College quizbowl payroll service

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theMoMA
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College quizbowl payroll service

Post by theMoMA »

A persistent obstacle to professionalizing college quizbowl is that people aren't paid for tournament work quickly enough. I'd like to start a pilot program for a nonprofit "college quizbowl payroll service" for independent collegiate writing teams. Because this would depend largely on trusting people with fairly significant sums of money, I only see it working at the college level, where I know and trust people.

Here's how I'd see it working:

1. A group of people writing an independent collegiate tournament contacts the organization with the following information via online form: names and addresses of writers to be paid, tournament name, and date of last paid mirror.

2. After the last paid mirror concludes, the people writing the tournament are automatically sent an online form prompting them for: the total amount of money to be paid, and the percentage or dollar allocation to each writer.

3. If everything looks good and not fraudulent, and I approve the group, the writers sign an electronic contract with the organization, stating that it will be remunerated for the total amount as soon as all the mirror fees are paid, or within three months, whichever comes first. (The writers are still responsible for collecting payments. If the writers cannot collect within three months, they will have to pay the organization in full and bear the risk of noncollection at that point.)

4. After I receive the contract, the organization sends a check to each writer for the amount listed, less $1 from each check to cover envelopes, checks, and postage, with any remainder going to building up seed money. Writers would also have the option to supply some of the money out of their check to help build up seed money.

5. The initial money is supplied by me or other interested people, with the hopes that people eventually supply enough money for it to be self-sufficient without large cash infusions from me.

6. In the interest of transparency, a public ledger displays all of the people who are currently supplying their money, and in what amounts.

7. Anyone who has supplied money to the organization would be able to pull out that money at any time (with three months' lag time). Any interest generated on the money will stay with the organization.

8. If and when the organization winds up, all money supplied will be sent back to the person who contributed the money, or (if the contributor cannot be found or so chooses) donated to Matt's Buzzers.

Essentially, for the low price of $1 per check, the organization fronts the money and you guys get paid on the date of your last mirror, as long as you agree to pay me back in full within three months. You still collect and bear the risk of noncollection; you just get to enjoy your money sooner than you otherwise would, just like a real person with a real job!

If people think this is a good idea, and my research doesn't turn up any weird legal or taxation issues, I'd envision testing it out during during the fall semester if writing teams would be interested. I'd like to have a fairly well-automated system in place so that all I have to do is open a bank account, write checks, and keep a spreadsheet updated.

I'd appreciate hearing from anyone who's interested in helping out with this, especially if you've got experience drafting automatic online forms like the ones I described in #1 and 2 above, if you're interested in making an initial donation, or if you have taxation expertise because you're Evan Adams.

So what does everyone think? Would this be worthwhile to put some time into setting up?
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by Sam »

I'm a little confused about where the bottleneck exists that this program would get around. I can imagine them existing between:
1) Head editors and writers
2) Teams and hosts
3) Mirrors and editors

If I understand, the payroll organization would improve 1) but not 2) or 3). Is that correct?
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by theMoMA »

When I've been a head editor, I've typically collected payment from all hosts into one place, then paid the other writers/editors once I've collected all the money. I think that's the way most people do it. With this, you'd be able to pay everyone (head editor included) first, just as soon as you know what the total amount is, and pay back the organization later, when all the mirror fees are collected (or three months have passed).

The head editor (or whoever's responsible for collecting payment) would still have to cobble together all of the mirror fees and whatnot within three months to send the repayment check. If that person couldn't collect within three months, they'd have to send the full amount and collect the remainder on their own. It seems to me that this is enough lag time that underpayments of mirror fees would be minimal.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by Steeve Ho You Fat »

It seems like anyone putting money into this fund would be taking on an enormously large amount of risk for zero potential reward. I agree that it's unprofessional when people aren't paid promptly, but it seems like it would require an appeal to quizbowl people's sense of charity to get money to keep the account positive from anyone besides yourself.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by Cheynem »

I obviously trust Andrew, but I can see why many, many people would be reluctant to accept this. I would not trust any non-teammate with my money, for example, as there have been various horror stories of quizbowl money mismanagement. All it would take would be the person running this service to pull a Matt Weiner and go AWOL and we would have a mammoth scandal.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by theMoMA »

Cheynem wrote:I obviously trust Andrew, but I can see why many, many people would be reluctant to accept this. I would not trust any non-teammate with my money, for example, as there have been various horror stories of quizbowl money mismanagement. All it would take would be the person running this service to pull a Matt Weiner and go AWOL and we would have a mammoth scandal.
As a member of the bar, it would be especially inadvisable for me to abscond with large sums of money.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by minusfive »

theMoMA wrote:As a member of the bar, it would be especially inadvisable for me to abscond with large sums of money.
The old lawyers' joke, "it depends how much. Certainly enough so you only have to do it once." And spoiler alert, you wouldn't be the first.
theMoMA wrote:6. In the interest of transparency, a public ledger displays all of the people who are currently supplying their money, and in what amounts.
In the interest of transparency, maybe it's finally time for full disclosure of who is getting paid what to write/edit quizbowl. If there's nothing to hide, there's nothing to fear.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by Excelsior (smack) »

How much money do you estimate this organization would need to hold at any one time?

Off the top of my head, I'd estimate that a typical non-ACF-or-NAQT college tournament would generate at most around $3000 in mirror fees, and with at most 5-6 such tournaments existing in any given 3-month window, we're looking at ~$15000-20000 as a generous estimate for the amount of money this organization would need to hold. Does that sound reasonable, or are my estimates off?
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by Gautam »

Excelsior (smack) wrote:How much money do you estimate this organization would need to hold at any one time?

Off the top of my head, I'd estimate that a typical non-ACF-or-NAQT college tournament would generate at most around $3000 in mirror fees, and with at most 5-6 such tournaments existing in any given 3-month window, we're looking at ~$15000-20000 as a generous estimate for the amount of money this organization would need to hold. Does that sound reasonable, or are my estimates off?
If I'm not mistaken (and Rob can correct me with recent figures) but the past MUTs pushed past $3K in mirror fees regularly, but not by much. For every MUT though, there was usually a Minnesota Open where the mirror fees were much less - probably on the order of 1-1.2 K. So yeah, the average # per tournament is about $2500 I would guess, making the $15 K number reasonable for a whole year.

Interestingly enough I've independently thought of something like this, though I never fleshed out the mechanics of it. I'd be happy to get this type of service up and running, at the very least as a pilot for a season.

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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by theMoMA »

How about this cash-holding model: instead of donations, when people are paid, 5% stays behind (and $1 is taken out for processing) that can be claimed at any time after one year (with a second processing fee and three months' lag time if necessary).

So if you're owed $100, you get $94 up front and can claim $5 any time after a year. The idea would be to build up a base of cash that could be fronted without any one individual fronting too much. This model would just shift the default to "5% donation for at least a year" instead of relying on charity, which I think would meet with Cass Sunstein's approval.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by theMoMA »

To address Sam's thoughts more thoroughly: although this service would only target the problem of payment lag to editors and writers, I think it's still very useful. First, editors and writers are the lifeblood of the game, and the easier it is for them to get paid, the better. Second, the worst case scenario for them is that they have trouble collecting from a host site and have to return part of the fronted money; they wouldn't even have that money in the first place without the service, and three months is a long time (it could be shifted even longer if people think that'd be better). Third, having a three-month deadline to collect payment would set forth consistent expectations for both editors trying to collect payment and host sites tendering payment. Although there are obviously strong incentives for editors to collect when they are doing so merely for themselves, things often get away from people, especially when the chore of calculating everyone's payments and sending out a ton of checks (and emptying part of your own bank account of other people's money in the process) is the end reward. With the service, you have a set deadline to tell hosts and for yourself, you just need to send one check, and you've already been paid what you're owed.

This seems like a very basic thing we could do to make writing for college events a more streamlined and professional process.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by AKKOLADE »

This is such a bizarrely random and seemingly unnecessary solution to a problem that doesn't exist that I really don't know where to begin, but like... who needs this? Who needs their cash from writing a tournament so badly they need to lose 5% to a commission? Could they not get a payday loan or sell a kidney? Why is this so important that people need to come up with $20,000(!!!!?!!???!?!?*) to get it started?

If this was proposed by basically anyone else other than you, I would expect this thread's signature to feature a line like 'Quiz Bowl's Unofficial Nigerian Prince.' If there's at least one positive from this thread, it's that you're one of like five or so people in quiz bowl that could ask for $20,000 and I wouldn't immediately wait for accusations of fraud to be launched.

*?????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?!??!?!?!??!?!??!??!??????????????!?!!!!!?!?!?!?!??!?!??!?!??!!?!?!?!????!!!!!!!11111/
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by Adventure Temple Trail »

I agree with Fred that this is weird and would just add an unnecessary extra step with little benefit to the community or to editing teams.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by Ike »

Stefan HSQBRankovich wrote:This is such a bizarrely random and seemingly unnecessary solution to a problem that doesn't exist that I really don't know where to begin, but like... who needs this? Who needs their cash from writing a tournament so badly they need to lose 5% to a commission? Could they not get a payday loan or sell a kidney? Why is this so important that people need to come up with $20,000(!!!!?!!???!?!?*) to get it started?

If this was proposed by basically anyone else other than you, I would expect this thread's signature to feature a line like 'Quiz Bowl's Unofficial Nigerian Prince.' If there's at least one positive from this thread, it's that you're one of like five or so people in quiz bowl that could ask for $20,000 and I wouldn't immediately wait for accusations of fraud to be launched.

*?????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?!??!?!?!??!?!??!??!??????????????!?!!!!!?!?!?!?!??!?!??!?!??!!?!?!?!????!!!!!!!11111/
I haven't seen my money for ACF Nationals yet, so I actually think it is a problem. There were times where it would take months to get paid for tournament editing. I don't know how I feel about the 5% thing, but I think it's not really fair to suggest that Andrew Hart is trying to scam us out of money by being like a Nigerian prince. I appreciate his attempt at trying to solve a problem.

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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by Gautam »

Ike wrote:
Stefan HSQBRankovich wrote:This is such a bizarrely random and seemingly unnecessary solution to a problem that doesn't exist that I really don't know where to begin, but like... who needs this? Who needs their cash from writing a tournament so badly they need to lose 5% to a commission? Could they not get a payday loan or sell a kidney? Why is this so important that people need to come up with $20,000(!!!!?!!???!?!?*) to get it started?
I haven't seen my money for ACF Nationals yet, so I actually think it is a problem. There were times where it would take months to get paid for tournament editing. I don't know how I feel about the 5% thing, but I think it's not really fair to suggest that Andrew Hart is trying to scam us out of money by being like a Nigerian prince. I appreciate his attempt at trying to solve a problem.

Ike
Yeah, I find Fred's handwavy "problem that doesn't exist" remark ignores the hard evidence. It seems clear to me that the point-of-contacts for finances (let's call her Ms. moneybags) can expect to receive cheques from mirrors somewhere between 4 weeks and 3 months after the mirror, accounting for various paperwork that needs to be done, delays in the mail, etc. Then there is an extra step where Ms. moneybags disburse each editor his/her due by sending cheques in the mail etc... all of which should only take about 2 weeks, but often takes a lot longer than that. I see Andrew's proposal as completely eliminating the second step where Ms moneybags now has to write separate cheques, thereby shortening the cycle by a few weeks to a few months.

Additionally, I guesstimating (based on past experience and current mirror-fee rates) that a high-volume editor can expect about $1000 per tournament. If I'm estimating an average budget of $20K/year, then $1000 is half a month's budget... which is substantial by any means.

It seems very clear to me that cashflows in quizbowl have been super spiky since time immemorial, and I see this as an attempt to smooth it out and make it a little more predictable. I think most editors/writers can appreciate the idea of more predictable infusions of cash into their checking accounts. I've done this before myself (I'm positive I did this with either MUT '09 or MUT '10, or possibly both, where I paid out my co-editors before the Spring semester ended.)

It's also disingenuous to say "need $20000 to get it started." I think we're being very clear that it is a highball estimate over the course of a year. Nobody's compelling all tournaments in 2015-16 to subscribe to this model. If this can get up and running with one tournament in '15, and gradually expand to a couple more, then the initial cash-infusions are not very large.

-GK

EDIT: The time estimates I came up with were completely independent of the 3 month timelines that Andrew has been suggesting upthread. I'm glad to know we have similar expectations of the timelines we are dealing with.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by theMoMA »

Gautam is on the right track. I've been looking at ways to professionalize the game on the college side. Unfortunately, I can't ensure that hosts will pay editors on time, or streamline how universities cut checks. I can, however, ensure that editors and writers get paid as soon as they know how much they're owed, as long as they promise to pay me back within a reasonable time.

With that basic compact in place, and the clear deadlines it mandates, the editors would be free to work with hosts, and vice versa, to set forth better procedures and expectations for the mirror payment process. To me, this would be a big step in the right direction.

If people disagree and think that the existence of the host site collection problem renders this late payment problem impossible to solve, I guess I feel otherwise, but I'm not going to put work into something no one finds worthwhile.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by Cheynem »

I believe that Andrew and Gautam are quite correct in identifying a very real problem: quizbowl is remarkably awful in terms of professionalism when it comes to money (I would maintain the biggest problem is hosts being lax in paying and head editors being reluctant/not having time to play collections officer). In some cases, as Gautam points out, it's quite a bit of money. For instance, I still haven't been paid for PADAWAN and am just now finally getting some payment from last year's MUT (!!!). It's not a tremendous deal, but it is annoying.

I also don't want Andrew to feel like I'm flat out saying he is wasting time and being dumb; this is a thoughtful plan for a real problem and if he wants to try it and it works, I'm prepared to concede my fears were baseless.

That said, what I see as the primary benefit of this plan, unless I'm mistaken, is that it helps people (writers, sub-editors) get paid quicker on a more regular basis. That's good, especially if it's a tidy sum of money that people are relying on. If quizbowl wishes to get more "professional" (which is its own argument, I suppose), then that's helpful. However, I would view this as somewhat of a band-aid on the deeper problem of lax host payment/lax collection. The writers get paid quicker, but at some point, the hosts need to pay up and "Ms. Moneybags" is responsible for paying the organization back.

In the long run, though, little changes. "Ms. Moneybags" is now confronted with a different problem--instead of waiting on host X to pay her so she can pay the writers corp, she now is waiting on host X to pay her so she can pay the payroll service. This may theoretically be the same problem, but it seems a bit more persnickety to me--who is responsible for paying back the payroll service once the three months roll around, and what collection features would the service use? Is Ms. Moneybags more responsible than the other writers? Now all of a sudden, the onus on collection is far more important on Ms. Moneybags than anything else. In talking with Andrew, I totally see his point as to why this makes sense--in any other job, we value regular paychecks and a responsibility on the "boss" to pay up, but I still think this puts way more financial responsibility and collectivization incentives on the head editor (Ms. Moneybags) than perhaps is fair. In my admittedly somewhat limited experience in quizbowl editing, the primary issue in late paychecks is some snafu with hosts; it's not like the head editor is just too slow in getting existing money out. This system solves the immediate problem of "no money," but not the deeper problem of "everyone paying up" and may (or may not) create additional issues.

I believe Andrew feels that if head editors (or whoever is in charge of finances, including writers) regarded the enterprise as a true money-making contract, they would collect and organize funds in a far more dedicated, responsible way than perhaps they currently do; I see his point. But I feel like it might be hyper professionalizing an aspect of the quizbowl economy too quickly and that perhaps better communication/some form of public shaming or transparency might be a better approach first. For example, it seems like delinquent payments are something of a "dirty word" in quizbowl; flat out forcing a public engagement with the issue would let people know that it is a real problem, who the common offenders are, giving hosts sharp guidelines about how to collect money, etc. Certainly this doesn't rule OUT Andrew's proposal, but I might be more comfortable starting here first.
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Re: College quizbowl payroll service

Post by at your pleasure »

Out of honest curiosity, why wouldn't the logical outcome of this just be something like a quizbowl gemach? At least if the intent is to not have quizbowl money effectively flowing at the rate of the slowest team to pay registration or mirror fees(or perhaps the slowest school reimbursement office).
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