Quiz bowl is generally played at tournaments, though high schools will also commonly play single matches against local schools, or schools within an athletic conference. Many schools hold on-campus tournaments (intramurals) where anyone can play. Some schools have programs which practice weekly (or more) during the school year. These programs are generally open to all students. They often include in their names “College Bowl,” “Academic Competition,” or “Quiz Bowl.” They send teams to invitational tournaments sponsored by other schools or organizations.
For quiz bowl, a tournament is a gathering of teams who engage each other in several rounds of games. A tournament winner is determined using some criteria (win-loss record, playoff record, etc.). There are several classes of tournaments, which may use one of several formats.
Intramural tournaments invite students on a given campus to form teams and play. They are often called campus tournaments. On occasion, such tournaments may be open to teams of graduate students, and/or campus staff.
Invitational tournaments involve teams from various schools. They are run by the quiz bowl team/program at a given school. Invitations are sometimes sent to individual programs. However, most tournaments give out open invitations for any school to accept.
Major variants of Invitational tournaments include National/Regional, Junior Bird, “Masters”, and “trash” (popular culture) tournaments.
Such tournaments often have qualification requirements, sometimes including purchase of intramural tournament packets, or participation in regional tournaments (or other tournaments). They have unique rules above their associated formats, usually concerning eligibility and number of teams per school.
Junior Bird or Novice tournaments
Junior Bird or Novice tournaments are restricted to collegiate players in their first or second season. Freshmen and sophomores are the intended market, but upperclassmen or grad students who meet the criteria are sometimes allowed to play. These tournaments aim to support player development by providing experience against other teams of similar skills, and to give newer players a chance to compete without being dominated by long-time veterans. The unusual name “Junior Bird”, originally used by Emory University, derives from a famous tournament held at Berry College, the “Early Bird”, which was held early in the quiz bowl season (though the Early Bird is open to all undergraduates)
Some tournaments are restricted to undergraduate collegiate players (excluding graduate students). Variants on this format permit teams to have a total of X years of experience (e.g. four freshman or sophomores, three juniors, but only two seniors), as quiz bowl skill is thought to be proportional to experience.
Masters tournaments are tournaments which do not place any restrictions on who may play. They are intended for those who want to play with people from other schools, have graduated, or are otherwise ineligible for college play. The intent behind them varies.
Collegiate National Tournaments
At the College level, there are academic tournaments run by organizations not affiliated with a given school. These generally have regional competitions followed by a national championship. These organizations include:
- National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT)
- Academic Competition Federation (ACF)
- Honda Campus All-Star Challenge (HCASC) for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, sponsored by the USA subsidiary of Honda Motor Company. This program is administered by the College Bowl Company, Inc. (CBCI) in cooperation with the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Education (NAFEO).
- College Bowl – traces its history to 1953, but was suspended after the 2007-08 season by the College Bowl Company, Inc. (CBCI).
High School National Tournaments
A number of organizations organize national competitions for high school students in the United States. These include:
- High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT) is sponsored by National Academic Quiz Tournaments since 1999. The tournament has been held in a number of different cities throughout its existence.
- National Academic Championship (NAC) has been held since 1983, and is sponsored by Questions Unlimited. The tournament is played at three sites throughout the nation every year.
- National Scholastics Championship (NSC) has been held since 1998, and is organized by the Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence (PACE). The competition has been held at various sites in the South, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.
- The National All-Star Academic Tournament (NASAT) is a national tournament hosted by High School Academic Pyramidal Questions (HSAPQ).
- American Scholastics Competition Network (ASCN) hosted a national tournament from 1987 through 2005 in the Chicago area.
- The National Tournament of Academic Excellence (formerly known as the Panasonic Academic Challenge) was held since 1988, and is sponsored by the school boards of the local counties and the State of Florida. It was traditionally held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Tournament scheduling at invitational tournaments is often in the form of a Round-robin, where each team plays each other team once. The top teams may engage in a playoff. Some tournaments (historically College Bowl) have used single-elimination or double-elimination, but this reduces the number of matches each team can play, and has been criticized on the college-circuit. Large tournaments have employed Swiss pairs. Sometimes bracket-play is employed, where each team plays others in a round-robin within a bracket, and the top team(s) move on to another round-robin or a playoff.
Eligibility rules depend on the game. For the college game, in official College Bowl, NAQT or other events, there are severe eligibility rules, while other tournaments differ on whether senior or only junior undergraduate, graduate, and even non-students can play. In general, players of lower academic standing than specified can compete; there is a debate about how much more experienced players should be involved (analogous to the hypothetical question of whether NBA players should be able to play college games, or even high school games). First and second year undergraduates can always play. Junior and Senior undergraduates are typically excluded from junior bird type tournaments. Graduate students are excluded from undergraduate-only tournaments. The general intent is to ensure a degree of fairness, by preventing teams from having too many players who have too much experience who can swamp the entire field. College Bowl in particular allows only one graduate student per team.
Non-students are excluded from college tournaments; however, there are some tournaments open to everyone. These tournaments include “Masters” tournaments, “Trash” tournaments, and the occasional intramural tournament.
Questions come from one of three sources.
- Questions may be written by a company or non-profit organization. These may be written by a small group of professional writers, or by a large group of contract writers whose questions are later edited by a smaller group. In some cases, these companies or organizations may host their own tournaments.
- The school hosting a tournament may choose to write all the questions used. Members of the host school’s team generally write the packets, and then help run the tournament, rather than play.
- Each team entered into the tournament may write and submit one round of questions. A single editor then reviews the questions for difficulty and to check for duplication.