Minnesota Effect

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The Minnesota Effect described the tendency for teams with major knowledge holes to finish poorly at mainstream national tournaments but still win CBI NCT.

This term is no longer in use, as CBI is defunct.


The term was coined by Chris Frankel in this thread and named after 2005 champion Minnesota, who had won CBI Nationals despite having limited or no knowledge of several categories, most prominently literature. These major knowledge holes led to their 27th-place finish at that year's ICT and a description of "no championship material" from Jerry Vinokurov, who played against them at the ICT and thus witnessed them firsthand on non-CBI questions.

Reasons for the Minnesota Effect

  1. "Dumbing down" of questions by CBI compared to other national tournaments*. CBI uses non-pyramidal, sometimes even antipyramidal, tossups and its target difficulty is far lower than other national tournaments. It also places a far greater emphasis on non-academic subjects.
  2. "Dumbing down" of the nationals field*. Historically strong ACUI regions (e.g. 6, 15) and historically weak regions (e.g. 13, 14) are each only guaranteed one spot in the NCT, and the sixteenth team is a wild card ostensibly picked at random from the second-place Regional Tournament finishers (but no statistically strong second-place team has been chosen as the wild card team in recent memory). In addition, several of the top teams in the nation no longer play CBI; typically, CBI participants make up no more than a quarter of the top-bracket field in either of the other two tournaments. Also, CBI's restriction on graduate student participation ensures that many teams are not able to field their actual "A" team at NCT.
  3. Bizarre results and overwhelming upset potential. While the "best" team does not always win every game in even an ideal quizbowl format, bizarrely unexpected results are a regular occurrence during CBI tournaments, and the winner of any given game, even a gigantic blowout, cannot be said to be the more knowledgeable team. At the time of Frankel's post, this was best exemplified by Minnesota's 100-410 prelim loss to 5-10 Montana State, though equally strange results are standard at any year's NCT. Therefore, top-bracket teams at other national tournaments may suffer enough losses to less-knowledgeable teams to prevent them from winning the championship or even making the playoffs. This was best exemplified by the 2005 NCT, in which two top-bracket finishers at that year's ICT (Rochester and Stanford) were eliminated in the playoffs and another ICT top-bracket finisher (Illinois) did not even make the playoffs.

*Original reasons given by Chris Frankel

Is the Minnesota Effect Real or Perceived?

Data from the past ten years seem to show that the Minnesota Effect is not as pronounced as initially thought when ; in particular, six of the past ten CBI champions also placed in the top bracket at both NAQT ICT and ACF Nationals in that year. However, five of those ten teams were from either Chicago or Michigan, neither of which has attended a CBI National Tournament since 2004, and only one of the past five NCT Champions (2006 UCLA) has even attended ACF Nationals, thus lending credence to the theory.

Year NCT Champion ICT Finish ACF Finish
1999 Chicago 1st 1st
2000 Michigan 6th 3rd
2001 Michigan 2nd 1st
2002 Michigan 1st 1st
2003 Chicago 1st 5th
2004 Minnesota 28th Did not attend
2005 Minnesota 27th Did not attend
2006 UCLA 8th 6th
2007 Minnesota t14th Did not attend
2008 Rochester 28th Did not attend

If one concentrates on the past five years, a pattern of low or non-existent finishes at other national tournaments emerges. The 2006 results, though they may have cast initial doubt upon the reality of the Minnesota Effect, may be best explained by noting that both of the NCT Finals teams were each led by one of the top players on the circuit (UCLA's Charles Meigs and Illinois' Mike Sorice) and were able to avoid enough upsets to ensure that one of them would win that year's championship. Subsequent results indicate that 2006 was likely an aberration and that the Minnesota Effect is not actually an illusion perpetuated by anti-CBI partisans.

Due to the suspension of CBI's program following the 2008 NCT, it is unknown whether this pattern would have continued; however, the growing trend of circuit teams de-affiliating from CBI implies that the continuation of the Minnesota Effect would have been likely.