Bad quizbowl

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"Bad quizbowl" is a term used to refer to various forms of quizbowl competitions and questions that do not follow the practices used in "good quizbowl" (namely, an emphasis on rewarding greater levels of knowledge and the pursuit of fairness in question structure and competition formats).

Canonical examples of "bad quizbowl" include the now-defunct College Bowl and the still-running National Academic Championship as well as a number of state-specific formats.

This concept is not directly related to the quality of a given question or question set, though they are correlated. It is possible to have a well-written tossup or bonus which is also "bad quizbowl", but this is frequently not the case - an almost-defining characteristic of many "bad quizbowl" formats is poor question quality.


"Bad quizbowl" may consist of any or all of the following:

Hoses, speed-checks, and swerves are often hallmarks of bad quizbowl questions.

The "bad quizbowl" circuit in high school

Occasionally known as the "alternate universe" for its near-complete separation from the larger quizbowl community, the parallel structure of "bad quizbowl" to "good quizbowl" remains in effect in certain geographical areas around the world - "good quizbowl" has its invitationals, state championships, and national tournaments, and "bad quizbowl" has the same in certain areas, although the latter is generally shrinking.

Large portions of the upper Great Plains and Rocky Mountains areas are still dominated by Knowledge Bowl, as are a number of international school circuits. Questions Unlimited still appears to be the dominant influence in Arkansas, pockets of New York, and in outlying U.S. territories such as the Virgin Islands and Guam. In most other regions around the country though, standard tournaments use "good quizbowl" practices and pyramidal questions.

"Bad quizbowl" at the college level

Until the early 2000s, college quizbowl was split into a segment of teams who played College Bowl, ran very poorly edited invitationals, participated in bad tournaments run by TRASH, and would not come closer to "good quizbowl" than the questionable first years of NAQT, and an opposing faction which was the ancestor of today's "good quizbowl" principles. Since then, college quizbowl has been almost completely transformed into a "good quizbowl" circuit, with NAQT questions improving markedly and ACF becoming more popular and the only style used in independent tournaments.

Arguments Supporting "Bad Quizbowl"

A number of different beliefs and arguments have been emphasized by proponents of the set of practices that encompass "bad quizbowl" in the past, especially in comparison to pyramidal quizbowl questions. These are some, but by no means all, of the arguments offered to support "bad quizbowl" in various places and at various times:

  1. Questions should be short because quick questions are more exciting and easier to read.
    1. Question quality is not important because many teams and coaches don't care about it.
    2. Academic Hallmarks, Answers Plus, Bryce Avery, College Bowl, Patrick's Press, Questions Unlimited, Reach for the Top, and Triple Q produce good questions.
  2. Some questions should have curveballs in them to punish students who buzz in too early.
  3. Computational math and grammar questions are good because those questions test what students learn in school.
  4. Single elimination formats are more exciting, and teams that are not in contention for a championship should get to go home early.
  5. Bonus questions should have all the parts read at the beginning so that teams have more time to confer because that's the best way to reward teamwork.
  6. We don't care what people in other regions do because those people are outsiders and can't possibly understand our unique local system.
  7. Question writers who have many errors in their questions and have many questions that lead to protests due to a lack of clarity should be rehired, either out of a sense of tradition or their cheapness.
  8. Protests should not be allowed because they put moderators and tournament directors in a difficult position.
  9. It is important to have rules against students talking or protesting during matches and instead coaches should be the only ones allowed to advocate for their team.
  10. Driver's Ed and Family And Consumer Science questions are important because they teach students practical life lessons. Question sets that focus entirely on academic subjects discourage students who do not have academic knowledge.
  11. People should not get worked up over question quality because some teams don't have enough money to pay a sponsor, buy a buzzer system, and transport students.
  12. The best way to break ties is head-to-head because that's the only tiebreaker based on the teams playing each other.
  13. The best teams should play each other early in a tournament (or be grouped together in prelim rounds) so that other teams have a chance to win.
  14. Pyramidal questions discourage students because they include a lot of information that students don't know.
    1. Teams shouldn't study academic material for quizbowl, but it is important to study the rules and practice the format.
    2. Being familiar with verbatim repeat questions and the question writers' favorite topics should be a key part of the game.

Opportunity cost of "bad quizbowl"

"Bad quizbowl" events have significant opportunity costs that can hurt the development of quizbowl as a whole and make it harder to grow the game more broadly.

  • nearly all teams have limited time and money to devote to quizbowl, meaning that any bad tournament hurts attendance at good tournaments
  • "bad quizbowl" was historically pitted against "good quizbowl" by means other than just competing fairly for attendance, such as state regulations that discouraged the use of pyramidal questions or forced teams to use certain formats
  • many "bad quizbowl" tournaments were (or are) intertwined with larger issues (racial discrimination, bias towards certain teams, plagiarism) that made it ethically questionable to participate, all questions of question preference aside
  • "good quizbowl" often provides teams with more opportunities to compete, especially against a similar level of competition, than comparable "bad quizbowl" events (due in part to the use of rebracketed round-robin formats)