There are innumerable ways in which the format is grossly inappropriate for deciding a national champion among state all-star teams. Here are some of them:
-Four (and in the final, SIX) teams playing at once. It really changes the nature of the game. If two teams square off, you can usually conclude who's better in the given format. But having six teams in one match is just ludicrous. Particular when it's a tossup only match that has most of its value concentrated in the final round of tossups. One or two teams that buzz in early in the final round repeatedly hoping for a long shot can really screw with the results.
-One or two buzzers per team. WHY?
-The aforementioned depth of knowledge issue. Someone who has read four novels from a lit matching question should not lose to someone who just knows their title or main characters. On a related note, the construction of the matching questions demonstrates a clear lack of awareness of what it's like to be a competitor in the game. For example, if you've got a "match the character to the novel" type of deal, why list the novels first? At least give it some semblance of rewarding those who know more by listing the characters. Also, the "must have exact wording on matching questions" thing is pointless.
-Much of the game is pointless. The 5 point round is pretty pointless. The worksheets are definitely pointless, particularly in playoff rounds or the final. The 10 point round matters somewhat, but really, a team can utterly suck in the first two rounds and get a few lucky buzzes in the third and come out a winner. Essentially, it's like randomly assigning point values to different questions. That's bad.
-Tossups only formats are never that great of a plan. Tossup only formats in which their are six teams and any one of them can immediately kill a question at any point are worse. Much, much worse.
-In my experience, the format has the unique ability to drastically reduce the skill level of players who are really good. There are a few outliers to this, but really, any remote evidence of such a trend is troubling.
-One buzzer per team. Seriously, WHY?
EDIT: I love everyone so much I decided to post some more.
No, I must disagree. The PAC tournament is structured with three rounds: a 5-, 10-, and 15-point round. The questions become progressively harder in each round. While the 5-point round questions (and some of the 10-point round questions) are geared more for speed, the 15-point round definitely rewards depth of knowledge.
Example: At the CAC Florida state tournament this year (CAC uses the same format as PAC), my team dominated the 5-point round because we were faster on the buzzer, but we were owned in the 15-point round by a rival team who had much deeper knowledge than we did. And since the 15-point questions are obviously worth much more, that team ended up winning the state championship while we finished a distant second.
"Harder" does not equal "more of a test of depth of knowledge." Also, in the final round among six state all-star teams, the point becomes entirely moot. Unless you have the questions going till the end and one team buzzing as the only ones who know the answer, it ruins the system in the exact way I described. Also, if that's the case, it could just be an exam, and that would suck.
The point is that while this format is not inherently inappropriate for your state, it is clearly not ideal for a national championship between what should theoretically be the country's best possible team's assembled. Everyone knows most answers even in the 15 point round (with the exception of some of the bizarre computation), and having a tossup that shows you something by duchamp and says "name the artist, name the style" does NOT reward depth of knowledge.
Also, all those computation questions are ridiculously excessive. Why so many?
The problem that I have seen at PAC is that many teams don't familiarize themselves with the format, and so they come in expecting it to be a fast-buzz type event. I have seen countless good teams go down in flames in the 15-point round, with neg after neg, because they could not ease off the throttle and show more patience.
I am familiar with the format and I still think it is pitiful.
I understand that PAC is a bit quirky, but I don't think that "different" necessarily means "bad." Many of the kids who I've coached, who have spent equal amounts of time preparing for CAC/PAC and NAQT-style events, have told me that they find the CAC/PAC format more enjoyable, since it requires a great deal of strategy and it emphasizes teamwork far more than any other tournament.
So does Risk or SOCOM, but I fear we will never see those two unified with quizbowl. True, different doesn't necessarily mean bad, but "bad" means bad, and that's what this format is, for the reasons I outlined above. Note that I never used any reasoning like "the format is different from this other one, so it sucks," but instead "the format destroys knowledge, a reasonable test of competition, and reliably consistent results, so it's bad."
So there's my small defense of PAC. Is it flawed? Yes, in several ways, but so are all other tournament formats. However, besides the exorbitant costs of attending (which they do need to fix, I agree) it is a really fun and worthwhile event.
Note that all the negative things I've been saying are about the format. I really, really wish PAC would change it, but that alone doesn't make PAC a bad event. I went twice because I really enjoyed the atmosphere, going to Disneyworld, and hanging out playing quizbowl for a week. The people at PAC are very good, well-meaning people. The format is even kind of amusing to play, when nothing is riding on it. But to have that kind of stake (national championship, scholarships, etc.) on that format is wrong, and I'd like to see some willingness to change, given the intelligence and decency of the people involved with PAC.