It's Academic is a high school televised quiz competition in Washington, DC, Charlottesville, VA, and Baltimore, MD. The winners of each region play each other in a game called the "Super Bowl".
The It's Academic producers refer to the tournament for Charlottesville and Staunton area schools as the "Central Virginia" edition, although that term normally refers to the Richmond area, which plays Battle of the Brains instead. (Teams in Charlottesville itself, such as St. Anne's and Charlottesville High, can and do compete in both tournaments). This leads to occasional confusion on the hsquizbowl.org boards regarding where "Central Virginia" is and which quizbowl teams are from there.
It's Academic is divided into several rounds. These rounds are divided into alternating tossup rounds and individual rounds. The format features an opening letter round (where all answers start with a particular letter). The tossup rounds are all speed based, with short non-pyramidal questions.
Each game features three teams of three students that start with 100 points each; the winning team advances to the next round, while both losing teams are eliminated and cannot compete again until the next school year. The DC tournament features 81 teams each year, while the Baltimore tournament features a similar number.
Despite the show being a bad quiz bowl tournament in terms of question quality and rules, participation in It's Academic by teams who are otherwise involved in good quizbowl is usually justified by explaining that It's Academic grants teams prestige with their school administrations and monetary prizes, which they can then use to not attend regular tournaments due to conflicts with It's Academic tapings.
It's Academic was formerly on in additional US markets. The "It's Academic" Quiz Book lists the following television stations as airing It's Academic in the United States:
- Baltimore, Maryland - WBAL, WJZ
- Boston, Massachusetts - WCVB
- Buffalo, New York - WIVB
- Chicago, Illinois - WMAQ, WBBM
- Cincinnati, Ohio - WLWT, WCET
- Cleveland, Ohio - WEWS (under the name Academic Challenge)
- Denver, Colorado - KOA
- Jacksonville, Florida - WTLV
- Lexington, Kentucky - KET (under the name Scholastic Bowl)
- Los Angeles, California - KNBC
- New York, New York - WNBC
- Norfolk, Virginia - WHRO
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - KYW
- Syracuse, New York - WNYS
- Washington, D.C. - WRC
The "It's Academic" Quiz Book also notes that the show has aired in Australia and Hong Kong as part of the government's "Our USA" program. Furthermore, "comic strips have been based on the show, and even federal prisons have staged their own It's Academic matches". The show "has received Emmys and numerous other awards, including a videotaped salute from former President Ronald Reagan".
Though the questions of the show do not adhere to the principles of good Quiz Bowl, the show's contribution to promoting the popularity of Quiz Bowl throughout the United States earned it the Benjamin Cooper Academic Ambassador Award in 2002.
Over the years, a number of other televisions across the English speaking world have created their own quizbowl style programs under the It's Academic name, some of these include:
An Australian version of the show aired on Network Ten and the Seven Network from 1968–1975, and was revived by Seven's Perth affiliate in 2001. Seven took the show national in 2005. (http://au.tv.yahoo.com/b/its-academic/)
A New Zealand version was also screened by TVNZ in the 1980s, with Lockwood Smith as the host.
WNBC-TV in New York aired a local edition of It's Academic from the mid-1960s through at least 1972, hosted most of the time by Art James, with Lee Leonard filling in for a year.
WMAQ-TV in Chicago had a version in the 1960s and 1970s under the "It's Academic" name, hosted by Ed Grennan.
WLWT and WCET in Cincinnati aired a local It's Academic from the late 1960s into the 1980s.
A version of It's Academic aired on WBEN in Buffalo, New York from the 1960s through 1986, hosted by sportscaster Van Miller. It was later revived for a few months in 2008 by WGRZ-TV, with Kevin O'Neill as host. The show will be returning to the area starting January 12th, 2013 for a full season hosted by O'Neill and produced by Full Circle Studios for broadcast on WGRZ-TV (Channel 2, NBC affiliate). Plans are for a Fall 2013 series and subsequent series if it proves to be popular once again.
A show using the It's Academic name aired in Richmond, Virginia on the NBC affliliate, WWBT Channel 12, in the 1970s, which was also hosted by Mac McGarry and sponsored by Giant. Battle of the Brains has also replaced a version of It's Academic that aired in Hampton Roads.
The World Affairs Council, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State, hosted an It's Academic International event in 2002, also hosted by Mac McGarry.
KFVE in Honolulu, Hawaii currently airs a local version titled It's Academic Hawai'i Host by Keahi Tucker.
Relationship with quizbowl
Many teams in the DC area were originally formed to compete on It's Academic. In that sense, it has helped the growth of quizbowl in the region. Arguably, the prestige associated with a television show has also motivated teams to recruit and prepare in more dedicated fashion than they otherwise might.
Since the rise of good quizbowl in the late 1990s and onward, the effect of IA on quizbowl has also involved serious negatives. Most notably, the show tapes on Saturday mornings. Teams frequently have to miss far superior events if they wish to participate in IA. Though defenders claim that taping at any other time is somehow impossible, the reality is that most other televised high school quizbowl shows across North America do not tape on Saturday mornings and thus can co-exist with quizbowl more easily.
The questions and format of the show are extremely bad by quizbowl/academic standards. Some devoted IA coaches actually discourage their players from practicing on better questions or attending better tournaments, as it will develop skills, such as an understanding of the liberal arts and sciences or an ability to think about context, that run counter to the skills needed to succeed on IA, which are highly developed fast-twitch muscles in the fingers, a command of trivia and wordplay, and memorization of the questions from past years which are recycled in a predictable fashion in new seasons.
The viewing of real quizbowl tournaments as simply "IA practice" has caused some holdouts to refuse to attend most or all quizbowl events in the modern day, as they do not conform to IA style, and until very recently also resulted in the holding of terrible "IA-style" invitationals. It has also caused extremely irrational and unbecoming proclamations from the last few diehard IA fans, including stating a desire to commit physical violence against quizbowl proponents in front of high school students.
Efforts to start good quizbowl circuits through NAQT outreach or the use of state associations such as VHSL have achieved huge success in the last 15 years across North America, making the existence of a bad quizbowl program that teaches teams the wrong skills and competes with Saturday tournaments no longer a necessary evil for team growth.
IA's ability to convince school administrations to fund quizbowl has dwindled to near-zero. The practice of severing quizbowl from It's Academic at DC-area schools is expected to continue in the future.