Pennsylvania Regional Academic Competitions

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[[Image:PA School Districts.gif]]
Above:
Each Intermediate Unit and its subsidiary districts in Pennsylvania. All schools within those districts are a part of their respective IU

Pennsylvania Regional Academic Competitions are a collection of quiz bowl tournaments that take place across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as qualifiers for the Pennsylvania State Academic Competition. Pennsylvania is composed of 29 Intermediate Units that act as coalitions of the public school districts therein. Each IU sends one team to the PSAC (unless the previous year's champion is from that IU, in which case two schools are sent), in many cases by virtue of winning one of the Regional Academic Competitions.

History

In 1992, Chester County State Rep. Joseph Pitts created a bill that sponsored a state academic competition that allowed for each Intermediate Unit to send one team. Since then, regional qualifiers have been held across the Commonwealth. Currently, the Chester County Intermediate Unit is in charge of creating rules and facilitating the statewide competition. Because the bill enacting PSAC does not stipulate how each Intermediate Unit may select their team, a wide variety of styles of tournaments and selection methods are used across Pennsylvania.

General Format

The longest-running (with the exception of Delaware County's Hi-Q) and most prominent qualifier is in Pitts's hometown of Chester County. The Chester County Intermediate Unit, or CCIU, holds its own academic competition that essentially follows the same format of the PSAC. Three teams compete at once to answer 12 tossups, followed by team-specific fanfare rounds of 60 seconds each. This is then repeated two more times. Overall score across four regular season matches determines seeding for the playoffs. Originally, questions were exclusively written by the CCIU and were often poorly worded, trivial, or contained hoses. Because of pushback from many Chester County schools, CCIU has adopted the use of NAQT tossups and bonuses for some of its qualifiers, but has kept its original format.

Qualifiers held in other IUs often mirror this format. These other IUs can pay the CCIU thousands of dollars (prices generally are around $3,500+) to have the CCIU team host a qualifier. The Lincoln, Colonial, Carbon-Lehigh, and Capital Intermediate Units have done so in the past. Unlike the CCIU Academic Competition, which takes place over many months, the CCIU-hosted Regional Qualifiers take place in one day, meaning that teams generally only play two preliminary matches. Matches always have at least three teams at the same time. Qualification is likewise only based on total points scored. In these events, registration fees are directly passed on to school districts, often amounting to >400 dollar costs for one tournament. Unlike the Chester County competition, Regional Qualifiers hosted by the CCIU may use NAQT questions to a lesser degree than PSAC or the Chester County league itself. In 2017, for instance, the Lincoln IU competition featured NAQT tossups for only the second tossup and fanfare round. The first round relied on the house-written questions from the CCIU.

In recent years, some IUs have created or changed their formats to follow NAQT rules exclusively. Philadelphia IU's Regional Qualifier, for instance, is its own Saturday, pyramidal tournament, the Philadelphia City-Wide Championship. In 2018, the Lincoln IU followed suit and held a tournament using untimed NAQT rules and head-to-head matches. The Lancaster-Lebanon League plays on untimed NAQT rules, sends its champion to PSAC.

Other Intermediate IUs run their own Regional Qualifiers with only NAQT questions, but still follow the three team format that PSAC uses. These events also usually occur on one day, like the CCIU-style qualifiers. Schuykill IU follows this format, where their regular-season league culminates in an "Academic Bowl" that uses NAQT questions but pits only two teams at once using the CCIU-style scoring rules. Other IUs have entirely different formats, like NEIU 19 or DelCo IU 25, which have more unique tournaments. The NEIU tournament does not use buzzers, uses only 8 CCIU-produced tossups per round, and only one team may answer a tossup at a time (whereupon an incorrect response will allow the other team to "steal."). Delaware County's Hi-Q follows its own set of rules.

Despite the Pennsylvania State Academic Competition having been continuously run for nearly thirty years, some IUs do not sent a team or hold a qualifier. The Allegheny IU simply grants a PSAC berth to the team that first expresses interest. Others, like Central IU 10, randomly draw a high school from a hat each year to represent them at PSAC.

Top teams at the Regional Qualifiers which use, in some manner, NAQT questions have been considered by NAQT as winning qualifiers for HSNCT and/or SSNCT.

Criticism

Much like the PSAC, most of the Regional Competitions are an example of Bad Quiz Bowl. Generally speaking, questions written by the CCIU are not pyramidal, repeated year to year, and often misleading; and the rules are not consistently applied. In the past, judges have evaluated protests by Googling things and looking at the Wikipedia infobox. The CCIU also does not often proofread their own packets, meaning that they have had repeats within matches and, on occasion, have had to retroactively deduct points from teams. This practice led to, at the Lincoln IU Competition, one team defending another team by saying into the microphone that "It's not fair that they are penalized for your own mistake," leading to a thunderous applause from the rest of the teams in attendance. The judges did not reverse their decision of deducting the affected team's points.

Moreover, the CCIU -- a government agency -- has received criticism for essentially profiting at the expense of other IUs. The CCIU has, from its own funding, the ability to pay its employees who work for the Academic Competitions, regardless of income from hosting the other IUs' Regional Competitions. Invoices sent to other IUs feature the line item "equipment/room setup," which comprises the bulk of the expense. In reality, the room setup usually involves plugging in one or two buzzer systems, a computer monitor into a laptop, and a couple of microphones at most.

Because matches at CCIU-hosted qualifiers are both randomly drawn to determine the lineup, and require three teams at a time, it is often luck that advances a team to the next round. Matches where two objectively good teams play one another often results in a "crowding out" effect, because the points are split between the two, whereas a third good team that might not be as good as the first two could play two terrible teams in their own match, easily get more points, and qualify for the finals above the other two, despite being worse.

The three team format also means that last-second drops often throw a Qualifier into chaos. In 2017, the Lincoln IU's competition experienced an hour delay because one school did not show up and would not respond to phone calls. Because a new schedule was impossible (as the new number of teams was not divisible by three), one school was forced to play an extra exhibition match against two other schools who were playing for real. This exhibition team ended up being Spring Grove, (who ultimately won PSAC that year), meaning the other two teams playing for real had to face an even harder school than they would have otherwise had to, stifling their ability to get points. Some might argue that this prevented one school (who was close to having the third most points) from making it to the playoff round.

Some IUs have banned certain schools from attending, such as Colonial, which essentially segregated Lehigh Valley Academy by stipulating that only public, non-charter schools can attend the regional qualifier. This move occurred after dominant performances from LVA. Similarly, many speculate that Central IU 10 draws a random team from a hat because State College had dominated the Qualifier for many years, and the IU board got sick of the same team winning.