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Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2019 12:09 am
by cchiego
Should baby seals smile and accept their clubbings at quizbowl tournaments? Is it necessary for new teams, teams from remote circuits, or teams at less-wealthy/less-selective colleges that go to college tournaments that claim to be "designed to serve as an introduction to college quizbowl" to then get beaten by National Championship winners or members of the strongest, most institutionally-supported teams in the country? Is ensuring that these teams stick around for the final few rounds after they lose to a one or two-person high school team by 300-500 points really what college quizbowl should be about?

Or, perhaps, should college quizbowl recognize that:

1. There's a massive disparity in quizbowl experience that gets ratcheted up at all levels as top players are aggregated into fewer and fewer institutions together (MS -> HS -> Undergrad -> Grad). We now have college freshmen who've played the game for 6 or 7 years competing, ostensibly on the same level, against people brand-new to quizbowl. Things like "DII" designations for first-year college players don't do much to solve this issue. There are also plenty of high school teams that are stronger than many college teams, even on college-level questions, and losing to a high school team is a particularly disconcerting experience for college players. Quizbowl needs to address this issue far more directly than it does now since by all appearances it's only going to get worse as the MS/HS arms race continues to crank up.

2. It's no fun to lose by massive margins and struggle to answer even one part on bonuses. Tournaments in which many teams, especially newer teams, struggle should be a major red flag rather than an opportunity for the community to chide those teams (like, say, this incident, which, I'll admit, I was a jerk about at the time; in retrospect, I was wrong, and the Southeastern circuit suffered for years after this.) The priority of the quizbowl community ought to be keeping as many programs as possible alive; you can't get teams to improve when you don't have teams that stick around in the first place. Many will Exit, a few will Voice discontent, a tiny number will stick around, stay Loyal, and fail to recognize survivorship bias.

3. Tournaments that advertise themselves as being designed for new teams/players should stick to only taking new teams/players and/or there should be clear divisions set by team member experience (just like there's been a trend in HS for that). One of the unique things about quizbowl is that there's a desire to encourage new teams to start playing as soon as possible without necessarily telling them exactly how to prepare (unlike, say, a Mock Trial or Debate Competition where there are more clear avenues of preparation for each event). There especially should be better efforts to reach out proactively to new teams and teams on smaller circuits before they show up at any event. Is telling new/newer schools that they must take their lumps (often after driving significant distances) to improve really the best way to retain or encourage new teams?

4. College quizbowl is played by a small--and generally not-increasing--number of schools around the country that represent a tiny fraction of the college population. It's generally present only at the most selective schools (bless the CC circuit folks, especially Chris Borglum et al. in Florida, for managing to buck this trend). Any significant expansion at this point is likely going to bring in teams that are not as strong as the extant teams. What kind of experience would they have to look forward to at their first event(s?)? What if they read an ACF Fall packet in practice and can barely get 10 PPB? Is there clear guidance for them on how to improve or just a general wave of the hand towards packets to study?

So I pose the question: should baby seals smile while being clubbed? Or should we question why baby seals are being clubbed in the first place? The latter question requires college quizbowl to systematically rethink how tournaments are set up, how new teams are brought into the circuit, and who should be playing what questions. But to do that, there needs to be an answer to the former question first.

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2019 12:36 am
by Cheynem
Setting aside various specific points of discussion that could emerge from this thread, I think one question sticks out to me:

"Is telling new/newer schools that they must take their lumps (often after driving significant distances) to improve really the best way to retain or encourage new teams?"

There's three things at stake here:

1. Addressing the new team experience at many tournaments. This involves anything from stricter eligibility/field rules (for explicitly new or intro tournaments), separate divisions, and perhaps alternate schedules (perhaps lower bracket teams play less games, which already happens at many tournaments). There's a lot of ideas potentially here.

2. Making sure teams are adequately prepared coming in. This involves anything from making sure teams don't inappropriately show up at way-too-difficult tournaments and offering teams greater context about what the schedule/format/difficulty looks like. Are teams aware that in prelim games they will play a lot of very good teams, including depending where you are, some of the best in the country? Sometimes, even *historically great* teams? Are they aware that "high school teams" and one-person teams who show up will be really, really good? Are they aware that in most formats, rebracketing allows them to play teams arguably closer to their skill level? In many cases, they probably don't. Some sort of "Welcome to Your First Tournament" guide (that perhaps could be personalized, depending on the tournament) would be great--we could also potentially avoid some of the frustrating ex post facto posts that pop up, both from the new teams and teams aggrieved at their behavior.

3. Establishing a foundational mindset for teams sooner rather than later. Like, yes, we shouldn't expect you to get clubbed over and over and ask for more. But every single competitive activity takes time to get good at--a newly formed team will lose (most times) to better teams at anything from intramural basketball, League of Legos, quidditch, chess, and quizbowl. #1 and #2 of my points above will hopefully make sure the losing isn't too ugly and is as fair as possible. But you will lose. You will take your lumps. I realize this is cold comfort, but it is an unfortunate reality. Perhaps we should be stressing more of this to new teams, but we should also stress, that in my opinion, it's far quicker to get competitive at quizbowl than those other activities.

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2019 2:32 pm
by Skepticism and Animal Feed
College Quizbowl is not the only activity where the really good teams are significantly better than the brand new teams. There are a ton of activities that fit that pattern, and most are healthier than college quizbowl (though from my perch in 2010, it sure looks like college quizbowl is much healthier now than it was 9 years ago, so I'm not sure what all the recent doom and gloom is about). I agree with Mike Cheyne that the problem probably isn't with the concept of competition in general, but probably lies in the details of how college quizbowl does things like communicates, sets expectations, treats new people socially, etc.

When I attended my first-ever college tournament, ACF Fall 2004, my older teammates at UChicago told me a lot of the relevant background information, i.e. how the format works, which other teams are going to be there, as well as intel and lore about the other teams and players. So I knew about Zeke and Michigan before they dropped however many hundred points on me (I believe the only tossup my team got was one where Zeke buzzed in, said "this is either Bolivar or Sucre, I'm going to say Bolivar?", got negged, and then I sheepishly buzzed in at the end and said Sucre, whom I had never heard of until Zeke said his name in front of me mere seconds earlier) and I knew about Jason Mueller before directly experiencing him for the first time. If I had been playing for some team that had never attended an ACF Fall before, instead of for one of the most established college quizbowl programs of all time, I'm not sure where I would have obtained such information.

Perhaps an email from the TD which (1) sets expectations about the format, including what to expect in prelim and playoff/consolation rounds, (2) talks about the difficulty level, and (3) provides advice on how to prepare for the tournament, such as pointing you to sets of similar difficulty and how-to guides about getting better, would do some good.
4. College quizbowl is played by a small--and generally not-increasing--number of schools around the country that represent a tiny fraction of the college population. It's generally present only at the most selective schools (bless the CC circuit folks, especially Chris Borglum et al. in Florida, for managing to buck this trend). Any significant expansion at this point is likely going to bring in teams that are not as strong as the extant teams. What kind of experience would they have to look forward to at their first event(s?)? What if they read an ACF Fall packet in practice and can barely get 10 PPB? Is there clear guidance for them on how to improve or just a general wave of the hand towards packets to study?
If there's going to be a larger and larger pool of less experienced teams, it sounds like it will be in somebody's financial self-interest to create a year-round calendar of easier tournaments. Perhaps these teams will improve over a series of years rather than a series of months, so instead of going to ACF Fall -> EFT -> Penn Bowl -> ACF Regionals -> ACF Nationals in Year 1, they play the "Easy Circuit" their entire first year, and maybe experiment with Penn Bowl or Regionals their second year, etc.

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2019 4:13 pm
by Dominator
Maybe I'm reading Bruce's post wrong, but it seems like the advice that was most valuable to him (warnings about particular players and team strengths) are both:
  • not the sort of thing the TD's email was proposed to contain (or should contain, given that the TD should maintain some neutrality and biaslessness), and
  • the sort of thing that new programs are less likely to have access to.
I think his suggestion is a fine a good one, but to me, the solution is one of leadership and not communication. How can we connect new programs to mentors?

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2019 4:18 pm
by Cheynem
I think ACF and NAQT, if they do not already, should probably produce a basic "Welcome to College Quizbowl" brief "cheat sheet" that can be combined with "Guide to Your First Tournament Experience."

Information in this guide can be adapted by TD's to provide information on the basic nuts and bolts experiences of tournaments. I agree TD's probably shouldn't be "warning" teams about teams, but there is nothing wrong to highlight the field and say things like "Teams at this tournament include the fourth ranked in the country, as well as one of the top high schools in the state."

I think mentors are an interesting idea, although I'm not sure how to arrange that.

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2019 4:19 pm
by cchiego
Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:
Mon Oct 28, 2019 2:32 pm
College Quizbowl is not the only activity where the really good teams are significantly better than the brand new teams. There are a ton of activities that fit that pattern, and most are healthier than college quizbowl (though from my perch in 2010, it sure looks like college quizbowl is much healthier now than it was 9 years ago, so I'm not sure what all the recent doom and gloom is about).
Some quick stats from the 2010 SCTs compared to the 2019 SCTs (excluding Europe, but including Canada since there is crossover w/US teams) as best I could figure:

Total Teams (2010): 72 DI, 102 D2
Total Schools (2010): 103

Total Teams (2019): 66 D1, 161 D2
Total Schools (2019): 113

So there has been a slight increase in college programs, but not very much compared to the much bigger increase in HS teams during this time (HSNCT from 200 in 2010 to 336 in 2019 and almost certainly a lot more overall in terms of playing pyramidal questions). Instead, the growth seems channeled to some of the same schools (and interestingly, more at the D2 level here than D1, though there may be multiple explanations for that). I would, of course, love to see more data on this.

The thing is, other activities can get away with not being as friendly to newcomers because they're often more institutionally established and/or highly desired by colleges for whatever reason. Quizbowl doesn't have that that cachet at most schools.
Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:
Mon Oct 28, 2019 2:32 pm
If there's going to be a larger and larger pool of less experienced teams, it sounds like it will be in somebody's financial self-interest to create a year-round calendar of easier tournaments. Perhaps these teams will improve over a series of years rather than a series of months, so instead of going to ACF Fall -> EFT -> Penn Bowl -> ACF Regionals -> ACF Nationals in Year 1, they play the "Easy Circuit" their entire first year, and maybe experiment with Penn Bowl or Regionals their second year, etc.
Cheynem wrote:
Mon Oct 28, 2019 12:36 am
Some sort of "Welcome to Your First Tournament" guide (that perhaps could be personalized, depending on the tournament) would be great--we could also potentially avoid some of the frustrating ex post facto posts that pop up, both from the new teams and teams aggrieved at their behavior.
These are both great ideas that, I hope, will turn into something that provides clearer guidance to newer schools and teams. Bruce's discussion of the benefits of being on an established team to help set expectations is a pretty good illustration of the benefits of being part of an established program that don't often get carried over to other programs.

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2019 4:32 pm
by CPiGuy
cchiego wrote:
Mon Oct 28, 2019 4:19 pm
(and interestingly, more at the D2 level here than D1, though there may be multiple explanations for that)
My first inclination is that since D2 eligibility is literally defined by "have you qualified for or played at ICT", and the size of ICT has not changed, the number of D1 teams should remain relatively constant every year, because the number of players/teams losing their D2 eligibility should be approximately the same every year.

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2019 5:17 pm
by Lighthouse Expert Elinor DeWire
I think teams and hosts, especially in smaller circuits, need to be more conscious of the fact that even though EFT might be fine for both a top-10 team and a team that got 18ppb at novice the previous weekend, a game between those two teams at EFT could easily end up with a score of 655-5 and demoralize the worse team.

I agree with Bruce in that getting clobbered at your first tournament feels a lot better on the D team of a top-10 school because you at least have that support system of people and resources to help you get better. In people's experiences, do lower level teams from new schools generally actually read those guides/materials provided to help them improve?

I do think there is a lot of merit with an easier circuit, but for an established school that becomes a huge time sink for A-team members who already have to play their own slate of tournaments unless we're comfortable with just telling a bunch of novices to go and fend for themselves.

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2019 6:09 pm
by Aaron's Rod
Cheynem wrote:
Mon Oct 28, 2019 12:36 am
Some sort of "Welcome to Your First Tournament" guide (that perhaps could be personalized, depending on the tournament) would be great--we could also potentially avoid some of the frustrating ex post facto posts that pop up, both from the new teams and teams aggrieved at their behavior.
I would encourage people to edit the "New to quizbowl?" page on the college quizbowl calendar. Because the calendar is college-specific and combines information about ACF, NAQT, and housewrites alike, it has the potential to be a really great resource in a community that's otherwise pretty decentralized.

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:06 pm
by Skepticism and Animal Feed
Dominator wrote:
Mon Oct 28, 2019 4:13 pm
Maybe I'm reading Bruce's post wrong, but it seems like the advice that was most valuable to him (warnings about particular players and team strengths) are both:
  • not the sort of thing the TD's email was proposed to contain (or should contain, given that the TD should maintain some neutrality and biaslessness), and
  • the sort of thing that new programs are less likely to have access to.
I think his suggestion is a fine a good one, but to me, the solution is one of leadership and not communication. How can we connect new programs to mentors?
I agree that warnings about particular teams/players is largely inappropriate for a TD to provide. You wouldn't want a TD to be the one to tell people "Hey, player y on team x is a huge skeezeball". You might want a TD to be the one to tell people "Team Y is considered a leading contender for the national championship", but I could see that causing unrest in the way that high school rankings do.

But there's still valuable information short of that to be transmitted. I think people are far more likely to read an email from the TD than they are to read some guide somewhere out there on the wiki, especially if they're not in the quizbowl community and don't know about the wiki.

A mirror of EFT in 2010, I think, put rankings next to team names, the way you see them in college football or basketball. They were widely mocked for doing this, but it could be a way to convey useful information to new players. If you see that the team that beat you by 400 points is the #2 team in the country you perhaps feel less bad about it.

Anyway, just tossing ideas out there in case the problem with college quizbowl really is the lack of expectations.

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Tue Oct 29, 2019 9:54 pm
by dankosthenes
As one of the people leading a very young team, I think I have some unique insight on this. For context, the current OU quizbowl team is run by three sophomores. While we had support in Finn Bender and Thatcher Chonka last year, this year we're on our own.

This seal has been through some drubbings. I came in as a complete novice to Quizbowl last year (didn't offer it in Central Washington) and my game reflected that. I had a lot of rounds where I didn't have a chance to buzz on, not to mention correctly answering, any questions. Had we not had Thatcher to convince us we could get there with proper application of effort, I'm not sure I would have continued with it. I could not imagine trying to start a new Quizbowl program at a college with zero infrastructure and retaining enough students to have a healthy program. Would there be people gritty enough to stick with it? Absolutely, but I think they're the exception, not the rule.

I'm not sure how this could be accomplished, but I think an excellent way to solve some of these problems would be for each state to set up local circuits. This would state a great deal of effort, but I think it would eliminate some of the structural barriers to participating. Drive times would be greatly reduced and difficulty would be down-scaled to encourage new teams to play. Perhaps one weekend, your star team drives to Penn Bowl to compete while a B and C team stays in the state and competes at a local to pick up more experience. I think Gentleman's Agreements to prevent teams that are too strong from curb-stomping at locals would be more effective when the teams are all from the same state, as there would hopefully be more camaraderie and trust.

However, to accomplish this would require more resources than the community is currently able to employ. On the other hand, bringing more colleges into the Quizbowl fold (and prevent teams trying to rebuild from giving up altogether) would greatly increase the amount of resources available to the community at large.

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Wed Oct 30, 2019 10:31 am
by cchiego
dankosthenes wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 9:54 pm
This seal has been through some drubbings. I came in as a complete novice to Quizbowl last year (didn't offer it in Central Washington) and my game reflected that. I had a lot of rounds where I didn't have a chance to buzz on, not to mention correctly answering, any questions. Had we not had Thatcher to convince us we could get there with proper application of effort, I'm not sure I would have continued with it. I could not imagine trying to start a new Quizbowl program at a college with zero infrastructure and retaining enough students to have a healthy program. Would there be people gritty enough to stick with it? Absolutely, but I think they're the exception, not the rule.
This is a great post. One thing that it makes clear is that there needs to be personal contact with new/fledgling teams (and teams that are losing their veteran players, which is another point to consider). More online guides are probably not going to be very helpful compared to having real-life mentors and motivators.

There are plenty of veteran college quizbowl alumni out there who have not only knowledge of the game, but unique local connections to various areas. Why not enlist some of them to work with new teams? As others mentioned, mentoring would be great. It doesn't require a huge amount of time on the mentor's part, but it can mean a world of difference to a new school. Thanks to quizbowl's excellent collection of stats, we have good info on who was involved in quizbowl all over the country for the last decade at least, if not 2-3 if you factor in ancient artifacts that may exist from the dawn of ACF and NAQT (though the changes in the game over time may make more recent advice/mentorship more valuable). This seems like it could be a really neat project to get those alumni involved and connected to the game while also benefiting a wide variety of teams. And while alumni involvement could also certainly work at the HS level as well, it may be better-suited for college teams since they often lack a specific coach in the first place and the college circuit itself is different from HS.
dankosthenes wrote:
Tue Oct 29, 2019 9:54 pm
I'm not sure how this could be accomplished, but I think an excellent way to solve some of these problems would be for each state to set up local circuits. This would state a great deal of effort, but I think it would eliminate some of the structural barriers to participating. Drive times would be greatly reduced and difficulty would be down-scaled to encourage new teams to play.
The issue here is, as you point out, the difficulties in college outreach writ large (you may email 3-4 possible contacts at every university in a state multiple times in a year and only get a 10-20% response rate, with action that results in a team at say 1-2 schools). It could, however, be more likely within a state like Oklahoma, which does seem to be fairly quizbowl-crazy with a large (if mostly non-pyramidal) HS circuit and some infrastructure of local organizations and current CC teams. If you can get teams started at CCs, the various state universities, and the small private colleges around the state, you could have a pretty nice 12-15 team circuit within the state going. That would, however, likely require a multiple-year effort of repeated outreach and would almost certainly need to be played on more accessible questions (i.e. HS-level questions for the most part). Also, it would require a good answer to the ultimate question that has dogged previous college "juniorbird" tournaments: how do you avoid tournaments like this that feature a few very experienced players playing on introductory HS questions? A good state-level organization could, however, be able to institute clear eligibility restrictions (both pre-emptive based on HS experience and based on performances at tournaments in-state).

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Wed Oct 30, 2019 12:50 pm
by dankosthenes
cchiego wrote:
Wed Oct 30, 2019 10:31 am
More online guides are probably not going to be very helpful compared to having real-life mentors and motivators.
Having a hands-on mentor was critical for me to be motivated to improve my game. I easily put in 20+ hours a week (more before a tournament) into Quizbowl. Some of that is because I love what I study and find it fascinating, but a large part of it is the personal experience of playing quizbowl. If it was just about the study and love of literature, why not just read literary criticism and novels? Without a personal connection to the game, learning to play would be frustrating and unfulfilling. Not only that, someone had to point me to this forum and the Wiki so that I could even access all of the online guides. And point me to QuizDB. And point me to where to where I could find packets.

Another thing to note: while many online guides are excellent, there are hours of reading material available. Having somebody who has already navigated it and can filter relevant material to the relevant players makes the steep learning curve much more manageable. Having a player who has a basic understanding of when to buzz and how to plan team composition is incredibly valuable as well. Which packets are best to read to prepare for which tournaments? How do you find new tournaments to attend? How do you cultivate relationships with the community at large? These things aren't intuitive.
cchiego wrote:
Wed Oct 30, 2019 10:31 am
That would, however, likely require a multiple-year effort of repeated outreach
Yeah. I don't have a lot of great answers for getting over this hurdle. In order to establish this kind of continuity, you would likely need a number of dedicated coordinators (a handful in every active state) focused entirely on managing a local circuit which is nigh-impossible in a community based on volunteerism.

Alternatively, universities with strong, existing programs could write and host tournaments for newer teams in their respective states. However, the teams best equipped to accomplish this are the ones who stand to benefit the least from tournaments like this existing. It also doesn't solve the problem of how to build programs in states without underlying infrastructure. It may provide another source of revenue for stronger programs, however. Just a thought

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Wed Oct 30, 2019 4:30 pm
by Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock
I'm very glad to see that Chris D. posted here, as I think his perspective is very valuable for those of us who have been around the college game for many years and view things like knowing what packets to read, how to study, etc. as old hat. It seems nearly impossible to overstate the value of such institutional knowledge in my view, and as such it means that new collegiate teams without an experienced player are starting off leagues behind their peers as a result.

I feel that this is a logical place for some organization, be it ACF, PACE, or someone else, to step in with a position geared towards reaching out to such schools and offering them help and advice on whatever they may need in navigating the world of collegiate quizbowl, from tournament expectations to running practices to how to improve. Some sort of "New College Team Liaison or Coordinator" role would, as I see it, go a long way towards helping these teams feel welcomed to the circuit and less confused as to "just how all this stuff works." Making this a formal role would also give an imprimatur of legitimacy that I, for example, might not have as just a random guy emailing teams, even if I am just as interested in seeing them succeed.

I know these organizations already have plenty on their plate, but I feel that this is a worthwhile mission deserving of the resources that would be devoted to it. And for the record, if any new collegiate players or teams see this, feel free to reach out to me at any time with any questions you may have. I've been there as a guy starting out at a brand-new school twice now and can probably answer most of the inquiries you may have!

Re: Should Baby Seals Smile While Being Clubbed? Or: Why Should Newer Teams Stick Around College Quizbowl?

Posted: Wed Oct 30, 2019 10:25 pm
by alexdz
Building on several of the suggestions made in this thread, I would repeat a suggestion I've made before that existing and future quizbowl alliances could be good organizations to facilitate some of this work at the state level. I would not suggest adding extra unwanted work on the volunteers already leading these organizations; rather, creating a new position focused on college outreach in the state. The idea is to attach this person to some sort of legitimate entity, with an existing web and social media presence, with an official email address and all the things that come with it. It also provides a seamless transition for folks going to in-state colleges, who will be more likely to already be familiar with this organization.