What's the State of the College Game?

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Cheynem
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What's the State of the College Game?

Post by Cheynem »

Disclaimer: Aside from working on SCT/ICT and staffing those tournaments, I have almost no experience with the collegiate circuit. I am only basing observations on online chatter and looking at fields/stats.

I'm somewhat distressed by the state of the college game, in terms of overall strength and size. Certainly, some regions seem to be doing well. The main Penn Bowl site had a very robust field, as did the Midwest site. Some EFT sites across the country looked very well attended.

And yet...there are many sites where Penn Bowl fields were nonexistent or marginal (or are projected to be). Even some EFT sites are falling victim to cancellation or are suffering through small fields. In particular, circuits like the upper Midwest, southern California/southwest, the Pacific northwest, Rocky Mountains, the southeast, and others (which, yes, I know, are not famously active circuits) really seem to be struggling to put together good fields for tournaments (especially regular and above tournaments). Many had to resort to semi-open fields for Penn Bowl. In some cases, as Chris Chiego noted in another thread, the fields only look bigger because of people playing very shorthanded or solo.

This isn't because of a lack of hard work--there are active, hard-working programs and program leaders in all of these regions, who have put in a ton of work and generated good results in many cases. And maybe people more actively involved and on the ground can offer a better explanation.

Some questions and thoughts to build off of this:

1. How much of this is tied to difficulty? The obvious observation is that teams, especially in smaller circuits, are reluctant to play regular tournament or above difficulty tournaments. Are there too many of these tournaments? Are they too hard? Should there be more "easier" tournaments (but again, note that even things like EFT and Collegiate Novice are sparsely attended)?

2. What are things that the "bigger circuits" do correctly to boost their circuit strength? Is it a case of strong teams at the top paving the way for more teams overall?

3. How does the practice of "semi-open" tournaments help or hinder circuits (and I think they do both)? Are there better solutions?

I have no idea how to answer any of these questions, but I wanted to see what people thought.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by tiwonge »

As one of the mentioned circuits, I don't think we'd have had a better turnout for EFT had it been something easier like ACF Fall. There's not really any other teams out there who might come for an easier tournament. (If we had more stronger high school teams, that might be a possibility, but it's also possible that Daniel or Matt might not come compete on an easier set if less-experienced teams come, so I think that washes out.) Now, the converse is probably not true--something much harder might make it harder to attract a field. UW is hosting a mirror of the Penn Bowl, and even as an open tournament, it's not going to get the same attendance as their ACF Fall. (Part of this is due to timing, at the end of the semester.)

In our case, it's mostly a function of space (and time, since UW being on the quarter system made it hard for them to get organized in time). There just aren't enough teams within a reasonable distance. And given the density of the intermountain northwest, there's not a lot that can be done to change that. (This may not be true for Seattle and Portland and the Pacific northwest, but I don't know that area as well.) Gonzaga was briefly on this circuit, and Whitman even more briefly. Utah State and University of Utah and Idaho State are plausible places to expand, but that's probably not going to happen without a high school circuit feeding those schools. Ditto Montana and Montana State. Or, more local to me, College of Idaho. (Or a community college circuit, maybe.) And Nevada-Reno. And that almost exhausts the schools that could reasonably have a quiz bowl club within an 8 hour drive of me outside of the Pacific coast.

Distance also makes it hard, not just in terms of getting teams to tournaments in the first place, but it suppresses the frequency of tournaments. If we're traveling 8 hours one weekend, it's much less likely that we want to do it again the next weekend. If we can only have one tournament a month, give-or-take, then it's harder to schedule a lot of tournaments, which also makes players slightly less likely to practice, if they're only going to compete in a handful of tournaments.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by cchiego »

This is a broader point, but outreach at the HS level and college level cannot be seen in isolation from each other. It's incumbent on college teams to do outreach and host HS events to build up a pipeline of new players. College teams should be especially interested in doing outreach to a broader range of high schools instead of obsessing about how great the A Team from Established High School Powerhouse X is not only because it's good to expose more students at more schools to quizbowl, but also to lessen the aggregation problem at the college level so that you get more students who will stay local instead of going off to the Ivy League schools or a single flagship state institution (think, say, Berkeley vacuuming up the vast majority of HS players from California), which is a big source of the problems that Mike outlines above.

To take the example that Colin brings up, there *are* active high schools circuits in Montana, Wyoming, Northern Nevada, and Eastern Washington. They're just not (usually) pyramidal. But Wyoming is strikingly active (seemingly every community college there hosts a tournament each year), as are Washington and Montana. Nevada also has "Academic Olympics" in Reno and the Ruby Mountain League in the northern half of the state, both of which sometimes use NAQT questions, as well as the Vegas schools who at least have some exposure. Utah too has "National Academic League" schools that could serve as a springboard for at least inviting schools to events. But this requires a concerted effort by local hosts and ideally work by the broader quizbowl community to care about outreach in these places to help build that pipeline into college quizbowl (there are also plenty of gaps even in areas that are seemingly better-covered by college teams).

I think there are two ways in which the quizbowl community writ large should help newer collegiate teams and/or teams in more isolated areas to keep them around and expand the game (IF expanding the game is what the college quizbowl community really wants):

First, more established members of the quizbowl community should reach out to new teams' leadership and strike up a relationship so that you can check in and help them overcome obstacles like organizational or funding issues. This would also be useful in planning for leadership transitions and for ensuring that interested high school graduates can make connections to the club before they even get to campus. Perhaps some kind of "regional coordinator" position responsible for schools in 4-5 states at a time would be helpful. The ideal here too would be to help advise these teams about the norms of quizbowl, the relative difficulty of the tournaments, etc. so that you don't have posts where brand-new teams get publicly yelled at for not wanting to stick around to lose by 300-400 points to solo teams and high schoolers (the presence of elite HS teams at college events is, as Mike's post suggests, a topic for discussion as well).

Second, because the HS and College circuits are heavily intertwined (especially outside of the Northeast where you have a lot of schools that attract out-of-state students) the quizbowl community should also seek to help newer programs and programs in more isolated areas to host HS events and do outreach to start to build up a pipeline of local players. For instance, the fact that BYU has a team means that pyramidal quizbowl *has* a toehold in Utah that we could work with to build up. I've already contacted people in Washington State to see if I can help with outreach there and I hope that others who have any kind of interest in broadening quizbowl's appeal nationally would do similarly in areas that could use the help (even if it's just your home city/state/region, you *can* make a difference). But this could also apply to other circuits that have fledgling college teams as well. It's not necessarily rocket science, but sharing best practices and past experiences seems like it can be quite helpful.

One additional suggestion with regards to some of the issues that Colin brings up: one possibility for sparser circuits is trying to combine multiple events into one weekend. That might attract a broader range of players to congregate together over one weekend (say, Collegiate Novice on Saturday, EFT on Sunday) and could allow for more circuit-building social interactions (along the lines of what you see at nationals).

I've already talked about some issues that face smaller colleges or colleges just starting teams too, so I'll leave that for now and hope others will weigh in on this in the context of collegiate quizbowl more broadly.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by halle »

I feel as though I ought to respond to this thread, since I've been accused of publicly yelling at a brand new team. If you follow the link in Chris's post, I think it is fairly evident that I wasn't yelling at anyone--my tone was somewhat stern, but I did my absolute best to avoid crossing the line into hostile or unkind. My goal was to provide information about the community norms, but in a firm enough manner to convey their seriousness, especially because both a staffer and I had already emphatically told the members of the team in question that it was heavily frowned upon to leave a tournament early, and that it would ruin the schedule and other teams' ability to play if they did leave, upon hearing them begin to discuss wanting to leave during my game against them. Furthermore, this was not a team that was entirely new to quizbowl--one of the players was wearing an IPNCT shirt! The team had played Novice the week before! If this was a team that had unknowingly flouted a community norm, I would have used a less harsh tone, or not have posted publicly at all. But this was a team that had already had the norms of the situation kindly explained to them, and who acted against those norms despite knowing it would screw over other players (myself included). I'll also note that there is only one member of the team in question that was not openly rude to me during and after our game at EFT, and that I've made a point of letting her know that I appreciate her continuing to stay positive despite the situation, and that I greatly hope that she sticks with quizbowl and that her teammates are able to acclimate themselves better to the norms of the college community. While I admit I was surprised that this team didn't bail early at Penn Bowl, I was happy to see this happen, and was incredibly glad to hear from this team member that she felt optimistic that her team was beginning to get the hang of things. I hope no one took my original post as a condemnation of the team; Penn Bowl has demonstrated that they are certainly able to improve their behavior, and I look forward to seeing if they continue along this trajectory.

Anyway, this has been a very long and self-serving paragraph. It does not do much to forward the discussion of the state of the college game. But I am uncomfortable being used as an example of the problem in the college community, and felt the need to defend myself. To make a more general point, I don't think that there is anything wrong with the method of using the forums as a means to call out those who flout norms, since it provides pressure to not repeat the bad behavior and spreads awareness of those norms to new teams who might be browsing the forums. It also provides hosts a warning about potential bad actors, or at least teams that might need some additional instruction when it comes to community expectations (I'll also note that many of the players who had an unexpected bye round at EFT because a team left without telling anyone were themselves brand new to the college game). It is certainly possible to take too aggressive a tone in such posts, but it is clearly also possible to post in such a manner without scaring the team away. I welcome any insight this thread generates into how to best handle situations where new teams flout community norms in a way that negatively affects the running of tournaments, and I will take it into account in the future. I definitely do not advocate yelling at brand new teams, and I hope the additional context I have provided above makes that clear.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by Cheynem »

Yeah, I don't know why that post was brought up; it seemed fine to me, and the team in question responded just fine.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by tiwonge »

cchiego wrote:
Mon Oct 21, 2019 2:46 pm
First, more established members of the quizbowl community should reach out to new teams' leadership and strike up a relationship so that you can check in and help them overcome obstacles like organizational or funding issues. This would also be useful in planning for leadership transitions and for ensuring that interested high school graduates can make connections to the club before they even get to campus. Perhaps some kind of "regional coordinator" position responsible for schools in 4-5 states at a time would be helpful.
I'm doing this with Idaho and BYU. I try to check in with them at the end of the year to make sure they've set up officers or contacts for the next year, and again at the beginning of the year to touch base with them. I include them on tournament date conversations, and try to make sure they're aware of tournaments that are happening in their area. I'm also trying to work with them to host a high school tournament, although that's a little more work.

I talked to the Frenchtown (high school in Montana) coach over the summer, and he said that his son is at Montana State, I think, as well as some of his players. I need to get back in touch with him to get contact info for them, though. That was put on the back burner as I had other things I was trying to do. If I find some students there, I'll probably do the same thing with them.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by cchiego »

tiwonge wrote:
Mon Oct 21, 2019 8:51 pm
cchiego wrote:
Mon Oct 21, 2019 2:46 pm
First, more established members of the quizbowl community should reach out to new teams' leadership and strike up a relationship so that you can check in and help them overcome obstacles like organizational or funding issues. This would also be useful in planning for leadership transitions and for ensuring that interested high school graduates can make connections to the club before they even get to campus. Perhaps some kind of "regional coordinator" position responsible for schools in 4-5 states at a time would be helpful.
I'm doing this with Idaho and BYU. I try to check in with them at the end of the year to make sure they've set up officers or contacts for the next year, and again at the beginning of the year to touch base with them. I include them on tournament date conversations, and try to make sure they're aware of tournaments that are happening in their area. I'm also trying to work with them to host a high school tournament, although that's a little more work.

I talked to the Frenchtown (high school in Montana) coach over the summer, and he said that his son is at Montana State, I think, as well as some of his players. I need to get back in touch with him to get contact info for them, though. That was put on the back burner as I had other things I was trying to do. If I find some students there, I'll probably do the same thing with them.
Right, please understand that I'm trying to say that all these efforts in the PNW/Mountain West are excellent and far beyond what anyone could expect, but that one person like yourself shouldn't have to do all of this alone. Instead, I hope that others in quizbowl will see efforts like this and try to assist, especially those from healthier circuits and teams with stronger institutional backing who don't have to spend time scrambling to simply keep a team together. It would be great to see more teams/players/alumni band together to help share the burdens of outreach and supporting new teams. I hope that people in these regions like yourself won't ever lack for assistance if you need it from the community on these efforts at both the HS and College levels.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by alexdz »

cchiego wrote:
Mon Oct 21, 2019 9:04 pm
It would be great to see more teams/players/alumni band together to help share the burdens of outreach and supporting new teams. I hope that people in these regions like yourself won't ever lack for assistance if you need it from the community on these efforts at both the HS and College levels.
This seems like a potential extension of the work that many local/regional quizbowl alliances are already doing. Obviously, many are understandably focused primarily on growing the HS game. But as has been brought up here, the success of the game at any level is intricately tied to the health of other levels. A healthy local college circuit means more viable hosts for HS events, a pool of staffers, and role models of sorts for local students looking for colleges to attend. It seems like if each alliance were to have a point person primarily designated for college teams and events, much of this regional circuit building/maintenance work could become a part of the already great work the alliances are doing. I'm certain this already happens informally, but making some sort of concerted effort through creating a new position or committee in an alliance would be a concrete step for the community to take in this effort.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by ValenciaQBowl »

So I think this anecdote might be relevant.

At Valencia this fall I have a new player who was at a state university that finished in the top 20 of D1 at ICT (not my alma mater! Find your Pierre Delecto!) and attended 4-5 practices last fall (so fall of 2018). First, let me emphasize that this student says the players at the practices were friendly and welcoming when he first came in, which is great. However, he found it overwhelming to see such good players smashing questions on answers he often hadn't heard of. And to be fair, when I asked him if he would interrupt to ask "What was that answer?" or "How did you know to buzz on that clue?" he said he didn't, but I suppose it's understandable that the new person in a room full of people who might seem to know something might be reticent. After about a month of practicing, he figured he couldn't be good enough to be part of the team and drifted away. For unrelated, non-academic reasons, he's back in Orlando and will be a great help to my Valencia teams. And again, he has nothing but nice things to say about the people on that great team; he just figured he could never be as good as they are.

What I got from this story is that this team, probably like many/most good programs, could probably think about setting up something like a "farm system" for truly brand-new players. Obviously most top-15 programs are used to having HS stars (or at least experienced HS players) walk into practice, so they're not expecting to, say, explain the game from its most obvious basics ("This is a toss-up, this is a bonus") and then read novice packets without experienced players taking part. Probably this is a separate practice, or maybe an hour before the regular practice begins. Doing this might help keep brand-new players interested and help program continuity. And after a year of incubation, those noobs could be pretty good contributors.

Of course, I'm sure many teams do have novice practices and such, but obviously not all of them, so this might just be something to consider if you're not doing it.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by Ethnic history of the Vilnius region »

I can't say I'm distressed by the state of college quizbowl in the southeast or south Atlantic (the two circuits I guess South Carolina is part of). It seems about as healthy as usual, probably more so. Not as robust as some regions, but plenty of teams playing and stuff. Fall novice at GT seemed like a success to me. 18 teams attended, including new teams from UT-Knoxville, North Georgia, and Emory. On top of a decent field, Georgia Tech did what I thought was one of the best hosting jobs I can remember. The GT people have done a great job hosting for years, but this was a really good one.

For EFT, we went to the well attended UNC mirror (20 teams from the Carolinas and Virginia). The Auburn EFT had 10 teams. It would have been nice if there were more teams there, but it didn't seem alarmingly low for the region. And it did show that GT is pretty good at quizbowl. They have a chance to up the region's game (which Florida has already done to some extent, since they are sort of a part of the SE circuit as well). And the rest of the field did pretty well. I don't think higher difficulty was much of a deterrent for EFT. Practicing on EFT and other regular minus difficulty questions from years past didn't seem to scare our team, FWIW.

Penn Bowl seems to have struggled in the southeast and south Atlantic (and some other areas, it seems). Difficulty might be part of it. I'm all for teams challenging themselves on higher difficulty. I encourage the SC team to play more difficult questions. It's a challenge for me. I wonder how to get people interested in higher difficulty stuff, especially younger players who aren't from super high powered high school teams. But yeah, you're gonna get bigger fields in novice and regular minus tournaments in the southeast at this time. I'm still a supporter of regular difficulty (is that what Penn Bowl's difficulty is?).

FWIW, SC was interested in Penn Bowl at UNC, which is closer to us than Auburn. But the UNC mirror had to be moved from last weekend to this coming Sunday. Sunday tournaments are hard for us to attend if they're over 2 hours away. Reservation issues on UNC's end caused this, which I totally understand and empathize with. I'd be interested to know why some of the usual suspects didn't sign up for the Auburn mirror of Penn Bowl.

Another thing to consider is price. Fall novice's base fee was $80 and EFT and Penn Bowl's base fees were at least $120. Harder and more expensive tournaments might have a harder time attracting sizable fields.

As far as boosting circuit strength, the more developed college circuits seem to have more grad students. Grad students help with competitiveness, but they also help with logistics and institutional memory, which might help grow those circuits even more. More of a systematic advantage, I suppose.

Probably the best bet to improve the quality of college circuits outside of the current power circuits is for college teams there to host more high school tournaments, as Chris Chiego noted. We've hosted HS tournaments at USC pretty consistently for the last several years, and it has helped the quality of our team. We've have 5 freshmen right now who attended our tournaments when they were in high school. That's pretty cool.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by ganman0305 »

Forgive me if I am treading ground already covered in this discussion, but one thing I'd like to speak about from experience of being on a new team in the Upper Midwest circuit is that of transportation. Naturally, as a newly found club, we are not given as large a budget as other established programs at the university. This is fair, and as such, we're proving our strength as an organization and always finding ways to bring in new funds. With that being said though, just naturally, we always have the dollar sign looming on our back at tournaments. I think this is true of a lot of Upper Midwest teams, particularly smaller schools in the region.

With this being said, the Upper Midwest is naturally a much larger region to cover versus, say, New England. Any tournament site in St. Louis or Chicago is three and a half hours away from Iowa, with Minneapolis being 5 hours away. Our closest tournament we've attended is at Truman State, which is two and a half hours. This obviously requires a car, but my major issue this semester as I do not have a car on campus is that I've had to go through University Vehicle Services, which easily cost about $120 for just one tournament alone. This is almost as much as bringing an entire second team! With that being said though, I've been fortunate enough to have paid for usage of my friends' car for a much lower price.

But even at that, I can imagine the difficulty a school would have in attending multiple high quality tournaments a year on a tight budget when transportation is thrown into the mix. With this being said though, I spilled Mello Yello into my stir fry when I saw that ACF Nationals will be held in Minneapolis this year. This is an amazing opportunity for teams in the Upper Midwest circuit, some of which qualified for ACF Nationals, but were unable to make it due to travel issues. I think its important to definitely host ACF Nationals in sites that are both convenient for access by plane/travel across the country, but also in regions that allow for smaller teams who can't afford flights to attend. I think another good site, for instance, might be in the South Atlantic general South region, which would allow a multitude a teams to attend. But this all depends on the application process, so it definitely will vary.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by Zealots of Stockholm »

Ethnic history of the Vilnius region wrote:
Tue Oct 22, 2019 8:35 pm
I can't say I'm distressed by the state of college quizbowl in the southeast or south Atlantic (the two circuits I guess South Carolina is part of). It seems about as healthy as usual, probably more so. Not as robust as some regions, but plenty of teams playing and stuff. Fall novice at GT seemed like a success to me. 18 teams attended, including new teams from UT-Knoxville, North Georgia, and Emory. On top of a decent field, Georgia Tech did what I thought was one of the best hosting jobs I can remember. The GT people have done a great job hosting for years, but this was a really good one.

For EFT, we went to the well attended UNC mirror (20 teams from the Carolinas and Virginia). The Auburn EFT had 10 teams. It would have been nice if there were more teams there, but it didn't seem alarmingly low for the region. And it did show that GT is pretty good at quizbowl. They have a chance to up the region's game (which Florida has already done to some extent, since they are sort of a part of the SE circuit as well). And the rest of the field did pretty well. I don't think higher difficulty was much of a deterrent for EFT. Practicing on EFT and other regular minus difficulty questions from years past didn't seem to scare our team, FWIW.

Penn Bowl seems to have struggled in the southeast and south Atlantic (and some other areas, it seems). Difficulty might be part of it. I'm all for teams challenging themselves on higher difficulty. I encourage the SC team to play more difficult questions. It's a challenge for me. I wonder how to get people interested in higher difficulty stuff, especially younger players who aren't from super high powered high school teams. But yeah, you're gonna get bigger fields in novice and regular minus tournaments in the southeast at this time. I'm still a supporter of regular difficulty (is that what Penn Bowl's difficulty is?).

FWIW, SC was interested in Penn Bowl at UNC, which is closer to us than Auburn. But the UNC mirror had to be moved from last weekend to this coming Sunday. Sunday tournaments are hard for us to attend if they're over 2 hours away. Reservation issues on UNC's end caused this, which I totally understand and empathize with. I'd be interested to know why some of the usual suspects didn't sign up for the Auburn mirror of Penn Bowl.

Another thing to consider is price. Fall novice's base fee was $80 and EFT and Penn Bowl's base fees were at least $120. Harder and more expensive tournaments might have a harder time attracting sizable fields.

As far as boosting circuit strength, the more developed college circuits seem to have more grad students. Grad students help with competitiveness, but they also help with logistics and institutional memory, which might help grow those circuits even more. More of a systematic advantage, I suppose.

Probably the best bet to improve the quality of college circuits outside of the current power circuits is for college teams there to host more high school tournaments, as Chris Chiego noted. We've hosted HS tournaments at USC pretty consistently for the last several years, and it has helped the quality of our team. We've have 5 freshmen right now who attended our tournaments when they were in high school. That's pretty cool.
Just wanted to add a few things to what Eric said here, from the perspective of the school which is hosting both EFT and Penn Bowl for the Southeast this year. First, EFT I thought had healthy interest. We had 12 teams registered until the morning of the tournament (stuff happens), and I know that Georgia Tech has quite a large club, but a complete lack of drivers. From what I know, if they had the means of transportation, they would have had at least 4 teams at EFT, so I think there's plenty of interest for tournaments at this level in our region.

Penn Bowl (which, in my opinion, is generally considered to be "regular difficulty," or the approximate difficulty of ACF Regionals), however, does not have a great amount of interest. Our mirror will happen, I'm not sure how many teams total it will have, but as late as Friday I was worried we might have to cancel, and I was told by at least one team that difficulty was the main reason for them not attending. I personally really enjoy tournaments at this difficulty level, but I do think that most tournaments could stand to be brought down to the difficulty of EFT. I think a schedule of novice tournaments, EFT level tournaments, plus ACF Regs and NAQT SCT, the two national tournaments, and an open or two during the school year is plenty of difficult tournaments for the schedule.

Additionally, I'll note that Auburn isn't the ideal place for tournaments in the Southeast, as we're a bit too far to expect a few teams in the circuit to drive to regularly, whereas those teams can drive to Atlanta quite easily. But it's not reasonable to expect Georgia Tech to host everything, and we need the money, and maybe some teams like driving somewhere different sometimes.
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Re: What's the State of the College Game?

Post by Ethnic history of the Vilnius region »

Thanks for the input, Chandler. I really appreciate the work you have done with Auburn. Hopefully we can make it to an event out there again sometime. You are absolutely correct that it's important for teams other than GT to host; they do a great job, but it is indeed unreasonable to expect them to host everything. I've put in a bid to host an event at SC in the spring.
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