Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Anything that's on topic but doesn't fit elsewhere, including related events that might be of interest to quizbowl players.
Post Reply
x'x(-1)x'y
Lulu
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Sep 15, 2015 7:00 pm

Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Post by x'x(-1)x'y »

Our not-very-experienced-or-distinguished high school had the opportunity to participate in the "Pennsylvania State Academic Challenge" for the second time in several years this year. It probably sort-of meets the standards you'd expect for a Scholastic Scrimmage/It's Academic style TV event (and I've heard it used to be even worse) but let me give you a rundown of how far it falls from the standards of a high school state championship tournament that many of you get to experience...

* The 21 teams in attendance each played 2 (yes, two) preliminary round games.
* Those games were in a 3-team format -- this allowed the entire tournament to be run with just two panels of officials.
* There are no bonus questions allowing for an opportunity for teams to separate themselves on knowledge beyond competing for toss-ups.
* Each game consists of 2 halves of 10 toss-ups and 6 "fanfare" (lightning round) questions. (At least these questions were asked of all teams simultaneously with the use of whiteboards, so that all three teams face questions of identical difficulty.)
* The questions were nominally from NAQT-210, but these questions were mixed and cut with Chester County IU's own questions, particularly for fanfare questions. (Example: One question asked for a definition of what is meant by "leaching" nutrients from soil.) (I was LOL at another thread where much outrage occurred over a single question being spiked by a tournament director, knowing what happens at our "state championship.")
* There's always been rumors that the organizers reuse questions from previous years/competitions, and those rumors persisted this year.
* Semifinalist teams were selected by the top 9 teams based on points earned in the two preliminary round games -- winning (or placing 2nd) in each round meant nothing, only points earned based on your performance against two rounds of questions out of seven and four teams you've competed against out of twenty others. Such a small sample size and potential variation in question and opposition difficulty makes the contest something of a crapshoot. Our young team finished 17th -- we would have qualified for the semifinals in 9th by answering five more questions correctly (out of the 72 questions (not cycles, questions) we heard for an entire tournament.
* No individual statistics were kept for the tournament and thus there is no ability to recognize individual performance. As a matter of fact, conferral was permitted on toss-ups before buzzing.
* Because of the tournament being organized by the group that conducts Chester County (and a few other) Intermediate Unit's contest, there's a lack of connection with "organic" quiz bowl in the state and the tournaments that active teams compete in
* Because only one school from each IU is allowed to compete, several strong teams in our state (Cedar Crest, West Chester Henderson, Hempfield) were not invited.

I gather there are reasons why the contest is organized the way it is (and by whom). A state legislator is involved in sponsoring the contest, which is normally held in the State Capitol building -- the two moderating teams operated from the state House and Senate floors in the past. Our state's teacher's union funded scholarships for each of the finalist schools -- one for each, and not dramatically large, either.
But it wouldn't take much to offer a clearly better alternative. The initiative could come from the state's quiz bowl coaches, one university, or one benefactor willing to sponsor a state tournament more connected to the way quiz bowl is played nationally and during the regular season in Pennsylvania. I'd eagerly like to hear some suggestions from the community about how to improve the situation.
Todd Gunther
Coach, Berwick Area (Pennsylvania)
User avatar
Stained Diviner
Auron
Posts: 5015
Joined: Sun Jun 13, 2004 6:08 am
Location: Chicagoland
Contact:

Re: Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Post by Stained Diviner »

There are three things to do. It is possible, and possibly recommended, to do all three.

1) Make sure that there are good regular season tournaments. A circuit with good regular season tournaments and a bad state tournament is a good circuit albeit a frustrated one. You are already doing this, which is great. Don't let your frustrations with the state tournament slow down those efforts.

2) Contact the people running this tournament. Tell them who you are. Find out if you can help them. Find out who makes decisions and how those people get selected. Welcome them to visit your tournaments. Find out if they want to talk to you and other coaches, and find out whether you and people you know can become part of the decision-making process.

3) Start another state championship. Pennsylvania has a history of NAQT state championships.
Illinois has an NAQT State Championship that got 9 teams in its first year, then 12, then 8, then 9. (It now requires teams to qualify, but those numbers are from when anybody could enter.) It kept calling itself a state championship, and we are now at the point where that designation is reasonable.
If an NAQT championship does not make sense because Chester County is already using NAQT questions, then use some other questions.
David Reinstein
Head Writer and Editor for Scobol Solo, Masonics, and IESA; TD for Scobol Solo and Reinstein Varsity; IHSSBCA Board Member; IHSSBCA Chair (2004-2014); PACE President (2016-2018)
User avatar
Ndg
Rikku
Posts: 380
Joined: Tue Oct 30, 2012 3:24 pm
Location: Wisconsin

Re: Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Post by Ndg »

There were some efforts to work with the Chester County IU a few years ago to make PSAC into a real quiz bowl tournament; those efforts are the reason it uses any NAQT questions at all, but the CCIU was unwilling to otherwise change the game format. (I wasn't involved so I don't have more details than that.) That said, if you can find enough other coaches from around the state who are also dissatisfied, it could be worth trying again.

As far as starting another state championship goes, there is, or was, some kind of coaches' organization (PSACA), but it never seemed to get off the ground -- if it could be revived and made into something like the IHSSBCA, then it would be the logical candidate to sponsor an alternate championship.
Andrew Nadig

Mannhiem Mannheim Manheim Township, 2005-11
Carnegie Mellon University, 2011-15
emf484848
Kimahri
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Feb 06, 2019 8:48 pm

Re: Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Post by emf484848 »

As a former player, I wholeheartedly agree with everything said here. The importance of maintaining a strong regular season circuit and establishing communication with the people who run PSAC is very important. I think that PSAC is a very poor product and is one of the largest barriers that stand in the way of the long-term growth of good high school quizbowl in Pennsylvania. I also am glad that more and more coaches are taking issue with the way that the tournament is run because coaches have much more authority to influence organizations like CCIU as opposed to us players.

As was said earlier, one thing which I always thought of and which had once been a thing is an association of coaches that could collectively try to reform the state tournament on a large scale or create a new state tournament that has much better practices. I know that we at one point had one, PSACA, but it is currently inactive at this time. There's a handful of great coaches in Southeast Pennsylvania who were involved in that over the years and I feel once there's a collective group that comes together it can do a great deal of change as to how things are run.

Creating a new state tournament altogether would be one potential option and could potentially get the ball moving in the right direction. I approximate that 4 times if not 5 times as many schools play in PSAC's qualifying tournaments compared to the amount that play weekend quizbowl tournaments. If there's ways which somebody or a group of people can create competitions that grabs the interest of that audience, it would be greatly useful to the growth of PA quizbowl.

Back in my neck of the woods in Western Pennsylvania, there has been a slow but relatively successful effort to be able to make some of the regional competitions better. The work that Carnegie Mellon's club did to make the Allegheny IU tournament run on NAQT questions was great and it led to multiple schools appearing at weekend tournaments for the next few years. This is the only taste that many schools have at a quizbowl tournament and if the product is sub-par, then that's more of an uphill battle we need to fight as people who are invested in the growth of the pyramidal circuit.

There's a lot of potential things which we can try but I think one of the most important things is just trying to find coaches and other stakeholders who are willing to organize an effort like hosting a new state tournament or trying to really push for change in how PSAC is run. Pennsylvania does very badly need a new state championship which rewards the best teams and provides all teams something to play for.
Eddie Fuhrer
KAHS 21'
Lehigh University 25'
Saratoga
Lulu
Posts: 7
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:21 pm

Re: Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Post by Saratoga »

Our IU (Beaver County next door to Allegheny) had never heard of the PA State Championship and had no interest in running a tournament or sending a team. It was opposite the SSNCT so it ultimately wouldn't have mattered and it sounds like we aren't missing much. Unfortunately, the majority of schools in Beaver County do Academic Games. Most people aren't familiar with them. They are a mixture of cube equation and sentence building games with tests for Presidential facts and current events. I'm not a fan personally and as the Academic/Quiz Bowl coach I've slowly phased out Academic Games over the years in favor of Quiz Bowl at our school, mostly NAQT and History Bowl. However, we are the only Beaver County school who does Quiz Bowl. And as active as Allegheny County is, Quiz Bowl is still very niche in this region. We are kind of lucky to straddle the Pittsburgh and Ohio regions and have played tournaments in both. I would love to see a wider effort to bring Quiz Bowl to more schools in this area.

I've been strongly considering trying to hold a tournament to try to connect the Pittsburgh, Ohio and Morgantown areas since we are kind of in the middle (some kind of Tri-State event) but I'm not sure if there would be interest or if I have the time or skill.
Samuel McCoy
South Side High School Coach
Social Studies Teacher
Hookstown, PA
User avatar
Ben Dillon
Rikku
Posts: 319
Joined: Thu Apr 28, 2005 10:47 pm
Location: South Bend, IN
Contact:

Post by Ben Dillon »

Indiana has traveled a similar road.

When a state tournament was first formed in 1997, Avery (I think) provided the questions, and it was a single-elimination bracket. The following year, QU provided the questions, and every team was guaranteed a few games before there was a knockout bracket at the end. That format lasted for the next 23 years.

There was an "NAQT Qualifier" that was held at DePauw in '01, then at Notre Dame in '04, then at various high schools for another six years. But Phil Blessman was the one who really decided to hold a competing state championship to the Traditional QU State, starting in 2011. It was sponsored by the local Rotary Club. That lasted for nine years, then the Indiana Association of School Principals made an overture to make a state tournament that was truly statewide.

The IASP State is basically a triple-elimination bracket (double beyond the first round), but there are also regionals that lead up to it, so most teams get an ample opportunity to play. Also, they made the call to use NAQT from the get-go, and involve the Purdue College Bowl team as moderators to ensure higher quality.

Meanwhile, COVID may have finally killed QU State: It first got cancelled by quarantine, then couldn't pivot to doing it online the following year, then simply didn't restart this year. IASP State navigated all of that, so it likely will be the only surviving state tournament going forward.

For Pennsylvania, I do think that getting either a state organization that already exists (rather than the state coaches) could be a way forward that the current sponsors would accept. But it would certainly help if it's supported at your collegiate level, acting as a site and/or providing personnel.
Ben Dillon, Saint Joseph HS

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as
six impossible things before breakfast!"
User avatar
cchiego
Yuna
Posts: 877
Joined: Fri Jun 06, 2008 7:14 pm
Contact:

Re: Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Post by cchiego »

The main issue with changing anything involving PSAC is that PSAC is organized and run by one IU, Chester County IU. CCIU also seems to contract with several other local IUs to run their regional tournaments to qualify for PSAC, so they have a very large degree of control here. That said, so long as a school has the support of their local IU, it seems like they can get into the PSAC field.

Historically, from what I have heard, it seems that one of the main issues with changing the PSAC format has been the desire to give students more matches on the floor of the state legislative chambers (which, in the past, was also broadcast live on state tv). There was also some issue with having more than two "official" moderators and, allegedly, finding sufficient rooms in the captial complex. These seem like issues that could easily be overcome (guarantee every team at least one round in the leg chambers, get more mods from the large PA mod pool), but would require more organizing work. And of course, theres still the issue of everyone's favorite 3 team format (a relic likely of the 1940s!) and "fanfare" questions.

Even a statewide coaches association would have a hard time getting change here because it comes down to CCIU's preferences. I think coaches who have brought teams to PSAC in recent years would be good voices to try to gather, though probably half the schools in the PSAC field don't have much connection to other quizbowl events/the larger circuit, so it might be hard to get in touch with them.

Maybe something like the PA association of IUs or one of the politicians who facilitate the use of the state capital could be helpful. The IU system has certainly had issues in the past (and present) in terms of substandard questions and formats in many IUs, but it has also ensured that some format of quizbowl exists in almost every corner of the state for 30+ years. Working with the IUs at both the local and state level seems like the route forward here, as slow-paced as it may be.
Chris C.
Past: UGA/UCSD/Penn
Present: Solano County, CA
bmccauley
Wakka
Posts: 112
Joined: Fri Dec 13, 2013 3:11 pm

Re: Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Post by bmccauley »

If any players/coaches would like to talk about this, I can discuss the efforts of both players/coaches at the CCIU in the past (GV is in the CCIU region), the efforts of both GPQB and PSACA, and the incremental progress to facilitate some of the things that include using NAQT tossups and having common fanfares over the last few years. For those that are newer, I must point out that the CCIU has in fact made several changes in the past few years for their local league, the regional qualifiers they host, and the PSAC event itself. Honestly, they have been quite open to conversations about changes, including using all NAQT tossups--albeit with fanfares instead of bonuses--in a group stage to playoff bracket format for the online 2021 PSAC event. While I know that may not seem like much, it is a massive change that happened really in the last five years.

I can also share that I have considered hosting a larger "PA Pyramidal Event" in the past but those got derailed a bit by Covid and seemed unnecessary when Penn State hosted the Keystone State Invitational--which was basically a de facto pyramidal championship. The difficulty for me to host a large event was mostly due to the "where/when" question since our state is so large and I have most of my contacts in SEPA. It also would likely need to have some sort of qualifier if it is meant to be a larger championship format. Ultimately, I would have loved for this to become a PSACA event but there were very few members after the initial year and it was too much for just a few people to try to lead.

I know that many have concerns (including me) about the format/reforms and I would love to hear from other people about their thoughts. Feel free to email me and we can set up a call--possibly with many coaches/players.
Bernard McCauley
Coach, Great Valley High School (PA)
x'x(-1)x'y
Lulu
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Sep 15, 2015 7:00 pm

Re: Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Post by x'x(-1)x'y »

Thank you to everyone who responded publicly and personally regarding both constructive future ideas and how currently active coaches have encouraged significant positive improvements in the current Chester County IU-managed PSAC tournament. I do still think further improvement is possible and would be more than happy to be included in any conversations and assist in any efforts toward such improvement.
Todd Gunther
Coach, Berwick Area (Pennsylvania)
User avatar
Stained Diviner
Auron
Posts: 5015
Joined: Sun Jun 13, 2004 6:08 am
Location: Chicagoland
Contact:

Re: Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Post by Stained Diviner »

I started coaching in 1994-95. Pretty much every year for the next 20 years I contacted the IHSA about how to improve their tournament. Some of my suggestions were big, and some were small. Sometimes my relationship with them was amicable, and sometimes it was, um, not amicable. Sometimes there were improvements, and sometimes there were not. There were occasional steps backward, but those were rare and small.

The tournament is much better now. It is still imperfect, and if I was still involved I would still be contacting them pretty much every year suggesting improvements. I don't know why people in general are so hesitant to do so--it's extremely unlikely you'll go through what I went through.

One of my regrets is that I made no attempts to contact the Panasonic tournament to explain why their tournament was so problematic. Their tournament was very much like the Pennsylvania state tournament. Instead of explaining their flaws, I just got Illinois to stop sending a team. It's possible that contacting them would not have helped, but it's also possible that it would have.
David Reinstein
Head Writer and Editor for Scobol Solo, Masonics, and IESA; TD for Scobol Solo and Reinstein Varsity; IHSSBCA Board Member; IHSSBCA Chair (2004-2014); PACE President (2016-2018)
x'x(-1)x'y
Lulu
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Sep 15, 2015 7:00 pm

Re: Pennsylvania's state quiz bowl "championship" is poor -- how can we fix it?

Post by x'x(-1)x'y »

This seems like wise advice -- thank you for sharing it!
Todd Gunther
Coach, Berwick Area (Pennsylvania)
Post Reply