MSHSAA (The Missouri State High School Activities Association) is the organization responsible for running Missouri's district and state quizbowl championships, taking over the role from the Missouri Academic Association in the 1995-96 season. The activity is officially called "Scholar Bowl"; before the 2010-2011 season, it was known as "Academic Competition."
- Main article: MSHSAA State Championship
The MSHSAA State Championship is held in early May. Teams are divided into four classes, each with sixteen districts. District tournaments are hosted in early April, with the winners of adjacent districts meeting in an after school sectional meet in a best two-of-three format to determine the eight teams that go to state.
From 1996-2018, games during the MSHSAA series were run in a four-quarter format, with 15 tossups in the first and third quarters, and 10 tossups with 20 point multi-part bonuses in the second and fourth quarters. MSHSAA approved a three-year trial of a 26-tossup, three-part bonus format for the 2019-2021 seasons, using 22 tossup-bonus NAQT packets with additional math questions. In both formats, all tossups are worth 10 points with no negs.
The 2021 season featured 20/20 for the first time in MSHSAA history, after the three-year trial was cut short due to NAQT's ban on in-person tournaments during COVID; instead, the state series used (lower-quality) questions supplied by Academic Hallmarks.
Rounds are scheduled to run an hour each. The district and state tournaments consist of three preliminary rounds followed by four team single elimination playoffs. In districts or state tournaments with less teams, preliminary rounds may be omitted in favor of a round robin, a best-2-of-3 format, or simply a skip to semifinals.
MSHSAA and Quizbowl
While more Missouri schools have formed quizbowl teams since MSHSAA became involved, some people feel that MSHSAA is out of touch with the desires of quizbowl players. Notably, MSHSAA's liaison to scholar bowl, Stacy Schroeder, had no previous experience with quizbowl. Many players have complained that MSHSAA's insistence on applying the same regulations to quizbowl as they do to sports hold back the state's best teams. Examples of these rules include: limiting teams to 14 competitions per season, banning teams from traveling further than 250 miles out of state for regular-season tournaments (with limited exceptions), and restricting how teams can attend national competitions.
Benefits of MSHSAA's involvement with Quizbowl
A major benefit of MSHSAA's involvement in quizbowl has been to put it on the same footing as other more traditional activities, such as athletics. Quizbowl's status as "a MSHSAA activity" helps grant it status lacking to other academic activities such as Science Olympiad, Chemistry Bowl, and Destination Imagination. As a result, a significant percentage of Missouri high schools participate in quizbowl to some extent, with a large amount of teams joining primarily for MSHSAA, and it is common for several tournaments to be hosted throughout the state on the same day.
Criticism of MSHSAA's involvement with Quizbowl
A MSHSAA four-quarter format game takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour to complete, which essentially prevents tournaments from using the bracketed round robin scheduling and offering of consolation rounds that is common with the 20 tossup-bonus format. This has been improved somewhat with the change to a 26 tossup-bonus format in 2019.
The standard schedule for MSHSAA districts and state is to have three preliminary rounds scheduled by random draw (or in the case of the state tournament, sectional number) followed by a four team single elimination bracket seeded by preliminary record then average points per game. While MSHSAA's official format for a two team district tournament is a fair best two of three format, the three team format is to play a round robin (the three preliminary rounds) followed by one final match between the top 2 teams, and the full five round format is required for district tournaments of four or more teams, even for a 4-6 team tournament for which a full round robin would be simpler, fairer, and take the same number of rounds or fewer.
In 2021, MSHSAA was unable to procure enough packets from Academic Hallmarks to run their usual schedule. As a result, sectionals were shortened to a single game, and the state tournament did not have prelim rounds, instead seeding teams into a single-elim bracket based on which sectional they were from. This led to some semifinal games between teams that were widely agreed to be the best two in their class.
As a result of the game length and the standard schedule for MSHSAA districts and state, nearly every tournament run in the MSHSAA four-quarter format or a similar format consists of approximately 3 preliminary rounds (either power-matched or randomly pre-determined) followed by a single elimination bracket of 4 to 16 teams. While tossup-bonus tournaments are becoming more common with the lack of well-written questions in MSHSAA four-quarter format, including MSHSAA's own change to tossup-bonus in 2019, many hosts still use scheduling principles influenced by standard MSHSAA scheduling.
Question Provider Selection
The questions used at MSHSAA's events have frequently been extremely short, non-pyramidal bad quizbowl companies.
Questions were provided by Bryce Avery from 2005-2007. Previous providers include Champions and Straight A.
The 2008 questions, written by Shawn Pickrell, were more pyramidal and largely heralded as an improvement over Avery's questions. In April 2008, Pickrell, citing overextension, announced he would no longer provide questions in Missouri.
MSHSAA's decision to allow the national tournament question to come to a vote and to procure higher-quality questions for its tournaments were widely praised by the Missouri community. Unfortunately, these improvements did not continue. In yet another characteristic move to stifle the growth of good quizbowl, MSHSAA has awarded Questions Galore the bid to write the 2008-2009 state championship series. This led to many independent tournaments being run on sets by Questions Galore, which was a company plagued by awful writing, a severe lack of literature, use of math computation that is simply impossible to answer in the given time limits, a general disregard for any reasonable distribution, and overall ignorance of standard writing procedures in quizbowl.
NAQT has been the question provider since the 2011 districts and state series . While the use of NAQT questions drastically improved the overall question quality of the MSHSAA series and many conference tournaments, the first and third quarters initially consisted of speedcheck tossups due to the length of a game in the MSHSAA four-quarter format, and the districts and state tournament formats still involve predetermined matchups and single-elimination playoffs. It remains to be seen if the change to a tossup-bonus format will eventually lead to improvements in scheduling.
NAQT's status as the question provider for the MSHSAA series has led more hosts to use NAQT questions and the tossup-bonus format for their Saturday tournaments, but the use of NAQT questions in the MSHSAA championship series and NAQT's Missouri conference set reduces the number of IS sets available for use by regular season tournaments in Missouri. Three A Sets and one IS set were previously used to produce the four-quarter sets for conferences and the MSHSAA state series, with numerous regular season tournaments quickly exhausting the remaining sets in many areas of the state. With the change to a tossup-bonus format in 2019, one fewer A-set is needed to produce the Missouri-specific sets, becoming available for late season tournaments to use.
MSHSAA, intent on keeping districts in 2021 in-person, was forced to cut ties with NAQT due to their policy on questions for that season. Instead, Academic Hallmarks offered to create questions for the tournament, which were proposed as pyramidal and more akin to regular quizbowl questions. The attempt to emulate NAQT questions in Auk style led to an amalgamation of knowledge bowl and quizbowl, with reused content and long, unrelated lead-ins becoming common. The questions were largely panned both during and after districts, and MSHSAA switched back to NAQT for the subsequent season.
One problem with the MSHSAA championship series is the existence of districts or sectionals with multiple top teams due to their geographical proximity. Because only the winner of each sectional advances to the state finals, on multiple occasions this has resulted in the second best team in a class not advancing to state because the best team was in their district or sectional.
- In the 2008-2009 season, Savannah moved up to Class 4 and was placed in District 16. Liberty and North Kansas City were placed in District 15, placing three of the top teams in the state that year in a pair of districts feeding into the same sectional, meaning it was only possible for one of the three to advance to the state tournament.
- In the 2010-2011 season, Ladue, Clayton, and Villa Duchesne were ranked first, second, and fifth, respectively, in the moquizbowl.com midseason poll yet were all in Class 4 District 4. Rock Bridge and Jefferson City were ranked third and fourth in that poll and were both in the same district. This meant that only two of the top five ranked teams in the poll could advance to sectionals.
Until 2008, each class had been divided into 8 geographically-determined districts, with the winner of each district advancing to the state championship. For the 2009 championship series, districts were divided in two, with the winners of two adjacent districts meeting the following Thursday at a sectional meet, hosted by the odd-numbered (or even-numbered, in even years) district winner, playing a best 2-of-3 matchup to determine which team advances to state.
The proposal was received negatively on the Missouri Academic Competition Message Board. While adding an additional level of competition with a best 2-of-3 format may marginally improve the fairness of competition, it adds additional transportation costs, room reservations, personnel overhead, and participant time that make the extra competition unreasonable. In one extreme case, if Kirksville had won its district at Marshall High School 120 miles away in 2009, the team would have had to travel another 200 miles each way to St. Charles County to play the District 7 champion the following Thursday. The longest travel distance to sectionals that actually occurred was Bradleyville's 230 mile drive each way to Bell City.
At least one coach stated that this change was made because many schools (especially smaller ones) had trouble staffing district tournaments with the larger district size. This was not indicated during the discussion on the Missouri message board, and it did not change the fact that adding sectionals did not improve the fairness of the MSHSAA championship series. In practice, it resulted in several districts with only two or three participating teams, and in the case of Class 2 District 9, perennial state champion Richland won by default as the other five teams decided not to participate.  At least a third of Class 1 was forced to drop in the 2021 season, likely due to a lack of available team members; Raymore-Peculiar, one of the best teams in the state at the time, was nearly forced to drop before finding a fourth member at the last second.
In 2021, sectionals were kept, despite each class being reduced back to 8 districts. The ensuing districting resulted in multiple instances of teams being scheduled for 3+ hour drives, and droves of hypothetical long drives to sectionals. These new districts resulted in the aforementioned records being shattered by Hume's scheduled 360-mile, 6-hour school day drive to Leopold. The change also resulted in some districts doubling, rendering the point about smaller tournament fields moot.
Restrictions on Participation
MSHSAA's definition of the Scholar Bowl season, as stated in the 2018-2019 MSHSAA Handbook, by-law 4.4.3, is:
4.4.3 Season Limits for Scholar Bowl: No senior high school or junior high school shall participate in an interscholastic scholar bowl event before the Friday of Standardized Calendar Week Number 14 or later than the date of the MSHSAA District Competition, exclusive of the MSHSAA state competition, other than the following allowances:
a. A school may participate in an interstate, interscholastic scholar bowl event which may begin no earlier than the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, only if the school has advanced from a qualifying event that takes place during the aforementioned season.
b. A school may participate in one interscholastic event following districts and prior to the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Such an event shall count as one of the school’s allowable regular season events as per By-Law 4.4.2 (Limits on Participation) and must meet the travel regulations per By-Law 4.4.4.d.
The "Friday of Standardized Calendar Week Number 14" is the Friday that occurs between October 5-11.
MSHSAA previously limited high school students to no more than fourteen events in a season, not counting the MSHSAA championship series, while middle school students were limited to eleven. By-law 4.4.2 for the 2017-2018 season was:
4.4.2 Individual Limits on Participation in Scholar Bowl:
a. Students enrolled in grades 9 through 12 shall participate in no more than fourteen interscholastic scholar bowl competitions during the school year, exclusive of MSHSAA district and state competition.
b. Students in the 7th and/or 8th grade shall participate in no more than eleven interscholastic scholar bowl competitions during the school year.
c. 9th grade students if participating at the junior high level are eligible to participate on a higher level team (high school) and have a total of fourteen competitions in which they may participate.
While the wording of this by-law imposed limits on "students", which literally interpreted would mean a school team should be able to attend more than fourteen events as long as no student participated in more than fourteen, MSHSAA has interpreted this to restrict school teams from attending more than fourteen events.
This event limit most severely impacted schools in conferences that are required to play duals against all of the other members of the conference, because a dual match counted as a single event. For example, in the 2017-2018 season, each school in the Clarence Cannon Conference played dual matches against the other eight schools in the conference, followed by a Saturday conference tournament, using nine of their fourteen allowable events.
The Scholar Bowl Advisory Committee has repeatedly recommended increasing the tournament limit only to be denied by the MSHSAA Board of Directors. A change was finally adopted for the 2018-2019 season that does not increase the number of tournaments schools can attend, but does provide some relief for schools with dual-heavy schedules by making a distinction between duals and tournaments. The new by-law gives schools options that are analogous to the scheduling options provided in some sports. As of that season, by-law 4.4.2 reads:
4.4.2 Limits on Participation in Scholar Bowl: The options for contests permitted for each school team and each individual participant are shown below.
a. High School Contest Limitations: Scheduling options / contests allowed. The options below are exclusive of any MSHSAA sponsored tournament series.
1. 20 duals and 2 Tournaments
2. 10 duals and 8 Tournaments
3. 0 duals and 14 Tournaments
b. Junior High School Contest Limitations: 12 duals and 1 Tournament OR 7 duals and 5 Tournaments.
c. 9th grade students if participating at the junior high level are eligible to participate on a high school team but may not exceed, individually, the scheduling option played by the high school team on which he/she plays.
With this change, the eight high schools in the Clarence Cannon Conference each may now attend seven tournaments in addition to their conference commitments. This is only a one tournament increase from the six tournaments they would have been able to attend under the previous version of the by-law, as Louisiana left the conference at the same time the change took effect. On the other hand, this change imposes a reduction in the number of allowed tournaments for schools that participate in 1-5 or 11 duals, as the 2018-2019 Scholar Bowl manual defines a tournament as an event with three or more teams. The wording change also imposes the limits on both individual students and school teams, matching MSHSAA's interpretation of the previous by-law.
This change also severely reduced the number of tournaments middle school teams may attend from eleven to five, which was completely unexpected and not at all recommended by the Advisory Committee.
Restrictions on Competitions Outside of the Regular Season
Through the 2008-2009 season, following the date of the District tournament, teams were prohibited from participating in any interscholastic competition except for the MSHSAA state series and national tournaments.
Shortly after the June 2009 Advisory Committee meeting, the Missouri Quizbowl Alliance learned that schools qualifying for a national tournament would be allowed to participate in one tournament between Districts and Nationals. As a result, MOQBA announced a pre-nationals tournament in which Missouri teams' participation would be subject to such a restriction. The wording of rule 4b, which implies that any team may participate in such a tournament, was not widely noticed until early May 2010. . Even with this minor relaxation, Missouri teams are still almost entirely prohibited from playing in regular tournaments for half of the year.
The by-law permitting schools to attend one of their allowable events after Districts and before Memorial Day weekend has made it possible for schools to attend SSNCT, which is usually in late April. In 2019, NAQT hosted SSNCT on the first weekend of May, creating a conflict with the MSHSAA State Championship. Because the Class 3 and 4 championships are on Saturday, MSHSAA refused to sanction the 2019 SSNCT unless teams in those classes were prohibited from participating. Several registered teams were informed that they were being forced to drop only a couple of weeks before the tournament, including Hallsville (who had earned Missouri's best placement at all five previous SSNCTs) and several teams that had not even qualified for the state tournament. As a result, only three Missouri teams - all in Classes 1 and 2, which had their state championships on Friday - attended the 2019 SSNCT, a sharp drop from the nineteen Missouri teams that attended in 2018.
Restrictions on Competitions on or after Memorial Day Weekend
MSHSAA regulations regarding summertime competition were previously ambiguous, leaving many teams unsure of whether or not they could attend national tournaments. In 2007, member schools voted between three options to make the definition more precise. These options were:
- The academic competition season should end with the state tournament and participation beyond this date should not be interscholastic (participants could not represent their school). (91 votes)
- Interscholastic academic competition should be allowed to continue into and throughout the summer. (55 votes)
- A school academic competition team should be allowed to participate in a summertime national interscholastic competition only if the school has advanced from a qualifying event that takes place during the academic year. (130 votes)
The winning option, which allows attendance at national tournaments but only by qualifying, was later approved in another vote by MSHSAA member schools and adopted as of the 2007-2008 competition season. This rule exists as by-law 4.4.3.a (quoted above) as of the 2018-2019 season.
The restriction that schools must qualify for summertime tournaments during the regular season means that Missouri schools cannot attend those tournaments as a wildcard or on a standby basis unless their school has qualified at least one team for that tournament. Since MSHSAA's qualification rule applies to "schools" and not "teams", MSHSAA member schools are allowed to bring additional teams on a wildcard or standby basis once they have qualified at least one team. Qualifying events have become more common as more higher-quality tournaments are run on reputable sets and affiliated with PACE. Also, because MSHSAA districts and a large number of conference tournaments now use NAQT questions, a significant number of Missouri teams qualify for at least one national tournament every year. As a result, the prohibition on wildcard qualification is effectively a minor annoyance, but another example of how MSHSAA imposes restrictions that do not exist for schools from most other states.
It was previously thought that schools had to be out of school before attending a national tournament due to the use of the word "summertime" in the applicable by-laws. After concerns were raised about the speech and academic competition regulations that basing the term "summertime" on a school's calendar would give students from schools that dismiss for the year earlier more opportunities to compete in activities than those who attend schools that dismiss later, member schools approved a change effective in the 2009-2010 season clarifying that qualifying teams are permitted to attend national tournaments that occur on or after the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.
Since both HSNCT and NSC are held on or after Memorial Day weekend, Missouri teams have not had issues attending one of these national tournaments since the new rule and summertime clarifications were adopted, with a few schools sometimes attending both. However, in 2016, one school was notified by MSHSAA that they could attend only one of these national tournaments, under the interpretation that the rule only allows attendance at one summertime tournament. This restrictive interpretation of the ambiguous article "an" was a surprise to supporters of good quizbowl when considering the explicit limit of "one" tournament between districts and Memorial Day weekend, the allowance of summertime "events" by the analogous by-law for speech and debate activities, and the fact that other schools have previously attended both in the same season without incident.
Matching the rules for MSHSAA's sport activities, teams generally may not attend any tournament further than 250 air miles from the borders of Missouri. Up until about 2010, teams were entirely prohibited from attending tournaments outside this radius. The rule was barely relaxed after the Academic Competition Advisory Committee recommended an amendment in 2008 allowing teams to travel to one tournament outside of the 250-mile radius.  This rule change took effect in either the 2009-2010 or 2010-2011 season.
The applicable MSHSAA by-law as of the 2018-2019 season is:
4.4.4.d. A school may participate in any approved interscholastic scholar bowl event within the state during the interscholastic season. During the season, a school may travel to the site of one out of state tournament or invitational meet per year beyond 250 air-miles from the perimeter (border) of the state of Missouri, with the date and location to be determined by the local school administration. All remaining tournaments and invitationals must fall within 250 air-miles from the state border.
Enforcement of MSHSAA Rules at Regular Season Tournaments
Beginning in the 2012-2013 season, MSHSAA now requires all regular season tournaments to follow certain rules in the MSHSAA Scholar Bowl rule book. Rules now required for all in-state tournaments include:
- MSHSAA tossup timing: 5 seconds to buzz in at the end of a question, 3 seconds to begin a significant answer after being recognized, with an additional 7 seconds to complete the answer (for a total of 10 seconds). [C.1.b]
- Bonus answers must come from the captain, unless the captain explicitly defers to another teammate by name. [C.2.a]
With this policy in place, regular season tournaments were previously required by rule C.1.c to recognize players who buzzed in by name before they could answer and to rule a player's answer incorrect if they did not wait to be recognized. This archaic rule was finally amended for the 2018-2019 season to eliminate the penalty for answering before being recognized.
The Charlie Dees Rule
New By-Law 292.0 NON-SCHOOL COMPETITION
During the season a student represents his or her school by competing in an interscholastic contest:
a. He or she shall neither practice nor compete as a member of a non-school team or as an individual participant in organized non-school competition that meets the MSHSAA academic competition definition. A competition shall be considered "organized" if any of the following conditions exist: competition is scheduled and publicized in advance, official score is kept, individual or team standings are maintained, official timer or game officials are used, admission is charged, teams are regularly formed or team rosters are predetermined, squad members are dressed in team uniforms or a team is privately or commercially sponsored. Further, competition which is either directly or indirectly sponsored, promoted or administered by an individual, organization, or any other agency shall be considered organized.
b. A student shall not have competed at any time as a member of a junior college or a senior college team if he or she desires to compete in academic competition in high school.
c. A student who joins a school team for the first time must have abided by these restrictions beginning with the first day of the current season."
Specifically, this rule is intended to prevent students from competing "with and against collegiate students", and it is thought that the motivation behind this rule is that several coaches viewed Charlie Dees' desire to get better at quizbowl, especially through playing with and against better players, was somehow inherently unfair.
This rule, as with all rules unreasonably banning quizbowl-playing students from participating in quizbowl, was met with severe backlash on the hsquizbowl forums.
Fortunately, at the 2008-2009 MSHSAA Area Meetings, the proposal was overwhelmingly defeated by the assembled superintendents, principals, athletic directors, and other administrative personnel from 510 MSHSAA member schools who attended. Seven of the eight sites were 100% opposed, while no percentage of opposition was listed for the eighth, while that site's comment ("Athletics is safety") didn't make much sense. Reasons cited were the ambiguity of the rule and its possible encroachment on Trivia Night-like activities and the fact that such a restriction limits students' opportunities to learn. 
Treated like a sport
Most responses MSHSAA gives to criticism of its handling of quizbowl are likely based on the premise that since the same rules apply to sports, they should apply to Scholar Bowl as well. Notably, in the discussion of the Sectionals proposal, Jeremy Gibbs, former president of MACA and the Missouri forum's primary source of MSHSAA information at the time, repeatedly implied that the justification for a sectionals system as opposed to one with the top two teams in a district advancing to the next stage of competition is that the latter "is not how any other sport works." However, the system used for Cross Country, in which multiple teams from Districts advance to sectionals, is similar to improved systems proposed on the Missouri board .
The long standing NFHS policy against sanctioning national championships is believed to influence MSHSAA's reluctance to loosen or eliminate restrictions on summertime competition, despite the fact that the NFHS position statement specifically indicates disapproval of national championships for "athletic events" and nearly all other NFHS member organizations that sponsor quizbowl do not impose similar restrictions.