Comcast Academic Challenge

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The Comcast Academic Challenge was formerly the statewide televised tournament held each year in Delaware. It used the Questions Unlimited format.

Contents

History

The first competition was held in 1986-87. At that time the program was called the Academic Bowl, created by then Heritage Cable in New Castle. The studio was located in a small strip mall near William Penn high school and the program was done live each Monday evening, seen only in New Castle County.

The following year the then Texaco Refinery adopted it, built a set and moved the program to the new studio south of Wilmington. It was renamed the Texaco Star Academic Challenge and it went statewide on cable and was also carried on broadcast stations out of Salisbury, Maryland. It continued under that name until 1997 when the refinery changed owners and Comcast assumed sponsorship.

Originally the tournament was single elimination. Three matches would be taped on a weeknight, and the winning team would return on a future taping date. While no participating team is more than about an hour from the studio, it was unfortunate when a school would show up only to find out that their opponent had forfeited. (Most commonly this would happen in the first round.)

Eventually consolation rounds were added. All consolation rounds were held on a Saturday at the University of Delaware. Teams were placed into one of four rooms, and the teams that survived each room met in a playoff. Unfortunately, the process was not without controversy. Some of the questions used were from previous years' television matches, and a team could get really lucky and play a set they had heard before. Even worse, the University of Delaware Academic Competition Club advisor Douglas Taber did not abide by the seeding. Regardless of how many television matches teams had won, if a team showed up late they were fed into the bracket. Teams that showed up on time were punished by having to play several matches, any of which could eliminate them. The winner of the consolation rounds then played in an advantaged final, where they would have to win twice to claim the title.

In 2005, the tournament was moved to Saturdays in February. This initially proved unpopular, as only 15 schools participated, half the usual total. Teams are placed into brackets based on school size and play a double elimination tournament. These rounds are not recorded, and thus do not shorten the Stump the Experts round like when time becomes short when taping. The top two in each bracket then advance to the televised matches, which again are a double elimination tournament. The first year 4 schools were on TV, in subsequent years it has been 6. While this format was generally received as an improvement over the consolation rounds, the brackets constructed by school size have largely caused the same schools to meet each other in the preliminary rounds year after year. Theoretically a school could lose up to three times and still win the championship, by finishing second in their preliminary pool and once during the televised matches. The second place school lost at least two televised matches, and possibly up to two more preliminary matches.

All of the challenges that come with Chip's questions were present in this tournament. A team was once ruled wrong for answering "Asia" when asked "Where is Bhutan?" (the correct answer was the Himalayas). In 2003 the Sanford School was furious after being eliminated in the semi-final by 10 points only to go home and discover that Rickey Henderson did indeed hold the record for most stolen bases in a season (the card said Lou Brock, who hadn't held the record since 1981). The judges are usually Comcast or Del Tech employees, so protests that would be upheld under standard quizbowl practice commonly were denied.

Each of the final six schools received a college scholarship generously donated by Comcast, which they normally divide among the team members. 5th and 6th received $300, 4th and 3th received $500. 2nd received $2,500. The champion received $5,000 and a paid trip to the D.C. site of Chip Beall's nationals.

The program was aired on a public access channel.

Sponsorship Cancellation

In December 2008 teams received a note from a Comcast manager indicating that they will not be able to continue their support of the program due to current economic conditions. Moderator David Scocik sent a note to the coaches in January 2009 indicating that after trying to find another sponsor, he felt that the show had "had its run". Scocik hopes to revive the program sometime in the future.

Personnel

The moderator for the competition was David Scocik, who has been reading the questions for at least ten years. In honor of his service, beginning in 2007 the champions received the David Scocik Trophy. He read at the National Academic Championship at least once, and is generally liked among the participants as he articulates words well and has a voice that carries well across the tv studio (his podium is not near the teams).

The Comcast liaison and executive producer was Bill Malone.

Champions

Comcast did not keep a list of past winners, but it is known that Caesar Rodney and Saint Marks won the contest multiple times. The known winners listed on the web are:

Charter's team finished 2nd at the 2008 NAC.

Charter has won 40 out of its last 41 matches. In 2007 Mount Pleasant beat them in one of out three matches during the preliminary rounds.

The tournament summaries on this wiki of the NAC list Tower Hill participating in 1989, A.I. Dupont in 1990, Caesar Rodney in 1994, and the Tatnall School in 1997. These may have been champions, or may have qualified to NAC through other venues.