The term A-team generally refers to the best team from a school which fields multiple teams, referred to as [School Name] A. The following teams would be B-team, C-team, etc.
It is possible for a team to not follow this convention, either maliciously or because their teams do not have a strict hierarchy of strength. Stanton College Prep B in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 deliberately deviated from the convention, but it was universally known and communicated to tournament directors well ahead of time. Sometimes, even when a school's A-team is intended to be stronger than its B-team, the B-team finishes higher. This notably happened to Chicago at the 2012 ACF Nationals and Penn-ance.
Some schools may also choose to denote teams with a different term - commonly a color - rather than a letter, often due to an aforementioned lack of hierarchy or a potential harm to team morale (e.g. Maryland Black, Gold, Red, and White at recent iterations of NASAT).
Tournaments sponsored by state athletic associations and TV show tournaments often only allow one team per school. When inviting programs who participate in these events to independent events, it is useful to explain that registering multiple teams is possible in order to maximize student participation and minimize excessive substitutions.
Only one team per school was permitted to qualify for/participate at NCT and at all high school nationals prior to the establishment of NSC and HSNCT. The ICT and ACF Nationals have always allowed B teams and beyond, provided they were able to qualify.
NSC and HSNCT allowed multiple teams from the start. The NAC began allowing B teams in 2000. NASAT began allowing B teams in 2016.
Several B teams have finished highly at the nationals which permitted them:
- At ACF Nationals, Harvard B finished fourth in 1992, Maryland B finished fourth in 1994, and Michigan B finished third in 2001 after participating in a three-way tiebreaker for first place.
- Michigan B also finished third at the ICT in 2001.
- Thomas Jefferson B tied for third at the NSC in 2005.
- LASA B finished third at the 2014 HSNCT. Dorman B finished fourth at the 2008 HSNCT; this was the only example of a B team finishing in the top four without its A team doing the same.
Allowing multiple teams from the same school into national fields that turn away some A teams due to field capacity remains an occasionally controversial issue.