How to run a high school tournament

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Hosting a tournament is a demanding but rewarding experience. It is obviously helpful to have attended tournaments, noting what worked and didn’t work, before attempting the feat yourself. Always feel free to ask more experienced tournament hosts for advice before, during, and after hosting!

There are a number of different guides out there designed to help run a high school tournament.

  • A good primer is the old Berkeley TD Guide. Although a bit dated, it is still an excellent overview and contains a particularly helpful part about creating schedules.
  • A more in-depth guide to running tournaments comes from Southern California Quizbowl and contains a wealth of detailed advice as well as potential scenarios that you might run into. This is highly recommended to read through at some point before running a tournament and to use as a checklist.
  • First-time tournament directors (and a good number of more experienced TDs) should carefully review this guide to common tournament-directing mistakes and take steps to prevent them from happening.
  • Below is another guide of how to host a tournament.

How to Host a Quizbowl Tournament

Although an attempt has been made to arrange this document in chronological order, many of the decisions you need to make are intertwined, so don't expect to complete each task before starting the next one. This information is based on articles which originally appeared in IHSSBCA's Scholastic Visions by Rob Grierson, David Riley, and Barb Fuson. The information below was originally compiled by David Reinstein.

  • Decide how large a tournament you can host. 32 teams? 48 teams? 60 teams? Check with your administration, maintenance department, and athletic office to determine availability of rooms for the dates you have in mind. If you can handle 60 teams but only 36 sign up, you can always adjust schedules and brackets accordingly. Be flexible, but be sure you don’t take on more teams than you can handle. New tournaments often don't attract huge numbers of teams, but you never know. Some areas of the country expect hosts to supply moderators for each match--in that case, make sure you can get enough moderators.
  • Decide on a morning format. For information on this step, see the bottom of this page for Tournament Brackets.
  • Decide on a playoff format. Single elimination used to be common, but in the interest of providing teams with as many games as possible and allowing teams the possibility of a bad match, this has fallen out of favor. Rebracketing into new pools, with the top team(s) from each bracket together in a pool, is one fair possibility. Whatever you choose, it’s extremely important to have clearly-announced and written policies about how advancement will be determined, so that accusations of unfairness cannot possibly be founded.
  • Set a date. Keep in mind that many schools plan their calendars far in advance. Also keep in mind that some dates are traditionally taken by the same tournament each year. If you’re in the same region and schedule yours on the same date as a historically popular tournament, you may have trouble finding enough teams. “Claiming” a date is also important if you would like to make your tournament an annual event (and why not, if you’ve laid the groundwork?).
  • Set an entry fee. The fee you set will depend on the cost of questions and awards, whether or not you pay your moderators, whether or not you are including food, and whether or not you are treating the event as a fundraiser for your team. A typical range for tournament fees is $50 to $75. Discounts are commonly given for bringing working buzzer systems, providing a staffer or staffers, and traveling especially long distances. Discounts are sometimes given to second (and third, etc.) teams from the same school, and sometimes additional teams are permitted to enter for free to make the total number of teams be more conducive to scheduling.
  • Arrange for questions. Writing your own questions can be very rewarding and a lot of fun, but it is very time-consuming. Some of the commercial suppliers need considerable lead time to write for tournaments, and even those who don’t may not have sets available if a number of teams throughout the state regularly use their questions. With either method, you need to allow sufficient lead time. Question quality and style varies considerably; make sure to request sample questions from unfamiliar vendors.
  • Arrange for moderators. Start with people you know who have moderating experience and the Certified Moderators list. Invite attending schools to bring experienced moderators, perhaps for a discount on their entry fee. Former players generally are good, as are college quizbowl players. If you’re running a frosh/soph tournament or your team is not playing, your varsity team members may make excellent moderators, but they shouldn’t moderate rounds involving your own team. If you have a moderator you are unsure about, make sure s/he does not moderate the same teams all day. Make sure all moderators are well-trained in the rules you are using. Inexperienced moderators should read at practice before reading for a tournament.
  • Arrange for plenty of other workers. You can’t be everywhere at once. Consider setting things up so you have nothing to do on tournament day. This will leave you free to jump in and help, or take over when one of your helpers does not show up. You will need a check-in manager and stats keeper, and some tournaments also supply runners, timekeepers, and scorekeepers. If you are serving snacks for coaches or lunch for teams, you will need help with arrangements, setup, and cleanup. If you ask the attending teams to set up the rooms at the start of the day and to clean up after their last match, you still need to check to be sure each room is in tip-top shape before you leave: your colleagues will not be happy if they arrive Monday to find chairs and desks all over, a messy chalkboard, and garbage all over their room. Verify that your school’s custodial staff will be around late Saturday to take out any heaping trash cans. Colleagues, student parents, students who don't play, and family members are helpful the day of the tournament, even if they are not knowledgeable enough to moderate a match. Make sure your workers know their responsibilities.
  • Decide what to do about lunch. If your school is near several appropriate restaurants, then serving lunch would simply be a nice “extra”. On the other hand, if you are in a remote location, providing lunch for the advancing teams is probably critical to keeping the tournament running on a reasonable schedule. Unless you are ordering for everybody, it is nice to provide a guide to area restaurants. If you are ordering pizza, consider ordering a sandwich or two for those few kids who can’t eat pizza. Don’t forget to feed your staffers.
  • Arrange for awards. Order your trophies or plaques well in advance. Your athletic office will be a good source of information in regard to suppliers. Even if you are on a tight budget, pay special attention to your championship trophy or plaque; no one likes to drive two hours each way, compete for nine hours, and end up with a dinky trophy. Trophies ought to rival what athletic teams bring home. Individual scoring prizes are also an option. If you are going to have individual prizes, make sure you figure out how you are going to keep individual statistics.
  • Consider a touch of hospitality. Think of ways to show the workers and coaches that you appreciate them. After all, you can’t hold a tournament without helpers or competitors. You might provide a quiet room with coffee and snacks for the adults. Consider buying breakfast for your early workers, lunch for those who work all day, and dinner for those who stay until the bitter end. Some hosts budget to pay any moderators who work all day, or who travel a distance.
  • Design your invitations. Most invitations have one page explaining the details of the tournament and an entry form. The first page should describe the expected format and question source in addition to giving deadlines. On the entry form, it is good to ask for information such as cell phone numbers and email addresses so that you can contact coaches easily if necessary. It should also have spaces dealing with B Teams and asking teams if they are bringing moderators or buzzer systems. To make things easy for registering coaches, put your school's address on the entry form. If you are seeding teams, you may want to ask about teams’ records (or last year’s record if it is early in the year). You also might want to note that teams who register for tournaments but do not show up will be blacklisted in the future.
  • Send out invitations. Invites should be sent out more than six weeks in advance of the tournament date. Consider sending them to nearby schools as well as selected schools that attend lots of tournaments. You should also post an announcement on hsquizbowl.
  • Set up your morning pools if you are using pools, or first round matchups if you are using power matching. Teams generally prefer playing teams outside of their conference and geographical area.
  • Send out confirmation letters about two weeks before the event. You can include a tentative list of the morning pools if you wish, and a tentative schedule for the day, but be wary about including a detailed schedule at this point-—there will almost certainly be changes. Be sure to include directions or a map, parking arrangements, as well as any special information on school rules, dress code, and so on. If you expect to have two teams from any schools, now is the time to alert coaches what will happen if only one of the two teams advance—in other words, will a coach be allowed to create a “mixed” team made up of players from both morning teams? Like all tournament mailings, this can certainly be an email message.
  • Reply to queries from coaches and workers. Coaches have different agendas and different experience levels. Be especially kind to new coaches.
  • Alert the local media. Call or write your local newspaper, radio, and TV stations and tell them about your tournament. Don’t be shy! Talk about Scholastic Bowl in general, your team in particular, and mention visiting teams that may be previous state champions or tournament winners. Invite reporters to attend – but be sure they understand that the “finals” won’t be held until late in the afternoon.
  • Prepare floor plans or computer-printed signs. You may know where the “Resource Center” is, but nobody else does. Restrooms and “Tournament Central” require extra attention so that visiting teams and coaches don’t need to carry out a frantic search during a two minute break.
  • Try to have everything ready a week in advance. You don’t want to spend the night before (or the morning of) sharpening 200 pencils, photocopying multiple packets of questions, or hand-writing signs. Make yourself a list of tasks to be done and cross them off as you complete them. The tournament will be a long day, so before it you'll want to get a good night's sleep. Your biggest concern that morning should be whether everyone will show up on time. You should already know which buzzers are going where, where teams and coaches should gather, and what the workers' jobs are.
  • Arrive at least an hour before check-in time to attend to details such as lighted hallways, unlocked restrooms, and catering confirmation. Expect to have other last-minute emergencies as well. Don’t leave anything to chance: things like making the coffee when you first arrive may seem trivial, but attention to detail will go a long way towards saving your sanity once the tournament is underway.
  • Set up your check-in area. Have extra pencils and paper and a packet prepared for each team. Each packet should include a map of the school showing restrooms and tournament central, a list of who is in each of the morning pools, a description of how teams will advance to the afternoon and how the afternoon brackets will work, a schedule for the day, lunch plans and a guide to area restaurants, and any last minute details that were not covered in your confirmation letter.
  • Set up the rooms. Note any tables or chairs you move into the room and where they should be returned to, as well as any unusual positioning that the room originally had. Each room needs scratch paper, spare pencils, and chalk or dry-erase markers. The morning of the event, your workers (or the attending teams) will need to set up the lockout systems. Have a few extra extension cords on hand. If you are providing stopwatches, you will need to sign them out so you can be sure to get them back.
  • Run the coaches meeting. Greet the visiting coaches. Deal with any changes to the pools due to last minute cancellations or no-shows. Be clear on times. Are all matches starting at the same time? Will there be PA announcements? What time will the afternoon rounds begin? (Nobody wants to see a team forfeit – but nobody wants to wait for 20 minutes for their opponent to return from lunch.) Go over any rules teams might not be familiar with. Should lockout systems be packed up after the morning rounds? During this meeting team members should be waiting in a central area, not running around the building, and your most experienced moderator can run a moderators meeting in separate room.
  • Cruise around the tournament area. The start of the day is the most critical time. Arrange it so you and your assistants swing past all the rooms as the first match is getting underway. If one room gets behind, every other room is affected too. Nothing is more frustrating to a coach than finding a locked door, or needing an extension cord, or discovering a broken lockout system, or wondering where the moderator is, and not being able to find the host. Throughout the morning, you should be on the lookout for rooms that fall behind and doing whatever it takes to keep them from falling further behind.
  • Oversee the stats room. Posting round results outside in the hall will keep the disruptions inside headquarters to a minimum. Lock the door if necessary! SQBS is a free statistics-tracking program that offers the ability to post statistics online.
  • Announce the morning results. Most hosts do this at lunchtime when all the teams are present, and use this opportunity to present individual scoring awards. An announcement about the starting time for the afternoon rounds is vital here, particularly if the morning schedule has run late.
  • After the final match, present the awards to the winning and other top teams. Everyone will be tired by now, so do it quickly, but make sure everyone is duly recognized.
  • Supervise the cleanup. Hopefully, you have delegated this task and everything will be rolling along without you. Make one final check of every room that was used. Remember, your future ability to host a tournament may depend on what your colleagues find when they walk in the door to their rooms on Monday morning. Any leftover question sets, paper, and so on should either be recycled, saved, or stored and dealt with later. For now, treat your team and assistants to ice cream, or head home and relax after a successful tournament!
  • Keep copies of everything in a file that you can use the next year, or that you can share with another coach who is asking how to run a tournament. High-quality tournaments don’t just fall from the sky. They evolve out of hard work on your part, dedicated workers, and, in most cases, years of experience and fine-tuning.
  • Encourage feedback from visiting coaches, moderators, and your workers. You may not be aware of some glitch that caused frustration during the tournament, and it may be something that you can easily correct next time. Compliments will make it all worth it! A good tournament can be even better the next year. And if you never ask for feedback, you may never learn how people felt about your event.

Tournament Brackets

The following are examples of the most common tournament brackets for both large and small tournaments.

Whatever format you choose, it is important to provide as many rounds as possible to teams. Remember that all teams have paid the same entry fee (discounts nonwithstanding), so it is unfair to provide substantially more rounds to certain teams than others.

Round Robins/Pools

In a small tournament, a round-robin format ensures that everyone gets to play everyone else at least once. Round-robins are also used as pools in large tournaments; for example, a 48-team tournament might have eight divisions of six teams each. Each team within a division would play the five other teams in that division. Odd numbers of teams in a pool requires either cross-over matches between teams from different pools (which in the interest of fairness should not count) or that each team have one bye.

In all round-robins, it is ideal to stagger the arrangements such that no team is in the same room for more than two consecutive rounds. You may also want to arrange the games so that a team begins and ends in the same room, facilitating setup and cleanup of lockout systems.

Round robin schedules can be generated at http://www.teamopolis.com/tools/round-robin-generator.aspx.

Elimination Brackets

Elimination brackets were traditionally used for the afternoon playoffs of large tournaments, but in an effort to provide as many games to teams as possible and allow teams to have a bad game and still have a chance to win, this has fallen out of favor. Generally, these brackets are either seeded or chosen by luck of the draw; we have included seed numbers here. Occasionally teams will be re-seeded after each round. Three types of playoffs are often used:

  • Single elimination, in which a team is eliminated after one loss, though it is common for teams that lose in the semifinals to play a 3rd place match. Playoffs with an odd number of teams are possible, but many people are uncomfortable with byes during playoff rounds. Bracket schedules can be generated here.
  • Double elimination, in which a team is eliminated after two losses, while after their first loss, teams are worked back into the bracket and have a chance to earn their way to the championship game. The problem is that if a losing team works their way back up to play in the championship and faces a team they lost to earlier, and wins that game, an extra match must be played. Another problem is that in true double-elimination, the winners have to wait out a match while the loser’s bracket “catches up.” Depending on the number of teams, it can make for a very long tournament, and requires twice the usual number of packets. Double elimination brackets are available at http://www.printyourbrackets.com/.
  • Winner/consolation, a compromise between single and double elimination, in which teams that lose in the first and/or second rounds are placed into a separate single-elimination bracket, play against other losing teams, and eventually a “consolation winner” is declared from the consolation bracket.

Power Matching (Swiss Pairing; Card System)

In this scheme, each matchup is determined by the previous round’s results, such that teams always play a team with a similar record. (If the number of teams is a power of two, teams will always have an opponent with an identical record.) The number of rounds required is the ceiling of the binary logarithm of the number of teams.

To use the schedules below, assign all teams a number for their first match. You can use seeds or random numbers. After each match, the winning team takes the number closer to 1, and the losing team takes the higher number. The next round’s matchup then uses these new numbers. (It is common to print these numbers on card stock, handing these cards out at the beginning of the day, to make it easier for teams to keep track of their number.)


16 teams

Round 1

1 v. 16, 2 v. 15, 3 v. 14, 4 v. 13, 5 v. 12, 6 v. 11, 7 v. 10, 8 v. 9

Round 2

1 v. 8, 2 v. 7, 3 v. 6, 4 v. 5, 9 v. 16, 10 v. 15, 11 v. 14, 12 v. 13

Round 3

1 v. 4, 2 v. 3, 5 v. 9, 6 v. 10, 7 v. 11, 8 v. 12, 13 v. 16, 14 v. 15

Round 4

1 v. 2, 3 v. 8, 4 v. 7, 5 v. 6, 9 v. 14, 10 v. 13, 11 v. 12, 15 v. 16


24 teams

Round 1

1 v. 24, 2 v. 23, 3 v. 22, 4 v. 21, 5 v. 20, 6 v. 19, 7 v. 18, 8 v. 17, 9 v. 16, 10 v. 15, 11 v. 14, 12 v. 13

Round 2

1 v. 12, 2 v. 11, 3 v. 10, 4 v. 9, 5 v. 8, 6 v. 7, 13 v. 24, 14 v. 23, 15 v. 22, 16 v. 21, 17 v. 20, 18 v. 19

Round 3

1 v. 6, 2 v. 5, 3 v. 4, 7 v. 13, 8 v. 14, 9 v. 15, 10 v. 16, 11 v. 17, 12 v. 18, 19 v. 24, 20 v. 23, 21 v. 22

Round 4

1 v. 21, 2 v. 3, 4 v. 24, 5 v. 12, 6 v. 11, 7 v. 10, 8 v. 9, 13 v. 20, 14 v. 19, 15 v. 18, 16 v. 17, 22 v. 23

Round 5

1 v. 2, 3 v. 8, 4 v. 7, 5 v. 6, 9 v. 13, 10 v. 14, 11 v. 15, 12 v. 16, 17 v. 22, 18 v. 21, 19 v. 20, 23 v. 24


26 teams

Round 1

1 v. 26, 2 v. 25, 3 v. 24, 4 v. 23, 5 v. 22, 6 v. 21, 7 v. 20, 8 v. 19, 9 v. 18, 10 v. 17, 11 v. 16, 12 v. 15, 13 v. 14

Round 2

1 v. 25, 2 v. 13, 3 v. 12, 4 v. 11, 5 v. 10, 6 v. 9, 7 v. 8, 14 v. 26, 15 v. 24, 16 v. 23, 17 v. 22, 18 v. 21, 19 v. 20

Round 3

1 v. 7, 2 v. 26, 3 v. 6, 4 v. 5, 8 v. 14, 9 v. 15, 10 v. 16, 11 v. 17, 12 v. 18, 13 v. 19, 20 v. 25, 21 v. 24, 22 v. 23

Round 4

1 v. 4, 2 v. 3, 5 v. 21, 6 v. 13, 7 v. 12, 8 v. 11, 9 v. 10, 14 v. 22, 15 v. 20, 16 v. 19, 17 v. 18, 23 v. 26, 24 v. 25

Round 5

1 v. 2, 3 v. 23, 4 v. 9, 5 v. 7, 6 v. 8, 10 v. 14, 11 v. 16, 12 v. 15, 13 v. 17, 18 v. 22, 19 v. 24, 20 v. 21, 25 v. 26


28 teams

Round 1

1 v. 28, 2 v. 27, 3 v. 26, 4 v. 25, 5 v. 24, 6 v. 23, 7 v. 22, 8 v. 21, 9 v. 20, 10 v. 19, 11 v. 18, 12 v. 17, 13 v. 16, 14 v. 15

Round 2

1 v. 14, 2 v. 13, 3 v. 12, 4 v. 11, 5 v. 10, 6 v. 9, 7 v. 8, 15 v. 28, 16 v. 27, 17 v. 26, 18 v. 25, 19 v. 24, 20 v. 23, 21 v. 22

Round 3

1 v. 27, 2 v. 7, 3 v. 6, 4 v. 5, 8 v. 16, 9 v. 17, 10 v. 18, 11 v. 19, 12 v. 20, 13 v. 15, 14 v. 21, 22 v. 28, 23 v. 26, 24 v. 25

Round 4

1 v. 4, 2 v. 3, 5 v. 14, 6 v. 13, 7 v. 12, 8 v. 11, 9 v. 10, 15 v. 24, 16 v. 23, 17 v. 22, 18 v. 21, 19 v. 20, 25 v. 28, 26 v. 27

Round 5

1 v. 2, 3 v. 25, 4 v. 9, 5 v. 8, 6 v. 7, 10 v. 15, 11 v. 16, 12 v. 18, 13 v. 17, 14 v. 19, 20 v. 24, 21 v. 26, 22 v. 23, 27 v. 28


30 teams

Round 1

1 v. 30, 2 v. 29, 3 v. 28, 4 v. 27, 5 v. 26, 6 v. 25, 7 v. 24, 8 v. 23, 9 v. 22, 10 v. 21, 11 v. 20, 12 v. 19, 13 v. 18, 14 v. 17, 15 v. 16

Round 2

1 v. 29, 2 v. 15, 3 v. 14, 4 v. 13, 5 v. 12, 6 v. 11, 7 v. 10, 8 v. 9, 16 v. 30, 17 v. 28, 18 v. 27, 19 v. 26, 20 v. 25, 21 v. 24, 22 v. 23

Round 3

1 v. 8, 2 v. 7, 3 v. 6, 4 v. 5, 9 v. 16, 10 v. 17, 11 v. 18, 12 v. 19, 13 v. 20, 14 v. 21, 15 v. 22, 23 v. 30, 24 v. 29, 25 v. 28, 26 v. 27

Round 4

1 v. 4, 2 v. 3, 5 v. 25, 6 v. 15, 7 v. 14, 8 v. 13, 9 v. 12, 10 v. 11, 16 v. 26, 17 v. 24, 18 v. 23, 19 v. 22, 20 v. 21, 27 v. 30, 28 v. 29

Round 5

1 v. 2, 3 v. 10, 4 v. 9, 5 v. 8, 6 v. 7, 11 v. 19, 12 v. 20, 13 v. 16, 14 v. 17, 15 v. 18, 21 v. 28, 22 v. 27, 23 v. 26, 24 v. 25, 29 v. 30


32 teams

Round 1

1 v. 32, 2 v. 31, 3 v. 30, 4 v. 29, 5 v. 28, 6 v. 27, 7 v. 26, 8 v. 25, 9 v. 24, 10 v. 23, 11 v. 22, 12 v. 21, 13 v. 20, 14 v. 19, 15 v. 18, 16 v. 17

Round 2

1 v. 16, 2 v. 15, 3 v. 14, 4 v. 13, 5 v. 12, 6 v. 11, 7 v. 10, 8 v. 9, 17 v. 32, 18 v. 31, 19 v. 30, 20 v. 29, 21 v. 28, 22 v. 27, 23 v. 26, 24 v. 25

Round 3

1 v. 8, 2 v. 7, 3 v. 6, 4 v. 5, 9 v. 17, 10 v. 18, 11 v. 19, 12 v. 20, 13 v. 21, 14 v. 22, 15 v. 23, 16 v. 24, 25 v. 32, 26 v. 31, 27 v. 30, 28 v. 29

Round 4

1 v. 4, 2 v. 3, 5 v. 16, 6 v. 15, 7 v. 14, 8 v. 13, 9 v. 12, 10 v. 11, 17 v. 28, 18 v. 27, 19 v. 26, 20 v. 25, 21 v. 24, 22 v. 23, 29 v. 32, 30 v. 31

Round 5

1 v. 2, 3 v. 9, 4 v. 10, 5 v. 7, 6 v. 8, 11 v. 21, 12 v. 22, 13 v. 19, 14 v. 20, 15 v. 17, 16 v. 18, 23 v. 29, 24 v. 30, 25 v. 27, 26 v. 28, 31 v. 32


Instructions for other numbers of teams ranging from 13 to 44 can be found at http://www.charterschool.org/clubs/academicbowl/bracketsintro.php.