2004 ICT Division II Eligibility Scandal

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The 2004 ICT Division II Eligibility Scandal revolved around a victory at the Division II ICT by the UCLA team, which included Charles Meigs and Matthew Sherman, who had played at the 2003 ICT and thus should not have been eligible to play Division II in 2004 under an unadorned reading of the NAQT eligibility rules.

Contents

Background

In 2003, due to the questionable placing of the ICT in Los Angeles, NAQT had trouble filling its Division II field. Within a month of the tournament, the tournament field was not yet set. One by one, remaining waitlist teams were invited and declined due to financial difficulties. After placing all available standby teams in the field, NAQT finally had a full 32 teams in Division II. On April 2, two days before the tournament, NAQT notified area schools (and possibly more, although this never went to the Yahoo! group) that another team had dropped from the Division II field and asked for yet another standby team to fill the field and avoid byes. NAQT, assuming that any last-second addition to the field would be relatively uncompetitive and finish near the bottom of the field, offered free entry to the tournament and the promise that players on that team would not lose Division II eligibility unless the team won the tournament. The UCLA team, which had not played at Sectionals, accepted the offer and ultimately placed 5th. Charles Meigs was designated a tournament all-star as the leading scorer.

Under the plain language of the NAQT eligibility rules, any player who qualifies for or plays in the ICT in either Division I or (non-Community College) Division II is ineligible to participate in Division II in all future years. However, because an anomalously high number of Division II teams were invited to the ICT (thus losing Division II eligibility), NAQT restored Division II eligibility to teams who had been invited to the 2003 ICT after March 7, 2003 and declined. This announcement made no mention of their offer to UCLA or UCLA's acceptance of the offer. Thus, many active quizbowl players and editors were led to believe that the 2003 UCLA Division II team had exhausted its Division II eligibility; notably, the members of the Illinois team which finished second in Division II in 2004 were among the group that had no advance notice.

Post-SCT Online Argument

The argument spilled from the Yahoo Quizbowl Group to the now-defunct qbflame and to the hsquizbowl.org boards. Sadly, the HSQB portion, where the initial cheating accusation was leveled (notably, a Jason Mueller post claimed, "Lay the hammer on UCLA!", in possibly the only example of Matt Weiner and Jason Mueller sharing a quizbowl-related viewpoint) was lost during the Great Fuckup of 2004. The Yahoo discussion was started at 10:35 PM on Monday, February 9, 2004, by Chris Frankel, who amazingly may not have been drunk at the time:

While looking at the stats from the West Coast SCT, I noticed that UCLA put up some dominating numbers in the D2 bracket. Further examination of individual stats showed that the tandem of Charles Meigs and Matthew Sherman put up some very strong stats against the D2 competition... just like they did when they played D2 last year at ICT 2003, where Mr. Meigs was also the leading scorer...Under the public and official rules on D2 elligbility, UCLA's team was inelligible to play in D2 and broke the rules by playing.
When this issue came up on the hsquizbowl.org message board, several UCLA members claimed that NAQT had, in private, offered UCLA's 2003 D2 team an special exemption to elligbility rules whereas they could play in ICT 2003 and still retain their D2 elligbility. I follow the scene pretty regularly and correspond often with several NAQT members, yet I have never heard anything of the sort.
If what UCLA is saying is true, however, then NAQT needs to do some serious explaining, namely why they would grant such an arbitrary and fundamentally contradictory exemption, and why they would keep it a secret that even the teams who would be paying money to compete against UCLA would not be aware of? If NAQT had gone to the trouble of announcing and publicizing other exceptions to their elligbility rules, why would they keep this case a secret?

After two Ross Ritterman posts, NAQT's R. Hentzel claimed that:

NAQT did not believe that the exemption was being kept a secret; the e-mail inviting a team to participate under those circumstances was certainly circulated among all of the participating schools in southern California and I remember mentioning discussing the issue with several teams at the ICT itself, the most memorable of which was whether the decision was made simply to win Adam Fine's public bet about ICT attendance. We will certainly document it on our website as soon as our CVS repository is back online.

Parts of this were later confirmed by Raj Dhuwalia after the ICT: "the offer was far from covert...it was widely known on the west coast, and I'd heard about it somewhere as well (I'm from Florida)." However, no other post confirmed the assertion. A post apparently refutes parts of R.'s post.

Several different threads emerged, alleging the following:

  • Previous ICT experience does not significantly affect performance at future events; in addition, both Meigs and Sherman were well-known on the west coast as good players; thus, they would have put up similarly dominant numbers at the 2004 SCT had this situation not occurred (variously articulated by Jerry Vinokurov, Chris Borglum, and Ross Ritterman).
  • The fact that UCLA put up much higher numbers than anyone else at SCT is inherently unfair to everyone else in the tournament, and having played ICT before is only part of that reason. Thus, we should just cancel the tournament and send UCLA their trophy now (articulated by Nick Walters).
  • The fact that NAQT allowed UCLA to play was fine; however, NAQT should have treated UCLA as an exhibition team and not counted their win-loss record or individual statistics toward any awards, similarly to their treatment of Wichita State at the 2003 SCT (articulated by Sean Phillips). This discussion was sidetracked when Jason Mueller accused Sean Phillips of ad hominem attacks against him.
  • NAQT allows community college players to compete in Division II for up to three years; therefore, UCLA would not be the only team with previous ICT experience at the tournament, and any argument about previous ICT experience is therefore invalid (articulated by Chris Borglum).
  • NAQT made a well-intentioned mistake, will honor their agreement with UCLA, and will never make a similar mistake again. Nothing can be done to retroactively rectify the situation, and nothing can be gained by pursuing the situation further, so we might as well just drop the discussion (articulated by Charlie Steinhice).
  • The fact that UCLA played at the 2003 ICT in Division II, regardless of any advantage they may have gained, any awards they may have been given, or any deal NAQT made with UCLA, automatically precludes them from participating in Division II in 2004 based on NAQT's stated eligibility rules (articulated by Matt Weiner).
  • Since Matt Weiner hates NAQT, and has made this hatred ubiquitous in his posts, he should just stop playing NAQT, although he "might suffer some sort of withdrawal" if he did so (Ross Ritterman's variant of Napier's Frequency Argument).

Outcome

The incident was one of the greatest of all NAQT Customer Service examples and encapsulated many of the problems with NAQT as seen by its critics (poor communication, inconsistent/favoritist application of rules, refusal to engage criticism in public, illogical and disproportionate emphasis on an expanding number of separate-division trophies, presence of "gamesmanship" in eligibility and match play rules that led to a focus on winning at all costs through methods other than learning things).

Many anti-NAQT partisans, to this day, regard Illinois as the 2004 Division II champion.

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