The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

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The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby Adventure Temple Trail » Sat Aug 30, 2014 8:16 pm

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

Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents
a.k.a. Asking the unspeakable -- Is it time to move past fighting Chip?

A huge amount of the efforts of good quizbowl partisans over the past three decades has been spent directly opposing Questions Unlimited and its National Academic Championship. Those efforts have, more or less, directly resulted in the strong circuits we have now.

But we may be at a point now where it’s no longer the best use of our effort to try and reduce the number of attendees from 100 to 0. Chip Beall’s position is basically as weak as it’s going to get: basically every remotely-serious team has completely disaffiliated with Chip, the ranks of the diehards who go every year have seriously dwindled, and the field is largely composed of a constantly changing set of random schools across the country who get his mailer each year (he seems to physically mail every school in the country, or close to it). The “game show” antics have shriveled away. Every team with any amount of interest in academic tournaments of any sort has heard, or can be easily directed to, all the reasons why Questions Unlimited gets its reputation as an unacceptable question provider and company. And basically every contending team which could be peeled off from the Beall field has been peeled. What’s more, it’s clear, given Chip’s temperament and personality, that he will keep doing NAC as long as he lives, no matter how few teams attend or how bottom-of-the-barrel his service is.

This shouldn’t be seen as waving a white flag -- it’s an admission that we’ve done all we can realistically do, and have more pressing issues to turn to now that we’ve largely succeeded at this one. In most real-world conflicts, armies don’t persevere until every person on the losing side has been completely eradicated -- there comes a point where victory can be declared. The “cold war” between good quizbowl and Chip Beall is over, and we won. We may never see the formal surrender, but there’s little reason to sit around holding out for one when we could be building new infrastructure in new territory instead.

Now the point of saying this is not to encourage would-be organizers to rest on their laurels and assume there’s nothing left to do. Far from it. The reason I bring this up is because of all the alternative uses of our time -- ways to expand serious quizbowl -- which get freed up when we are no longer focusing our mental energy on this particular organization. Which is a better use of three hours’ time: composing the millionth anti-Beall post when 999,999 such posts already exist, or composing an invite to an upcoming tournament and mailing it to 700 teams? Or using one’s efforts to dislodge or convert bad tournaments and structures in one’s immediate area? If you (the reader) are in an area near a specific team which defiantly continues to attend NAC, you might have the power, if you get to know their coach and players, to peel them off and get them serious about serious quizbowl. But for the rest of us, the burden is to ensure that our own tournaments are high-quality and high-attendance.

It’s disproportionate for us to keep puffing up this man into sort of Emmanuel Goldstein-like Archenemy of All Things Good. In reality, Questions Unlimited is more powerless than ever, and likely to stay that way. It’s time to start focusing our efforts on the MANY local forms of bad quizbowl which do a lot more real damage to the circuits they’re near. Events such as the Pennsylvania state series, the KSHSAA state series, and It’s Academic involve dozens of teams who do almost no good quizbowl and are never reached out to in a productive way. Time to focus on showing the people who play those events what we have to offer, and dislodging bad quizbowl practices and bad-intentioned people in favor of trusted replacements.
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby cchiego » Sat Aug 30, 2014 8:51 pm

I mostly agree with and applaud Matt's emphasis on keeping outreach local and doing everything we can to make sure change happens at a local level. However...

In reality, Questions Unlimited is more powerless than ever, and likely to stay that way. It’s time to start focusing our efforts on the MANY local forms of bad quizbowl which do a lot more real damage to the circuits they’re near.


There are a series of "unholy alliances" between the AUK, Beall, and these state formats. Oklahoma, Arkansas, Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming at least are still strongholds of either Beall or Auk because of state orgs. You can't treat these states in isolation from Chip and AUK and it's necessary to keep the facts about their idiocy sharp if you want to go after these areas.

And these areas are where the major expansion market for good quizbowl exists. I don't think people realize that Colorado has probably 50-70 schools every year who compete solely on crap quizbowl as well as maybe 40-50 in Nebraska (from the scattered things I could find). There are dozens in the Las Cruces area of NM, Wyoming, Minnesota, and elsewhere. Arkansas has an incredible number of quiz bowl teams but only a handful who play anything good. Mississippi gets 50-60 teams each year at its major bad QB tournaments. Most people in good quizbowl aren't from these places, so it's going to be hard to get to people to do outreach there (see below).

Posting in moderation against Beall and AUK (Academic Hallmarks, Knowledge Bowl, what have you) is important and necessary because it seems more shady shenanigans occur every year (as stories of NAC every year attest) and because new people or Beall-only people have probably not seen all the old arguments and evidence. I do think it's important to have a productive yearly anti-NAC-fest that reminds people in the community of this and offers a lifeline to players/coaches caught up in it. And it definitely shows up when someone searches for information on it.

If you (the reader) are in an area near a specific team which defiantly continues to attend NAC, you might have the power, if you get to know their coach and players, to peel them off and get them serious about serious quizbowl.


This is good as far as the random Chip attendees go. The problem is there is little collegiate team or good quizbowl team presence in entire regions. This seems like a job for a national organization like PACE to try to flip at least one of these states by contacting coaches, teams, and admins. Heck, organize a bus trip out there and protest at the state capital in Topeka or something. There isn't much that we have to work with for these bastions and they are a major factor in preventing quizbowl from truly claiming a national status until there's a concerted effort to change them.

Academic Decathlon is also a major sucker-upper of funding and resources in areas like Los Angeles and others around the country. One would think that its bizarre rules and high costs would be a turn-off, but it's still going strong and getting front-page headlines for reasons I still cant' fathom.
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby The Stately Rhododendron » Sat Aug 30, 2014 9:12 pm

cchiego wrote:This seems like a job for a national organization like PACE to try to flip at least one of these states by contacting coaches, teams, and admins. Heck, organize a bus trip out there and protest at the state capital in Topeka or something.


Now that PACE is a 501c(3) the next logical step is a 501c(4) clearly.

I think your point about focusing in on bad local formats is right on. There are many, many teams that almost exclusively do It's Academic in the DC/Baltimore area. Imagine how much better the Mid-Atlantic circuit could be if there was some organized attempt at getting these schools to look beyond Picture Perfect rounds.
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby Maury Island incident » Mon Sep 01, 2014 11:59 am

I agree and think that reaching out to states with bad formats is the best way to grow good quizbowl. Most states with state-sanctioned formats (New Hampshire, and most of the Midwest and West, and some of the South) have lots of teams that participate in bad quizbowl. There are many teams in those states that do solely bad quizbowl at the local levels without even attending :chip: nationals. With the proper outreach, good tournaments and eventually competitive circuits could grow rapidly in those areas, and make good quizbowl truly national.
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby Al Hirt » Mon Sep 01, 2014 12:24 pm

In the Garden State, there are plenty of team jeopardy competitions (which are often used by good quiz bowl playing teams to win cash and fund HSNCT or whatnot) that bring in 70 teams and offer a grand total of three games on a weekday afternoon. And NJ has a fairly established circuit combined with NHBB's incredibly successful recruiting here. Generally when we talk to some of these teams about good quiz bowl, they always mention how the questions are way too hard and the format is weird.

These tournaments as a whole are fairly separate and decentralized, so there's no one provider or big bad wolf to take down, rather it's a slow drawn out process that just gets team to go to pyramidal tournaments. As a whole, is it generally easier to spread good quiz bowl when there's a single opponent, compared to a variety of minor offenders?
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby cchiego » Mon Sep 01, 2014 12:47 pm

With the proper outreach, good tournaments and eventually competitive circuits could grow rapidly in those areas, and make good quizbowl truly national.


So what is the proper outreach to these far-away teams? Who's going to do it? Who's going to follow up on it?

We've talked about this for awhile now and clearly our expressing dislike of bad quizbowl in faraway states in an online forum isn't going to work. There needs to be some local push in these areas, but how do you organize such a push when we have next to no contact with anyone from these places?

The few people from Kansas who have ventured to express their public dislike with KAAC on the boards haven't been heard from again. Arkansas people stopped posting here a long time ago. Colorado is a mystery and there's still huge gaps in many other states (Florida for instance).

Again, for the vast majority of hosts, there are still plenty of schools in 50, 100 miles that don't know about QB or are in small bad QB leagues/tournaments that should be targeted with outreach at the local level first and foremost. But if we're thinking in broad strokes here for the long-term future, we need to get some kind of organized action plan at the national level to make contact with people in these regions and support any footholds we get in the long term. It's not just going to happen, someone--ideally some group--is going to have to organize and do it.
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby Maury Island incident » Mon Sep 01, 2014 1:20 pm

I agree with Chris. People involved in good quizbowl just don't live in bad quizbowl states, and therefore tournaments are not organized in those states. I think quizbowl alliances are very helpful just from a name standpoint. Saying that you represent the "_____ Quizbowl Alliance" gives you more legitimacy than saying that you are a quiz bowler at "______ HS or University".
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby Deviant Insider » Mon Sep 01, 2014 1:33 pm

Al Hirt wrote:As a whole, is it generally easier to spread good quiz bowl when there's a single opponent, compared to a variety of minor offenders?


It can be done either way. Sometimes, it is not even clear which situation exists in a given place. I don't know whether Illinois defeated the single opponent of an Answers Plus/IHSA alliance or a variety of minor offenders who ran tournaments using Questions Galore, QQQ, Patrick's Press, etc. In either case, people needed to run good tournaments and attract teams to those tournaments. We were fortunate to have several people willing to do that. It's been going on for years, and the work is still very far from done. In each region, somebody needs to find a way to make quizbowl attractive to enough of the schools that are there to be viable.

There will always be some people complaining that the questions are too hard. There are a lot of good easy sets these days, and when people make those complaints you have to decide whether they genuinely believe that and can be convinced by looking at questions, or whether they are just making an excuse to justify their decision to avoid scary change.
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby Everything in the Whole Wide World » Mon Sep 01, 2014 5:57 pm

We can also not forget that in addition to all the bad-quizbowl areas across the country, there are a lot of blank slates where there's basically nothing doing in terms of academic competitions. Delaware is a great example: since the Chip-esque TV show went under some 5-6 years ago, pretty much all the non-Charter teams died off or only show up to UD tournaments despite our best efforts to try to get them to go out of state for stuff. I'm sure there's got to be plenty of pockets like this elsewhere, and they would be ripe targets for expansion since there's no bad-team inertia to combat.
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby Maury Island incident » Mon Sep 01, 2014 6:41 pm

Same thing about Maine and Rhode Island. There's absolutely nothing going on quizbowl-wise. New England is small enough that they can travel to tournaments out of state without much hassle with the proper promotion of tournaments.
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby gettysburg11 » Fri Sep 05, 2014 11:59 pm

As one of those Pennsylvanians you talked about in the OP, I can bring a little bit of perspective into this discussion I suppose.

The "league" that my school has played in for years buys their questions from Questions Unlimited. I never knew this was a problem until by happenstance I stumbled into the quizbowl world (more on that later). Being a newcomer I really don't know the backstory of the politics behind this, so I'd be interested in hearing about that if someone wants to tell me, but that isn't the purpose of my post. My point is, yes, there are still areas out there that play "bad quizbowl," areas that could be opened up and that have some decent teams. For pretty much two years, all I knew was this league, our local TV competition (which can be such a crapshoot at times,) and the state competition, whose situation I'm sure has been well documented here but if not I'd be happy to share my experiences with that as well. And my school's been playing those pretty much forever too.

Anyhow, back to what I alluded to earlier, I would have gone on through my senior year blissfully unaware of the situation my team and I were in if I hadn't made the call to go to the state history bee back in March, where I did well enough for myself that people approached me, asked me about my school because they hadn't heard of us before, and opened my eyes to this whole new world of competitions. From there, I love this enough that I've maintained contact with one other (now former I guess) coach who has been an enormous help in getting me acclimated to the game of quizbowl, and I went to the ACE camp at Kutztown where I made even more connections, and now I have our team on the right track to add these competitions to our schedule and hopefully reach the ultimate goal of getting a decent finish at nationals this year.

So my point though is, if I hadn't, as I put it earlier, stumbled upon quizbowl, I never would have found out about it. I remember getting a tournament invite from Mountain Lakes last January, but we couldn't go to that for a fair few reasons. Otherwise, though, nobody really ever came to our school (and definitely not our league, evidently) that there is something out there better than playing one or two liner questions, whether they come from Questions Unlimited or anywhere else. I realize that I'm sort of refuting the point of this post here I think, but for my Lehigh Valley area, hardly any teams go outside the region for anything (I know Moravian Academy played Great Valley in the spring but that's about the only one I can think of offhand.) I know have our Emmaus team on track, but there are others that could do well too (even though it pains me to admit it because they're our rivals, haha) like Parkland and Allentown Central Catholic that nobody's reached out to yet. So to grow the PA circuit and involve more teams that aren't in the Philly suburbs or around Manheim Township, getting the word out is huge in my humble opinion.

Wow, that was a lot to type on my phone sitting in a hotel room in Gettysburg nearing midnight, no? Well, I hope that helps. And please please please ask me questions, I'd love to share anything else that could be helpful coming from my perspective. Thanks all.
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Re: The Big Vision: [9] Re-focusing on the Correct Opponents

Postby Joshua Rutsky » Sat Sep 06, 2014 9:24 am

In my experience, trying to draw the teams that say "It's too hard and too long" into better format quizbowl can be accomplished with persistence and with sacrifice. It takes a long-term commitment to your project, but it CAN be done. To oversimplify, here's what we did in Alabama:

1) Make sure that there are enough non-crap events to give teams the choice of which type of event to attend. This may mean that you have to give up going to events yourself on occasion so your team can host three tourneys a year. Maybe you can get readers from outside, maybe you can't, but that's part of the sacrifice. You've got to CREATE the alternative opportunity for the other teams.

2) Start calling coaches or e-mailing them. Focus on the ones you know. Ask them to come to the tournament. When they balk, TELL THEM THEY CAN BRING A TEAM FOR FREE. That's right--take the loss on the team. What's more important to you--having good quizbowl in the long term in your area, or having that $50? You can always sell them lunch and make a little, and you don't need much to break even on a tournament, especially a mirror.

3) Here's the most important step--RUN YOUR TOURNAMENT PROFESSIONALLY. Make sure that you have plenty of competent staffers, that they all know the rules, and that you are ready to put all the results into SQBS or some other stats program round-by-round so there isn't a big dead time after prelims. Crapbowl teams are often used to being at tourneys that run 40+ minutes per round. With good moderators and good planning, you can easily run a tourney where you have a round every 30-35 minutes. It doesn't sound like much, but those players and coaches NOTICE that your tourney gets more done and still uses that longer, harder set of questions.


Using these steps, we "converted" enough teams in Alabama to tip the balance when it came time to vote on changing our format and our providers. There were PLENTY of skeptics in our state. They've largely gone away and LIKE that the new format means more equity in terms of the availability of resources and a chance for teams in smaller markets to compete with the bigger teams. It just takes time and recognition that it won't happen overnight.
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