spot in a tiebreaker. Seeing these teams perform well on difficult questions is great to watch, and like Spring Grove, we’d love to see all of them more in the future (Haverford has already attended at least one pyramidal tournament and Blue Mountain competes on pyramidal questions in the Schuylkill League).
Though it was indeed great to watch the incredible depths of knowledge on display from the players today, issues with the overall format of the tournament continue to plague PSAC. The insistence on teams playing only two matches of three teams each based on a completely random draw led to great imbalances in the playoff matchups since the playoff seedings were based on total points scored. In addition, the fact that drawing a slip of paper determined who ended up in a semifinal with Lehigh Valley Academy and Manheim Township, arguably the two best teams in Pennsylvania this year, is simply unfair. The best teams in PA deserve more than just two preliminary rounds that are extremely dependent on the luck of the draw for matchups; every team deserves more of an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge against a greater variety of opponents and over a larger sample space of questions (example: teams that do not make the playoffs hear a grand total of 40 tossup questions for the whole tournament!).
The setup of rounds themselves also continues to maintain too great a degree of randomness. The imbalanced difficulties of fanfare rounds meant that in several cases games and scores were determined by which team got the more forgiving set of questions, which seemed to alternate between standard fair knowledge parts and bizarrely verbose current events and trivia. As a former 3-time PSAC player, I can attest to how frustrating it is to see your shot at the championship washed away. If fanfare rounds are to remain in place, which is possible, greater care must be taken to ensure that difficulty is standardized across them.
A true state championship should be about providing fair and fun competition to determine the best team. Format gimmicks and question imbalances actively detract from this mission, and it is these issues that PSAC must overcome to become a tournament that fulfills its potential for the state of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, it is clear that only pressure from coaches and students may lead to changes in the structure of the tournament that will bring about a fair and fulfilling experience for all teams present. We hope that they will do so in the future to make Pennsylvania’s state competition the fairest and most rewarding opportunity possible for academic teams in PA.