Money and Quizbowl

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Money and Quizbowl

Post by theMoMA » Thu Feb 10, 2011 3:58 am

Quizbowl debt collector is the most frustrating role I've played in this game. Here are some overarching principles and basic common-sense suggestions to remedy quizbowl's monetary problems.

Three general principles:

1. Writers and editors work very hard to produce quality tournaments and don't get paid very much for their time.

2. Players and teams spend thousands of dollars each year to go to quizbowl tournaments; most of the money goes to logistical costs and the host shares of entry fees.

3. Players and teams should be willing to spend money to play good questions.

These three things should inform our behavior towards writers and editors. There are two types of breakdowns that I've most commonly encountered when trying to collect quizbowl debts. The most common occurs when hosts, teams, or players simply aren't mindful of the potential problems with payment. The way to solve this is simple: for hosts and teams, know your organization's payment system! A lot of times, teams are unaware that their university's budget office is really slow or requires some kind of IRS paperwork to cut checks. That stuff needs to be figured out ahead of time, and the team needs to forewarn the person to be paid of anything required of them. If you know it takes your university months to cut a check, find a way to have a team member send a personal check and get reimbursed personally (this often works a lot easier for budget offices, because they can often pay students at their own institution a lot easier than some tournament editor in Minnesota). The simplest possible solution is to talk to your budget office, explain how tournament hosting works, and work out these problems ahead of time.

Individual players sometimes encounter problems with paying at open tournaments or side events. Usually it comes down to not having cash on hand at the time the host/TD is collecting money. When this happens, be as prompt as possible and don't be offended by persistent attempts to collect, especially if you're from far away and collecting five bucks from you at a later time is going to be a big hassle. You should be willing to spend money to play good questions, and you should be happy to fork over your five bucks to keep the quizbowl economy afloat. If you leave without paying, be nice and figure it out over email (and be the one to initiate; it makes it a lot easier to believe that it was an honest mistake). Don't try to evade your debt in hopes of the TD forgetting.

There is a second kind of breakdown I've encountered in trying to collect quizbowl debts, and it angers me to deal with it. Lots of people simply don't want to pay what they agreed to pay. There are lots of manifestations of this. I've had hosts tell me that my collecting on advertised packet penalties was an attempt to stem the growth of quizbowl in a certain region. I've had hosts deliberately misapply discounts in an attempt to shortchange the writers. I've seen teams delay and delay in hopes of never having to pay. But most pervasive is the idea that, once you have someone's questions, you can simply run them "guerrilla-style" and not charge the agreed-upon price. All of these things are simply unacceptable.

Individual players aren't above this sort of behavior either. As I've alluded to above, players often try to skirt payment by saying they'll pay later and hoping it never comes to pass. In a particularly egregious example, I saw a particular player sit on the periphery of an extremely cheap, shootout-style event (still buzzing, of course!) to avoid paying the TD something on the order of five bucks. Many players are all too willing to go along with those "guerrilla-style" free events, even though they should know better. And plenty of players bitterly complain about the cost of events that are nowhere near ridiculous. We get that you're not made of money, but please, that the ten bucks you're paying for three hours of entertainment is not five should not be a source of any consternation.

All of this behavior simply sucks. You'll drive hundreds of miles, spend an entire weekend traveling, pay hundreds if not thousands in logistical costs, but you're still trying to get out of paying a ten-dollar side tournament fee? Not only is this an awful example of the penny wise/pound foolish fallacy, it hurts those who make quizbowl possible in the first place and who are already not making much compared to the effort they're putting in.

We should be happiest to pay that small percentage of our quizbowl spending that goes directly to the writers and editors. Too often, it's actually the hardest money to collect.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Feb 10, 2011 10:38 am

A major obstacle to quizbowl debt collection is the fact that we're all friends here. I pride myself on being more heartless than most, but even I have trouble saying "no" to a friend of mine who is begging me to let him play a side event without ponying up $10. So we go through the show of having him promise to pay me back, which of course never happens.

Often, I find it easier to just say "OK, I'll let you play for free, but at the next tournament you host, my team gets a $10 discount".
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Coelacanth » Thu Feb 10, 2011 11:01 am

theMoMA wrote:Individual players sometimes encounter problems with paying at open tournaments or side events. Usually it comes down to not having cash on hand at the time the host/TD is collecting money. When this happens, be as prompt as possible and don't be offended by persistent attempts to collect, especially if you're from far away and collecting five bucks from you at a later time is going to be a big hassle. You should be willing to spend money to play good questions, and you should be happy to fork over your five bucks to keep the quizbowl economy afloat. If you leave without paying, be nice and figure it out over email (and be the one to initiate; it makes it a lot easier to believe that it was an honest mistake). Don't try to evade your debt in hopes of the TD forgetting.
The ubiquity of ATMs (especially around college campuses) makes this wholly unforgivable. If you don't have the cash when I'm checking in teams in the morning, I'm going to tell you to get the cash and pay me at lunchtime. No exceptions, no excuses.

And honestly, if you've driven hundreds of miles to a tournament without bringing either (a) enough cash to cover expenses you know ahead of time you'll be asked to pay, or (b) an ATM or credit card to cover both your known expenses and any contingencies, then what the heck is wrong with you?
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Bartleby » Thu Feb 10, 2011 11:05 am

The way it works at UWO (and Andrew's initial post mentions this) is that we're certified as a club, and what comes with that is a clubs account, into which we can deposit and take out money. However, to take out money, we have to provide proof of payment, and turn in a cheque requisition form, which must be signed by executive members of the club. This means that we pay out-of-pocket initially, with guaranteed reimbursement later. For instance, Will paid our SCT entrance fee, and put our hotel and Greyhound tickets on his credit card, then we signed off on his reimbursement, and he turned in everything at our clubs office. This seems like an extraordinarily logical system to me, and though I'm sure not all schools have it, it should (in principle) eliminate the issue of people being unable to pay.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Feb 10, 2011 11:11 am

Coelacanth wrote:
theMoMA wrote:Individual players sometimes encounter problems with paying at open tournaments or side events. Usually it comes down to not having cash on hand at the time the host/TD is collecting money. When this happens, be as prompt as possible and don't be offended by persistent attempts to collect, especially if you're from far away and collecting five bucks from you at a later time is going to be a big hassle. You should be willing to spend money to play good questions, and you should be happy to fork over your five bucks to keep the quizbowl economy afloat. If you leave without paying, be nice and figure it out over email (and be the one to initiate; it makes it a lot easier to believe that it was an honest mistake). Don't try to evade your debt in hopes of the TD forgetting.
The ubiquity of ATMs (especially around college campuses) makes this wholly unforgivable. If you don't have the cash when I'm checking in teams in the morning, I'm going to tell you to get the cash and pay me at lunchtime. No exceptions, no excuses.

And honestly, if you've driven hundreds of miles to a tournament without bringing either (a) enough cash to cover expenses you know ahead of time you'll be asked to pay, or (b) an ATM or credit card to cover both your known expenses and any contingencies, then what the heck is wrong with you?
I didn't have an ATM debit card until late 2010; I'm probably more the exception than the rule, but I don't think you can just assume that every college student is going to have a debit card. And of course TD's don't normally take MasterCard.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Cheynem » Thu Feb 10, 2011 12:34 pm

I usually bring my checkbook to tournaments as well.

Andrew's pretty much right here.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Coelacanth » Thu Feb 10, 2011 12:42 pm

Morraine Man wrote:I didn't have an ATM debit card until late 2010; I'm probably more the exception than the rule, but I don't think you can just assume that every college student is going to have a debit card. And of course TD's don't normally take MasterCard.
I'm not necessarily assuming a debit card; I'm assuming a ATM/debit card from your bank or a credit card (which can get cash advances at an ATM). If you have neither of those things (which, I'll grant, less than 100% of college quizbowlers probably have) why on earth would you ever travel to a tournament without enough cash to cover the expenses you know you're going to incur?

In other words, does the following thought process ever occur?

OK, I'm driving 300 miles to a tournament. I'm going to need about $75 for gas, $100 for my hotel room, I can probably get by on $30 worth of food for the weekend, and the TD is charging me $50 to play. These are just example numbers, but let's say I'm planning to spend $250 total. Since I'm driving my own car, I may end up in the middle of nowhere having to pay for a tow truck or a repair shop; this could be a significant expense. So I know I'm going to need $250 plus some cash for emergencies, and I decide to bring no cash and no credit card. Brilliant!
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Cheynem » Thu Feb 10, 2011 12:52 pm

I think it's less conscious than that. Most people probably have their program pay for their hotel/registration fees/gas. People also don't tend to carry around cash. I completely agree that if you're going to a quizbowl event, and you know there's side events (these are not spontaneous things!), you should either bring your checkbook, bring an ATM/debit card, or bring cash.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by theMoMA » Thu Feb 10, 2011 12:59 pm

When you think you might want some goods or services, bring money.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by theMoMA » Thu Feb 10, 2011 1:08 pm

We're getting bogged down a bit here. There seems to be an attitude that tournaments are things that we should be reluctant to pay for. I disagree vehemently with this idea. For one, writing quizbowl questions takes a lot of time and effort. For another, people spend lots of money getting to tournaments; they can and should pay a little at the margin to reward the writers and editors for the very reason that they're traveling.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Feb 10, 2011 1:15 pm

To take this conversation to slightly more theoretical places:

In the past, I've posted about whether it might make sense for host sites to pay teams to show up to their tournament. The argument that this is a good idea is based on what happened to Stanford's Cardinal Classic. For decades, CC was an obscure local tournament. Then, one year, the University of Chicago decided to fly out to it, probably for reasons having to do more with a need to eliminate their budget surplus and Seth Teitler's homesickness for the Bay Area, rather than the quality of the questions or reputation of the event.

What happened then? Brown and other elite teams followed. Suddenly, Cardinal Classic was a mid-season preview of Nationals. The CalTrains to Palo Alto were choked full of 50+ PPG players. And the Stanford quizbowl club gained quite a bit of money and prestige from all of this.

Cardinal Classic did fade back into obscurity after two years - but who knows what might have happened if the quality of the questions was able to match the quality of the field. But it shows that at least in some circumstances, one special team attending an event will lead to many other teams showing up. So, I've often wondered, why not bribe UChicago to show up?

I think there is a flip side to this as well: some teams should have great bargaining power against a TD, yet we don't see them exploiting it too frequently.

If teams like 2008-2009 Chicago have the power to transfigure a tournament just by showing up, maybe one day we'll see such a team demand to play for free, or even to be paid to play. You don't even have to be an amazing team to take advantage of this: what if you are the team that would allow the TD to avoid using a double-bye schedule?
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by powerplant » Thu Feb 10, 2011 1:45 pm

I understand that there's writing and editing questions takes up huge swaths of time, and our writers and editors do what they do largely out of the goodness of their hearts. But I don't think that players are entirely trying to dick the writers and editors over. When I was playing with Centre's team, we payed in large part out of our own pockets (the prizes from our T-Party mirror were entirely donated out of my personal collection). I haven't been at many events this year because I'm flat broke (my community college is covered by financial aid). If it wasn't for the fact I was able to hobo down to Columbus with Case's team and submit $75 worth of discounts between buzzers and clocks, I wouldn't have even played SCT. If I had a larger budget (and if the Centre team had a larger budget) then I would be playing a lot more often. But I think that a lot of players from schools without established teams are in the same boat I am (and Centre is). If I hadn't been able to finagle all those discounts I couldn't have played SCT. It wasn't out of lack of respect for NAQT's product that I paid as little as I could, it was because I can't afford to pay more than I have to.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Susan » Thu Feb 10, 2011 1:52 pm

Morraine Man wrote: In the past, I've posted about whether it might make sense for host sites to pay teams to show up to their tournament. The argument that this is a good idea is based on what happened to Stanford's Cardinal Classic. For decades, CC was an obscure local tournament. Then, one year, the University of Chicago decided to fly out to it, probably for reasons having to do more with a need to eliminate their budget surplus and Seth Teitler's homesickness for the Bay Area, rather than the quality of the questions or reputation of the event.
What actually happened is that Stanford resurrected their tournament, which had long (i.e. since 1994 at least) drawn an national field, and which Chicago had previously attended four times before the tournament fell into abeyance in 2004. As if a tournament held in California in February needed anything else to be appealing, this iteration of Cardinal Classic was edited solely by the fine players at Stanford (previous Cardinal Classics had packet-swapped with ELVIS and Juan Carlos Viscerra to sometimes-disappointing results). The (historical) reputation of the event, the anticipated quality of the questions, and the entire team's longing to visit the Bay Area and eat gelato all played a role in our attendance. I believe we sent pretty much everyone who wanted to go, so paying Chicago to send more people would not have accomplished anything. I think the takeaway lesson from Cardinal Classic 2008 is that if you give people every reason to think your tournament will be awesome, teams will come to it. I can't imagine any situation in which paying people to attend your tournament doesn't end up simply costing you money.

To get back to what Andrew's actually trying to talk about--how much does it cost to set up a Paypal account that can receive funds? If people ran such things for tournaments, it could eliminate the "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a side event today" issue, as well as making it easier for writers/editors to collect fees from multiple host sites (by taking a page out of NAQT's book and having teams pay the editors and the editors pay the hosts). I'd be curious to know how well people from NAQT thought their system (which is presumably more tailored to their needs than a Paypal system would be) worked for SCT this year.

edited to remove unintentional wacky hyperbole
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Frater Taciturnus » Thu Feb 10, 2011 2:01 pm

Morraine Man wrote: If teams like 2008-2009 Chicago have the power to transfigure a tournament just by showing up, maybe one day we'll see such a team demand to play for free, or even to be paid to play. You don't even have to be an amazing team to take advantage of this: what if you are the team that would allow the TD to avoid using a double-bye schedule?
Uh, I'm pretty sure this already happens, especially at the last minute.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Coelacanth » Thu Feb 10, 2011 2:31 pm

Joe, I think that's a separate situation. My comments were aimed at the individual player/open event crowd.

Obviouisly, if someone in your situation wants to play a side event or whatever, you should either find the cash somewhere or make arrangements with the TD/host ahead of time. If you can't work something out then you don't play.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Feb 10, 2011 2:59 pm

I endorse this product and/or service.

One thing I do have to say about situations where individual players are expected to pay their way: if you're running a tournament, don't be lax about collecting. I don't think I've ever deliberately avoided paying someone, but I am fairly sure there were times when whoever was running it didn't make much of an effort to collect, and the result was I (and I'm sure others) ended up not paying, not due to malice but simply oversight.

This is a much more serious problem with hosts. I find that a lot of hosts simply drop the ball when it comes to paying editors (I'm still trying to get money we were owed from last year's Regionals). If you owe money, be a good sport and pay when you're asked to.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Important Bird Area » Thu Feb 10, 2011 3:20 pm

Susan wrote:making it easier for writers/editors to collect fees from multiple host sites (by taking a page out of NAQT's book and having teams pay the editors and the editors pay the hosts). I'd be curious to know how well people from NAQT thought their system (which is presumably more tailored to their needs than a Paypal system would be) worked for SCT this year.
This system works well for us, but I could easily imagine it being a pain for hosts who run fewer tournaments in a given year.

Also, much of our payment does come through Paypal; I have no idea how much that actually costs us on a yearly basis.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by powerplant » Thu Feb 10, 2011 4:14 pm

Coelacanth wrote:Joe, I think that's a separate situation. My comments were aimed at the individual player/open event crowd.

Obviouisly, if someone in your situation wants to play a side event or whatever, you should either find the cash somewhere or make arrangements with the TD/host ahead of time. If you can't work something out then you don't play.
Upon rereading the original post, I realize that the thread was more directed at those who can afford tournaments (or represent themselves as being able to afford tournaments) and then try to weasel out of paying. I was just saying that to those with limited budgets, there is ample reason to go for every possible discount. This thread isn't really attacking that position, and I feel stupid for misunderstanding it when I made my first post.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Mike Bentley » Thu Feb 10, 2011 4:24 pm

1. Writers and editors work very hard to produce quality tournaments and don't get paid very much for their time.

2. Players and teams spend thousands of dollars each year to go to quizbowl tournaments; most of the money goes to logistical costs and the host shares of entry fees.

3. Players and teams should be willing to spend money to play good questions.
I certainly agree with the first point, however points 2 and 3 are more problematic, especially in new circuits. People are not paying thousands of dollars each year to go to tournaments, and the money they do spend tends to come out of their own pockets. Furthermore, a lot of people are not actually willing to pay out of their own pocket for quizbowl tournaments.

The reality of the circuit in the Pacific Northwest, for instance, is that pretty much everyone is paying out of pocket to come to tournaments, and the field of potential players is extremely small. Additionally, quizbowl is a big time sink, and for most of the people in the region it's just not worth their time. I've found it's hard enough to get people to come to college tournaments for free and stay the whole time. Having a team of like 2 or 3 people new to quizbowl pay $100 is just not going to happen. Even the more dedicated teams don't have the resources to regularly pay "full price" for a tournament. Instead, we've tried to make the entry fees modest and negotiate with writers to take a higher percentage of the fees we collect (e.g. 50% or something) and off prices more along the lines of $25 or $30 per person.

For instance, UW has hosted these tournaments in the 2010-2011 school year: ACF Novice, TERP, Fall Novice HS Tournament, Trashmasters, an NAQT IS-A set for high school teams, TIT, Penn Bowl (upcoming), Penn Bowl Trash (upcoming) and an NAQT high school state championship tournament. We've gone to two tournaments not at UW and plan on going to one more in the spring. Excluding SCT, we've had to pay for these tournaments completely with generated revenue since the school provides no such funding. Outside of the high school tournaments, we've made practically no money on hosting tournaments since many of these tournaments we've gotten maybe 4 people to come who aren't affiliated with the university. This mostly gets us by for the year, but it would put a big strain on us if there were more tournaments hosted outside UW in the region.

In summary, yeah, writers don't make a lot of money on what they write. But at the same time, this is probably a bit of healthy altruism for the growth of quizbowl as a whole. I haven't seen the evidence that marginal teams or new circuits are clamoring to both play and pay for a ton of high quality quizbowl, and I see the necessary sacrific here as writers just not making as much as they ought to.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by Susan » Thu Feb 10, 2011 4:32 pm

The points you make are good, Mike, but are those players the ones Andrew's railing against in his post above? There's a pretty big ethical gap between working with writers/editors to keep costs low for new teams in a developing region (which I don't think any reasonable person is against) and trying to welsh out of paying writers/editors their previously-agreed-upon fees. I know that a lot of the teams and people who are delinquent about paying for things are not new/developing teams.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by theMoMA » Thu Feb 10, 2011 5:51 pm

For what it's worth, the teams in expanding regions like the ones that Mike is referring to have typically been extremely easy to deal with. There have been a few exceptions, naturally.
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Re: Money and Quizbowl

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Fri Feb 11, 2011 8:29 pm

I don't disagree with many of Andrews points, but I have a few observations.

Why do players paying out of their own pockets try to welsh on tourney fees? Well, because most players have very little disposable income, and it's easier than trying to welsh on paying for gas - you tend to get arrested if you do that. If you're being asked to cough up $60-$100 in tourney fees for a weekend of qb - that's a significant amount for a college student with no outside source of income. The difference between a weekend that costs $250 and one that costs $320 is a lot more significant for most poor college students than you may be giving credit for.

(I've always said that I think it's reasonable to ask any one person to pay $40 out of pocket for a tournament, but not much more than that.). I remember when I played Nats solo as a one-man team and was asked to cough up $150 or something. That kind of stuff irked me, because it doesn't make sense economically - I write an entire packet, doing nothing but make your job easier, and you charge me 5 times what most players are paying. But, that's my own beef.

Secondly, I can't say that I've really ever had a huge problem with any of the usual suspects in quizbowl paying or owing money. If somemone like Jerry or Hart owes me money, or I owe them money, there's a pretty good chance it's going to get evened out at some point, because I'll see them again soon. Whenever there are multiple interactions between people, the result usually ends up fair. It's the people and teams on the periphery who you only see once or twice who can present the problem.

Lastly, noone disagrees that writers and editors do a ton of work and get paid very little. But, that's just to state the obvious about the horribly inefficient qb market. There's a ridiculous lack of demand - only a handful of people would pay a reasonable price for this product, and those are mostly the same people who are producing the product!
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