The Big Vision: [7] MS, College, & International Opportunity

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The Big Vision: [7] MS, College, & International Opportunity

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Sat Aug 30, 2014 7:50 pm

This thread is part of the "The Big Vision" series. Click here to go back to index/introduction.

Expanding the Circle Even Further
Brief Thoughts on Middle School, College, and International Quizbowl

While the focus of this series is on establishing a future vision for American high school quizbowl, currently the most populous part of the quizbowl ecosphere, I did mention that "everything is interrelated" in the intro, and the American high school game interconnects pretty strongly with other levels. I'll take this opportunity to make some brief points about those levels, focusing in on how they interrelate with high school gameplay. I welcome further input from others.

Middle School

I was initially reluctant to say much here -- as of the writing of this post, I have never staffed a middle school tournament or written a middle school question. I did not know what quizbowl was when I was in middle school myself (the present, NAQT-driven era of good middle school questions only really started in 2010). So I could be totally wrong about all of this and welcome corrections from people with more on-the-ground involvement.

But it seems clear to me that, perhaps even more than outreach efforts at the high school level, the existence of middle school quizbowl provides the single biggest untapped opportunity that high school quizbowl has ever gotten for increasing its size and vibrancy. If kids start playing quizbowl in 6th or 7th grade, rather than 9th or 10th, high school teams everywhere are provided with a large group of players who know how quizbowl works and want to keep playing it. Perhaps most importantly, in areas where middle school teams take root first, dedicated middle school players are likely to matriculate at schools with no existing high school team with the interest and skills to start one. The middle school level of National History Bee and Bowl, perhaps underreported on these boards, is pulling in hundreds of individual competitors from far-flung states, and dozens of new teams who could be brought into all-subject quizbowl immediately or once their members reach high school. Schools which start earlier than 9th grade, such as Hunter and Westminster, can look towards their middle school contingent as a way to build up future title contenders further in advance.

What's more, the way things are now, it's pretty easy to get new schools to see the benefit of middle school quizbowl with a lot less imposition than a competitive high school team; it's possible to find a given school's gifted/talented coordinator and just say "hey; there's this competition you can do" with little hassle. With an upper limit of about five good sets per year at present, coaching a middle school team doesn’t have to be a very large imposition, since most teams will be attending only 3-6 tournaments during the year and then maybe MSNCT. That said, it's hard for middle school quizbowl to take off if the same people who run the high school and college game also have to take it under their wing. The goal for the most part should be to find dedicated coaches and adult organizers who can make middle school quizbowl their primary focus.

It definitely seems very patchwork, from region to region, whether many teams care about building a strong middle school quizbowl circuit. It seems like Georgia, Texas, and Illinois are definitely going full-bore, but other regions with a strong high school presence have less going on at the middle school level. It will be interesting to see what effect this starts to have on the teams that make it to the finals at high school (and, two or three years down the line, collegiate) national finals, and whether other regions will begin to establish themselves more strongly so middle school quizbowl also becomes truly national.

College
By contrast, I was pretty seriously involved in college quizbowl, and will continue to be as an alumnus.

The short point I want to make about college quizbowl is this: It’s proven basically impossible to do outreach and create college teams at new campuses in the same way that it can be done in high school. For a new college team to form, for the most part, you need a seriously interested person to go to said new college and put in the effort. The only real way to increase the rate at which this happens is to ensure that more high school players are leaving high school with positive quizbowl experiences far more, since the ratio of “high schoolers going to college quizbowl : people who can capably start new teams” is quite small. It seems clear to me that there is a “trickle-up” effect (first posited in Matt Weiner’s response to Paul Litvak back in 2006, and definitely true still) -- as more effort and resources go into making the high school game successful, a larger number of people will be committed enough to quizbowl to see it as something they’ll want to keep doing in college.

Looking outside the United States / “Going global”

I’ve been relentlessly USA-centric with these posts, in part because it’s the only country where I’ve seen quizbowl organization and play in person. But exciting things are afoot abroad. A team from China and a team from Singapore both attended the last PACE NSC. A set of small but consistent tournaments exists in Ontario, Canada. The efforts of National History Bee and Bowl are bringing in more attention, at least to all-history events, across Europe and around the Asian side of the Pacific ocean. There was even a team from Central America (Honduras? or Nicaragua?) at this past year’s HSNCT. As of now, we’re basically limited to the English-speaking students and/or international schools in these places, but there’s quite literally a whole world out there of schools which could start to get in on quizbowl competition once the first few seeds get sown. (I know for a fact that there is a circuit of international schools in Asia which is very serious about flying around for activities such as Model UN; a lot of the IHBB schools that Madden has found are in that circuit.) As more people in these places play events on good questions, it will be interesting to see how the torch passes to them, and how interaction between countries might occur. Which non-United States state or province will be the first to send a team to NASAT? And which will be the tenth?
Matt J.
ex-Georgetown Day HS, ex-Yale
member emeritus, ACF

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Re: The Big Vision: [7] MS, College, & International Opportu

Post by cvdwightw » Fri Sep 05, 2014 3:45 am

I want to say something about how the relationship between college and high school quizbowl has changed in the past ten years or so.

Maybe someone like Eric or Jerry who's become an all-time great despite playing a steady diet of terrible formats in high school, or someone like Seth who to my knowledge didn't play quizbowl in high school, can expand or disagree, but I think it's harder than ever for someone who's played basically no or only terrible quizbowl for years to get good at this game in college, relative to someone who's played good quizbowl for years of high school.

This isn't to say that it's harder to get good at this game in college than it was ten years ago. It's objectively easier for everyone. I'm saying that it's subjectively easier for someone who has spent years playing good quizbowl to get better at the game in college than it is for someone who's spent years playing bad quizbowl, and the disparity between how easy it is continues to increase.

There is plenty of evidence that "good quizbowl" in high school has become significantly easier and significantly more standardized over the years. In contrast, I'm not sure that regular college quizbowl has necessarily gotten easier and I'm not sure that there were ever any successful college tournaments that used something other than 20/20 or timed tossup/bonus formats. So ten or so years ago, regular college quizbowl was fairly similar to what exists now, with the one major change being an increase in the quality of the average tournament. Meanwhile, if you were a high schooler, you probably played some form of what we would now conclusively identify as bad quizbowl. At best, you played exclusively something that was vaguely pyramidal and nothing like the college game.

So pretty much, ten years ago or so, everyone coming in was having to adjust in some way to the length, depth, and difficulty of the questions. New players that worked at it (like the Michigan teams when Zeke was there) could see fairly immediate results, because frankly the bar was set pretty low. Almost everybody needed some sort of adjustment period. It wasn't unheard of for teams like Chicago and Michigan to take four freshmen who had rarely played good quizbowl in high school and turn them into an ICT D2 contender in under a year, or for players whose real-knowledge advantage went to waste on bad formats to suddenly start dominating.

Contrast that to the high-school-to-college transition period now. Many of the best young players in the game, when they were in high school:
1) Played almost exclusively NAQT- and ACF-style questions
2) Studied, or at least practiced on, packets of well-written questions
3) Played on college-level packets against other teams
4) Wrote a substantial number of their own pyramidal questions, if not most/all of an entire tournament

In other words, they did pretty much everything that college players do, except for actually running the club, and sometimes they even did that too.

Now imagine that you're a freshman coming from a good quizbowl desert. It doesn't take all that much effort to do (1), (2), and (3) in college - basically, show up to practice and show up to tournaments. But compared to someone who's been doing (1), (2), and (3) in high school? You need to put in comparatively more effort to get just as good as someone who's been playing good quizbowl for years, and you're not going to see immediate results. You'd have to either be really determined or have a good social reason to stick around.

Now, obviously I'm not advocating that high school tournaments return to the proto-pyramidal days of the early 2000s. Nor am I advocating that we need some kind of stepping stone at the college level, although novice events like MUT have worked much better at getting teams to play regular college quizbowl than the old juniorbird-tournament-on-IS-set model.

I think there's some truth to Matt's suggestion that putting more effort into making high school quizbowl a positive experience for more people will make the college game better, but I also worry to a certain extent that quizbowl at the college level is becoming increasingly insular - we're not retaining the players who have some real knowledge but no valid experience, because they don't find it competitively worthwhile to stick around after the first couple of months.

The reason that I worry is that these players are the single best source of outreach into bad quizbowl areas. Players from bad quizbowl areas who get invested in the game in college can encourage their former teammates or competition to give this new type of quizbowl a shot. They have contacts that, if they stay in the area or go back home after college, they can lean on to start forming a real pyramidal circuit. These are real outreach advantages that someone who comes from the "standard good quizbowl culture" can never really have. People in places like Missouri have leveraged this network of personal contacts to vastly improve the quality of events in those areas, but I worry that it is becoming increasingly hard to find a critical mass of those kinds of people.
Dwight Wynne
socalquizbowl.org
UC Irvine 2008-2013; UCLA 2004-2007; Capistrano Valley High School 2000-2003

"It's a competition, but it's not a sport. On a scale, if football is a 10, then rowing would be a two. One would be Quiz Bowl." --Matt Birk on rowing, SI On Campus, 10/21/03

"If you were my teammate, I would have tossed your ass out the door so fast you'd be emitting Cerenkov radiation, but I'm not classy like Dwight." --Jerry

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Re: The Big Vision: [7] MS, College, & International Opportu

Post by Important Bird Area » Fri Sep 05, 2014 12:11 pm

cvdwightw wrote:I also worry to a certain extent that quizbowl at the college level is becoming increasingly insular - we're not retaining the players who have some real knowledge but no valid experience, because they don't find it competitively worthwhile to stick around after the first couple of months.
Dwight is absolutely right that we have a recruiting problem, and it exists even among those high schoolers who play pyramidal questions.

Recent field size trends:

SCT (both Division I and Division II, US and Canada only)

(2008 was the last year of the College Bowl NCT; all NAQT SCTs prior to 2009 had field sizes below 170 teams)
2009: 185
2010: 171
2011: 195
2012: 167
2013: 185
2014: 180

HSNCT

2009: 192
2010: 200
2011: 224
2012: 240
2013: 256
2014: 272

This isn't a doom-and-gloom post about "college quizbowl is dying." It's not! But it is remaining relatively static. That's a missed opportunity in an age when more and more graduating high schoolers are playing good quizbowl.
Jeff Hoppes
President, Northern California Quiz Bowl Alliance
former HSQB Chief Admin (2012-13)
VP for Communication and history subject editor, NAQT
Editor emeritus, ACF

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Re: The Big Vision: [7] MS, College, & International Opportu

Post by Susan » Fri Sep 05, 2014 12:17 pm

bird bird bird bird bird wrote:
cvdwightw wrote:I also worry to a certain extent that quizbowl at the college level is becoming increasingly insular - we're not retaining the players who have some real knowledge but no valid experience, because they don't find it competitively worthwhile to stick around after the first couple of months.
Dwight is absolutely right that we have a recruiting problem, and it exists even among those high schoolers who play pyramidal questions.

Recent field size trends:

SCT (both Division I and Division II, US and Canada only)

(2008 was the last year of the College Bowl NCT; all NAQT SCTs prior to 2009 had field sizes below 170 teams)
2009: 185
2010: 171
2011: 195
2012: 167
2013: 185
2014: 180

HSNCT

2009: 192
2010: 200
2011: 224
2012: 240
2013: 256
2014: 272

This isn't a doom-and-gloom post about "college quizbowl is dying." It's not! But it is remaining relatively static. That's a missed opportunity in an age when more and more graduating high schoolers are playing good quizbowl.
Jeff--I'd love to know how many unique institutions are represented by those numbers, if that data's easily available.
Susan
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Re: The Big Vision: [7] MS, College, & International Opportu

Post by Important Bird Area » Fri Sep 05, 2014 12:25 pm

Great question, but I don't have that data directly to hand. Sometime in the next few weeks I'll try to find time to calculate it.
Jeff Hoppes
President, Northern California Quiz Bowl Alliance
former HSQB Chief Admin (2012-13)
VP for Communication and history subject editor, NAQT
Editor emeritus, ACF

"I wish to make some kind of joke about Jeff's love of birds, but I always fear he'll turn them on me Hitchcock-style." -Fred

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Re: The Big Vision: [7] MS, College, & International Opportu

Post by Ewan MacAulay » Mon Sep 08, 2014 9:18 am

Just going to echo Dwight a bit and say that easier events such as MUT, MFT, and BSQC (run off ICT D2) have been fantastic in keeping people involved in quizbowl in the UK. The difficulty seems to be just right that it represents a noticeable step up from fall, but still is fun and doable for people who haven't yet started active study for quizbowl.

On another note, this year Oxford hope to be the first UK team in absolutely ages to turn up to ACF Nationals. We'll try our best to finish above the 44th we were predicted in the preseason poll...
Ewan MacAulay
Oxford 2015
Cambridge 2018

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