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 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 was co-sponsored by the Florida Department of Education and Disney. It was known as the Panasonic Academic Challenge when Panasonic was the chief sponsor from 1992 to 2008. 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would be returning to its original name, the National Tournament of Academic Excellence, indicating that Panasonic had withdrawn as a sponsor.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 direct. 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. Though a date for the tournament was announced on a new website and letters were sent to (seemingly random) high school principals, it is not actually possible to register for the tournament; even the "application form" needed to begin the bidding process for each state is still not available, three months before the scheduled date for the event. 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 format used in the PAC was very unusual and was based on the format used for the Commissioner's Academic Challenge, Florida's quizbowl tournament for school districts (separate from their actual high school championship). The CAC was used to select the team from Florida at the PAC.
While most tournaments involve two teams playing in a head-to-head format, the PAC involved matches of between four and six teams playing against each other in the same competition room. Each team started with 100 points.
Each match was divided into three periods. The first period consisted of 20 questions each worth five points, the second period consisted of 20 questions each worth ten points, and the final period consisted of 25 questions each worth fifteen points. Each question had a one minute time limit in which teams may answer. Teams answering incorrectly were penalized the point value of the question. A team was eliminated from competition if their point total reaches zero (a very rare event).
At the end of each period, each team participated 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 was worth (respectively) a maximum of ten, twenty, and thirty points. There were no penalties for incorrect answers in this phase of the competition. These written questions were not head-to-head, meaning that each team could earn the maximum number of points.
At the end of each match, teams were ranked according to their point totals. A tie-breaker occurred only if a tie results among teams that will be advancing to a future match.
Aside from the written team questions, there were no bonus questions. There was also the absence of "rebounding" a missed question. That is, if one team gave an incorrect answer, no other team was given the opportunity to answer.
Adding to the challenge, each team was permitted only one button to buzz in. Other formats allow each player to have their own buzzer. Teams also had to share a graphing calculator, non-graphing calculator, and periodic table, which were useful for many of the questions.
Topic and Question Formats
Unlike most other tournaments, there were a significant number of multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, video, audio, and handout questions. There were also free response questions standard to high school quizbowl. The questions tended not to be pyramidal, which became more and more of a problem for the tournament as pyramidal quizbowl grew in popularity.
This tournament had a significant number of computational questions and a little bit of foreign language. The foreign language tended to be on handouts which were in four languages, giving students the option of Spanish, French, and whatever two other languages were used that year. The languages were announced in advance, and the two other languages usually were German and Latin. This tournament did not have pop culture, which was very unusual for its era.
The tournament was usually held during the second or third week of June, starting on a Sunday, and ending on a Tuesday. The tournament was usually held at the convention center of the Disney's Contemporary Resort Hotel at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Teams were randomly assigned to a first round match (historically, each first round match had either four or five teams in each competition room). Winning teams automatically advanced to the semifinals. Teams not winning in the first round were randomly assigned to a consolation match, and competed 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 on Tuesday afternoon.
Coaches were not permitted to challenge the game officials, though players were permitted to do so. Each match generally had a panel of judges with a variety of academic backgrounds to handle protests.
The Board of Education (or equivalent body) of each U.S. state and territory was given the power 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". Many teams who participated, especially from less quizbowl-heavy regions, were not quizbowl teams at all but rather top Academic Decathlon performers or high achievers from other non-quizbowl academic competitions.
Since 1990, an All-America Team of six players from the tournament has been named and received additional scholarship prizes and a medal.
For most of the tournament's run, each team was assigned to one of six geographic regions which were announced in advance. Only one player was selected from each region, thus the "All-America" team was not designed to recognize the best six players. Further, 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.
Further, given the "team" emphasis of the tournament (each team having only a single buzzer until 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.
There were a number of criticisms of this tournament. Those criticism were not addressed and eventually caused the number of states attending to decline. The biggest problem was that teams' expectations increased as quizbowl improved nationally during the lifetime of this tournament, but the tournament did not change to meet those expectations.
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 did not start with uniquely identifying clues, leading to luck being a major factor as many teams just buzzed quickly and guessed.
The tournament did not attempt to seed teams. Placement in each round was random. Further, the blind draw was not done publicly which, given the presence of a home team in Team Florida, led some to question the honesty of this process. It was rarely the case that even the most ardent supporters of the tournament 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 was also controversial, especially given that some states explicitly barred them, giving their state representative a notable disadvantage. Some opposed all-star teams on general principle, while others were 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.
While not something that pertained to the questions (see strengths), the presence of the tournament at Walt Disney World has leveled the charge of the tournament becoming too much involved in funn. Teams were encouraged to spend free time in the various theme parks. Many competitive teams limited their time in these areas, and spent a great more time resting or practicing.
The entry fees were the highest of any tournament. Additionally, its non-central location led to travel difficulties which further cut down on teams entering. The amount of the entry fee was also an issue given that each team is only guaranteed two matches, the lowest of any national tournament.
Some people criticized the use of a single buzzer-per-team (two-per-team in the finals), as this prevents accurately keeping individual statistics.
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.
Until PACE NSC eliminated them, no national tournament had so few questions on trash as the PAC. While early in their run, the tournament did have occasional questions related to sports history, there were no questions on any 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.
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.