National Tournament of Academic Excellence
National Tournament of Academic Excellence (NTAE) is a United States national high school academic competition held in June. For most of its run the tournament has more famously been known as the Panasonic Academic Challenge (PAC), having been sponsored by Panasonic Corporation until 2008. The tournament was held each year from 1988-2009, and after a five year hiatus it was revived in 2014. Note that all information contained in this article is about previous incarnations of the NTAE/PAC and the 2014 version may be run slightly differently
The NTAE is co-sponsored by the Florida Department of Education and Disney. The Polk County School District ran the tournament and past TDs have included Terry Boehm, Peggy Harrod, and Lisa Rawls. Harrod held the longest tenure of the three. The tournament has always been held at various hotels in Disney World over the years.
Prior to the 2008 tournament, Peggy Harrod announced that she would be retiring after the 2008 PAC, and she was replaced by Lisa Rawls. Within a few weeks of the end of the 2008 tournament, the tournament website announced that the tournament would be returning to its original name, the National Tournament of Academic Excellence, indicating that Panasonic had withdrawn as a sponsor. The last NTAE was held in 2009 although its organizers still actively sought to hold another event.
In early 2014 after a five year hiatus, plans were officially announced that another NTAE will be held and Lisa Rawls will return to organize the tournament. In January it was announced that the tournament will be once again in Disney World at the Contemporary Resort Hotel on June 14-17. The proposed date will notably occur during NASAT. Registration forms were posted on their website in March and are due in May. It is unclear if the revived NTAE will actually be able to take place, or who outside of Florida will be interested in attending.
- (The following information is based on historic information and may possibly change based on recent events)
The format used in the PAC is very unusual and was based on the format used for the Commissioner's Academic Challenge (CAC), Florida's quizbowl tournament for school district based teams (separate from their actual high school championship). The CAC is used to select the team representing Florida.
While most tournaments involve two teams playing in a head-to-head format, the PAC involves matches of between four and six teams playing against each other in the same competition room. Each team starts with 100 points and may lose points during the progress of the game.
Each match is divided into three periods. The first period consists of 20 questions each worth five points, the second period consists of 20 questions each worth ten points, and the final period consists of 25 questions each worth fifteen points. Each question has a one minute time limit in which teams may answer. Teams answering incorrectly are penalized the point value of the question. In the rare event that a team's point total reaches zero, they are eliminated from competition.
At the end of each period, each team participats in a written team question which has a variable time limit and a variable number of questions. The written team question after each of the three periods is worth a maximum of ten, twenty, and thirty points respectively. There are no penalties for incorrect answers in this phase of the competition. These written questions are not head-to-head, meaning that each team can earn the maximum number of points.
At the end of each match, teams are ranked according to their point totals. A tie-breaker occurs only if a tie results among teams that will be advancing to a future match.
Aside from the written team questions there are no bonus questions. There was also the absence of "rebounding" a missed question. That is, if one team gives an incorrect answer, no other team is given the opportunity to answer.
Adding to the challenge, each team shares a single button to buzz in. IN other formats players usually each have their own buzzers. Teams also share a graphing calculator, non-graphing calculator, and periodic table, which are useful for many of the questions.
Topic and Question Formats
Unlike most other tournaments, there are a significant number of multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, video, audio, and handout questions. There are also free response/answer line questions standard to high school quizbowl. The questions tend not to be pyramidal, which became more and more of a problem for the tournament as pyramidal quizbowl grew in popularity.
This tournament has a significant number of computational questions and a bit of foreign language. The foreign language questions tend to be on handouts with the question being printed in four languages. Students have the option of Spanish, French, and whatever two other languages are used that year. The languages are announced in advance, and usually are German and Latin. This tournament hasn't had much pop culture form the beginning, which is very unusual for high school quizbowl.
The tournament is usually held during the second or third week of June, starting on a Sunday and ending on a Tuesday. It is usually held at the convention center of the Contemporary Resort Hotel at Walt Disney World. Thus one of the main draws of the tournament for some teams may be the opportunity to have unlimited access to the park for several days.
Teams are randomly assigned to a first round match. The winning teams from the first rounds automatically advance to the semifinals. Teams that don't win in the first round are randomly assigned to a consolation match which is held on Monday. Winners of each consolation match also advanced to the semifinals.
There were three semifinal matches played on Tuesday morning. The top two teams from each semifinal advance to the championship round held in the afternoon. Although the tournament is three days long, many teams only end up playing two matches.
Coaches are not permitted to challenge the game officials, instead that power is exclusive to players. Each match generally has a panel of judges with a variety of academic backgrounds to handle protests.
Each state or territory can enter only one team. Tournament organizers have sometimes contacted the Boards of Education (or equivalent body) of each U.S. state and territory to select a team in any way they see fit. Some teams come from a single school, and were often the champion of one of that state's tournaments. In other cases, the Board of Education gives selection power to a committee who chooses an "all-star" team from among that state's best players. Thus each state or territory can enter only one team, and is referred to at the tournament as (for example) "Team Alabama" or "Team Arizona".
Some teams who have participated, especially from less quizbowl-heavy regions, have not been quizbowl teams at all, but rather top Academic Decathlon performers or high achievers from other non-quizbowl academic competitions.
Since 1990, the tournament names an "All-America Team" of six players who receive additional scholarship prizes and a medal. This process by which All-Americans are selected has historically been fraught with problems and needs to be fixed or eliminated.
For most of the tournament's run, each team has been assigned to one of six geographic regions which are announced in advance. Only one player is selected from each region, thus the "All-America" team is not designed to recognize the absolute best six players of the tournament. The distinction of being named to the team has sometimes been rather dubious for a number of reasons. Selection is based on an individual's performance solely in the preliminary round on the first day of competition and a pre-tournament ranking by the team's coach. Thus, a player ranked #2 on their team by their own coach may have a very good round, but if another team's #1 player has almost as good a round, that player could conceivably be named to the team ahead of the better performing player.
Furthermore, given the "team" emphasis of the tournament (each team only has a single buzzer except during the finals), some teams will have one player answer when in fact two or more players have the same answer. Thus a single player is credited with an answer, when in fact the answer was arrived at mutually.
Political opinion polling
From 1992 to 1999, participants at the PAC were polled about a variety of current political issues. Results were reported in press releases from 1993 to 1999. See the individual tournament pages for more. It is unknown why this stopped happening.
There have been a number of criticisms of this tournament, which continually have not been addressed and have eventually caused the number of states attending to decline. One of the biggest problems has been the PAC/NTAE's failure to keep up to the standards of the other national tournaments.
The questions tend to be non-pyramidal, and as a result led to buzzer races which did not differentiate the team with the stronger knowledge base. Additionally, many questions do not start with uniquely identifying clues, leading to luck being a major factor as many teams just buzz quickly and guess.
The tournament does not attempt to seed teams. Placement in each round is completely random. Further, the blind draw for match pairings is not done publicly which, given the presence of a home team, has led some to question the honesty of this process. Even the most ardent supporters of the tournament will rarely acknowledge that the final six teams are truly the six best teams in the tournament.
Every round involves no fewer than four teams, and as many as six teams in a room. Thus, a team that has no chance of advancing, can affect the score by buzzing in and "stealing" the opportunity from teams in competition to advance or place to win points.
The entrance of all-star teams is also controversial, especially given that some state organizations explicitly bar them, giving their representative a disadvantage. Some states oppose all-star teams on general principle, while others are upset that their state awards their state's entry to a state champion who may be wholly unfamiliar with the format and who may not necessarily make the commitment for preparation. (needs to be rewritten)
Given the presence of the NTAE at Walt Disney World, the tournament often becomes too heavily inundated by funn. Teams are encouraged to spend free time in the various theme parks, given that tournament entry fees include and unlimited pass to all of Disney World. On the other hand, many competitive teams limited their time in these areas and spent a great more time resting or practicing.
The NTAE has the highest entry fee of any tournament. Additionally, its non-central location sometimes leads to travel difficulties which further cut down on teams entering. Each team is only guaranteed to play two matches during the entire three day span, which is the fewest number of matches of any national tournament, which makes the high entry fees even more inexcusable. The steep entry fees are perhaps justified by the fact that because teams were technically representatives of a US state, state and local governments have sometimes paid for their fees. However this also begs the question of why taxpayer dollars should be spent on what is essentially a vacation for a couple of high school kids.
Some people criticized the use of a single buzzer-per-team (two-per-team in the finals), as this prevents accurately keeping individual statistics. This creates further problems as the "top six players" are recognized and are awarded scholarship money.
Some people criticized the restriction of "one team-per-state" rule, which automatically restricted some very talented teams and players from attending. Further, the requirement to go through a respective state's Board of Education often unintentionally introduced red tape that coaches chose not to become involved in. Some State Boards simply dismissed the invitation, and never permitted any team to go.
The 2014 final was broadcast live on the Internet, allowing America to recoil in horror at endless questions involving weird academic conceits as applied to various comic strips. About every other tossup went dead; those that were answered involved leadins such as "What kind of event did Pope Urban II organize?"
The PAC has been praised for its lack of pop culture or sports (trash) questions. Until PACE NSC eliminated them, no national tournament had so few questions on trash as the PAC. Although there were occasional questions related to sports history in early years, there have been no questions on pop culture or sports for many years after that.
Some teams viewed the inclusion of foreign language and computational math as a strength of the tournament, as it permitted teams from states which include these topics to compete nationally in a format that is closer to their home format.
PAC included some of the nicest prizes among national tournaments. While the small trophies given to the top six teams often vanished because they were sent to the governor of the respective state, players on top teams earned cash awards. Others have dismissed this as a criticism, stating that it does too much to focus on sponsors and not truly on the players. Since most teams don't end up winning money, attending the NTAE solely for a shot to earn prize money is delusional
Some have opined that the use of All-Star teams is a strength of the tournament, as it allows the best and hardest working players of a state to come together and succeed.
The tradition of a single team representing each state was later carried on by NASAT, which is run by HSAPQ and has no affiliation at all with PAC. Unlike PAC, NASAT follows the standard conventions of pyramidal quizbowl.