The concept of eligibility is used to limit which teams and players can attend which tournaments. In general, any student which attends an academic institution can attend tournaments which are intended for that level of schooling. A player which is allowed to attend such a tournament is eligible, while one who cannot is ineligible.
NAQT (and in college quizbowl, ACF) publish formal eligibility rules that are typically followed by unaffiliated tournaments using housewrites. These are structured around competition years, which are intended to roughly align with the academic year and are defined as starting on August 1st and ending on the successive July 31st.
Beyond these formal guidelines, tournaments can change eligibility in other ways. Common examples include limiting the field to only novices and expanding it to be open or allow players from other schooling levels.
An important aspect of eligibility is affiliation with an education institution. The rule of thumb is that students who are attending a school or enrolled in a college are affiliated with them.
Players can be affiliated with multiple schools. The most common example of this is a high schooler "playing up" on a college team, but high schoolers can also be affiliated with multiple high schools. In all cases players can only play on a single institution's team at any given tournament.
Middle school/High school
As non-college students have not been eligible to play ACF tournaments since 2014, NAQT is the primary mainstream quizbowl organization creating eligibility rules that apply to middle school and high school players.
In college, eligibility is extended to players who are working towards their degree. Eligibility can be further divided into Division I and Division II based on the experience of players.
- NAQT requires teams attending ICT or SCT to be affiliated with an accredited post-secondary educational institution, and all players to be registered for the equivalent of three semester-hours (like three quarter-hours)
- Players that have lower course loads can still be eligible if this is certified to be normal for their degree program or if that is the remainder of the work needed for them to complete their degree
- Players doing non-course work for their degree like writing a thesis can also be eligible
- ACF requires players to either be undergraduates who are taking at least one class for credit or a graduate student who is working towards a degree
- Players who are not classified as undergraduates or grad students (e.g. students who are in their 5th year of study for their undergraduate degree) are eligible if they take three courses for credit
Because eligibility is established for an entire competition year, it is common practice for players who are completing thesis work for a graduate degree to finish in the first semester of a given year to ensure they can continue to play for the remainder of the season.