National Academic Championship
A tournament run by Chip Beall's Questions Unlimited since 1983, the National Academic Championship was the first high school national tournament involving normal teams (the National Academic Super Bowl preceded it but used county-based all-star teams).
The tournament is almost universally avoided by serious quizbowl teams due to its inferior question quality and myriad other issues (see below). In 2013, no teams who participated in NSC and no team who finished in the top 100 of the HSNCT participated in the NAC. In 2018 however, Plano West won both HSNCT and the NAC.
From 1988 to 1994, the tournament was televised as "The Texaco Star National Academic Championship" and awarded large Texaco-supplied prizes to top finishers.
Methods of qualifying for the NAC include winning a tournament of eight or more teams, finishing in the top fifteen percent of any tournament, winning a game in QuizNet, getting a perfect (or highest) score in any month's Twenty Questions, or making the playoffs at the previous year's NAC.
In 2011, after seeing a drop in attendance, a middle school division was added. In 2017, after seeing another drop in attendance, the Chicago phase of the championship added an elementary school division.
Popularity and legitimacy
This tournament varied from being the only game in town to being by far the largest and most prestigious national for some time, largely because of the exposure of a televised event and the prospect of winning prize money. Prior to the mid-1990s it was the default destination for top teams looking to prove themselves the best in the country. Since then, its popularity among both the elite and the mainstream of high school quizbowl has declined precipitously, with less active teams who are not in touch with the modern standards of the game comprising most of the NAC field.
The dissatisfaction that many teams feel towards the NAC stems partly from the divergence between its questions and modern pyramidal, academic material. The tournament has long advertised itself as using questions on "significa, not trivia" and being "light on popular culture and heavy on the academic." Both of these statements are lies. In addition to a very large dose of trash in the questions, trivia is perhaps the dominating theme of NAC answer selection. There are also a lot of open-ended subjective questions and questions so bizarre as to be uncategorizable, such as the audio tossup on blenders. Even the questions on solid academic topics are nonpyramidal, vague, and deceptive. Members of the high school quizbowl community who are familiar with basic principles of good question writing are nearly uniform in their distaste for the NAC's questions in comparison with not just the NSC and HSNCT but also with high-quality regular season tournaments.
Dissatisfaction with the small number of guaranteed games, the poor questions, the questionable pairings and other ethical decisions on the part of Beall, and (after 1994) the high entry cost has always had some wiser coaches grumbling, but many of them attended anyway, judging that the sacrifices were worth the prestige of a potential win, and that the competing nationals at the time were not that much better in terms of question quality, cost-efficiency, or guaranteed games. (ASCN and Panasonic were the only other nationals to last more than a few years.) However, Panasonic at least had a spotless ethical record, and ASCN was also considered somewhat better in this department prior to the events of 2006. This led a few elite teams to skip the NAC in most or all years.
After the PACE NSC was established in 1998 and the NAQT HSNCT started in 1999, a few pioneering top-tier teams abandoned the NAC entirely. Detroit Catholic Central may have been the first perpetually elite high school team to leave the NAC. Defections followed in every subsequent year--notably including State College, Dorman, and Maggie Walker, all former NAC champions. St. John's in 2002 and State College in 1998 are the only teams to win a major national in the same year that they participated in the NAC.
In the same timeframe as the rise of NAQT and PACE, a series of accusations about Beall's ethics arose--from questionable protest resolutions, to playoff formats changed at the last minute to the benefit of longtime Beall supporters, to proven instances of plagiarism at every level of Questions Unlimited-produced material including Quiznet, Twenty Questions, QU invitational sets for local tournaments, and the NAC itself.
Participation at the NAC became an endorsement not only of badly written questions and ridiculously large cost-per-game ratios, but also of large ethical lapses on Beall's part. Matt Weiner frequently pointed out that plagiarism of the kind Beall was shown to have committed would get a college student expelled and a high school student severely censured--not exactly the sort of standards a high school teacher should be promoting to top students.
In 2005, the NAC champion Holland Hall participated in the NAQT HSNCT and finished 20th. The 2006 champion Byram Hills attracted head-scratching from many high school quizbowl watchers, as they didn't appear to compete in any tournaments outside of Westchester before winning the NAC. In 2007, the tournament champion Harrison was rated as the 37th-best team in the country by the Bykowski computer rankings and finished 35th in the Fred Morlan national poll. In 2008, the Booker T. Washington team that won the tournament finished 24th in the Bykowski ratings and received 0 votes for Top 25 status in the Morlan poll. 2009 champion John Cooper received 0 votes in the poll and did not attend either real national championship, but did lose a game 430-90 to the Texas state champion at the NAQT Texas tournament. The extreme dilution of the NAC field and the awarding of "national championships" to third-tier quizbowl teams is expected to continue in future years.
In 2006 and 2007, the single-site HSNCT attracted more teams than all three NAC sites combined, and the NSC attracted more teams than some of the individual NAC sites:
The competitively weak field contributes to the ongoing delegitimization of the NAC as a "national championship."
Of the teams considered the top 25 of high school quizbowl in a given year (via general opinion, Fred Morlan's rankings, or the final HSNCT or NSC standings), only one or two participate in the NAC (graph forthcoming).
For all of the above reasons, the winner of the National Academic Championship is not the national champion of high school quizbowl and cannot legitimately claim that status. A team which wins the NSC and HSNCT in the same year is usually acknowledged as the top team, though if another team dominates throughout the year and is eliminated from those tournaments by close margins, or does not send its regular starting lineup to nationals for some reason, there can be some dispute. In most years, the NSC and HSNCT are won by different teams, and there are two or more teams with some claim to the top spot, usually leading to a bit of discussion over who the best team is, which almost never includes the NAC winner. Since the establishment of the HSNCT, the only NAC winners with a legitimate claim to being the top team in the country were 2002 Irmo, which lost a close HSNCT final to St. John's after dominating throughout the regular season, and 2018 Plano West, who followed up a HSNCT victory by winning the NAC.
Reasons for the NAC's continued existence
The low-quality questions, ethical issues, high cost, and diluted field have led many to speculate why any teams participate in the NAC as opposed to the other nationals. The chief reasons may include:
- So-called trophy whoring: a desire by teams who cannot compete against good teams on good questions to take their best shot at winning some kind of hardware, by playing essentially random-outcome games with bad teams.
- Sponsorship: Teams such as Wilmington Charter are awarded prizes of free NAC entry by local tournaments.
- Beall's marketing/uninformed teams: Beall blankets the country in flyers for his tournament, and coaches from areas without much existing quizbowl may not know that other tournaments exist or why they are superior. In 2008, there were also targeted phone calls to coaches.
- Inertia: The NAC is the oldest tournament and once had a lot of prestige; teams who remember that era, or for other reasons have gone every year since time immemorial, may be inclined to continue going.
- Other non-quizbowl reasons: Teams who are not looking to compete seriously may find the NAC location more attractive as a vacation destination or the date more convenient in the school calendar as compared to other nationals.
- Valuing format above all else: At least one team claims that they so prefer the four quarter format to either the NAQT or PACE formats that they will continue to attend NAC exclusively regardless of the differences in question quality, cost, competitive level, or ethical standards as compared to other tournaments. Others find this explanation implausible and believe it is an excuse for one of the above reasons.
- After three consecutive years (2005-07) which saw drops in attendance, the inclusion of the "Jr. Nationals" held at the same site was likely an incentive for schools that had both a middle school and high school program to attend the same tournament together. Attendance spiked in 2008, and steadily rose until 2013, which then saw the start of another three year drop in attendance.
Matches are in four quarter format.
As of 2007, the tournament format involves each team playing six preliminary games, the top sixteen or so teams by record and PPG going to a single-elimination bracket, and the winners of the single-elim at the first two phases flying to the final weekend to play the final two teams from the last phase in a final four for the overall title.
The tournament format has varied considerably in past years; consult individual years' tournament pages for information on what the format was, when it is known.
Known information about NAC top four
Beginning in 2013, a three-team double-elimination tournament was used to determine the tournament winner out of the three regional winners, rather than the four-team single-elimination used since the introduction of the three-site format in 2000. The fourth-place team listed from 2013 on is the one identified as such in the "tournament progress" column on QU's website.
Other NAC information
|Year||Location(s)||TV, prizes, and other notes||HS field size||MS field size|
|1983||Prelims took place at Dallas Baptist College and were broadcast on local radio. Semi-finals and finals were held at WFAA-TV studios in Dallas.||Presumably shown locally on WFAA (an ABC affiliate)||34||n/a|
|1984||Prelims took place at Dallas Baptist College and were broadcast on local radio. Semi-finals and finals were held at WFAA-TV studios in Dallas.||Presumably shown locally on WFAA (an ABC affiliate)||???||n/a|
|1985||Prelims took place at Dallas Baptist University and were broadcast on local radio. Semi-finals and finals were held at WFAA-TV studios in Dallas.||Presumably shown locally on WFAA (an ABC affiliate)||50||n/a|
|1986||University of Miami||50+||n/a|
|1987||Ohio State University||57||n/a|
|1988||Prelims took place at the University of New Orleans. Televised quarterfinal and beyond matches were at the studios of WYES, the PBS station in New Orleans.||This was the first year that the tournament was sponsored by Texaco as the "Texaco Star National Academic Championship." The quarterfinals and beyond were televised on the Discovery Channel nightly from June 19 to June 25, 1988. The winner advanced to the Texaco Star North American Challenge. Scholarships and rings were provided to the winning team, and the awards banquet was held at the Petroleum Club.||76||n/a|
|1989||Prelims took place at the University of New Orleans.||The quarterfinals and beyond were broadcast on the Discovery Channel from July 1 to August 24, 1989. The winning team received rings and $5000 in scholarships, while the second place team received $2500 in scholarships.||64||n/a|
|1990||Rice University||Televised on Discovery channel, all lodging/entry/food/etc fully subsidized by Texaco, $50,000 in scholarships awarded to winning school, $25,000 in total scholarships awarded to other top finishers, winners received championship rings and new computers||78||n/a|
|1991||Rice University||Televised on Discovery channel, all lodging/entry/food/etc fully subsidized by Texaco, $50,000 in scholarships awarded to winning school, $25,000 in scholarships awarded to second-place team.||92||n/a|
|1992||Rice University||$50,000 in scholarships awarded to winning school, $25,000 in scholarships awarded to second-place team. Final three single-elimination rounds were brodcast on KPRC, Houston's NBC affiliate, probably as part of a nationwide syndication setup.||82||n/a|
|1993||Rice University and KPRC studios in Houston.||Presumably shown on TV somewhere since the end of the tournament was held at a TV studio. $50,000 in scholarships awarded to winning school, $25,000 in scholarships awarded to second-place team.||84||n/a|
|1994||Rice University||Last year of Texaco sponsorship. Final rounds were produced in conjunction with New York PBS station WNET and shown on PBS stations nationwide. Mark Walberg hosted the televised rounds instead of Chip Beall. $50,000 in scholarships awarded to winning school, $25,000 in scholarships awarded to second-place team.||73||n/a|
|1995||Second phase and finals were held at Marymount University in Arlington, VA June 9-12. A prior phase occurred at the University of Dallas June 2-5.||$2500 prize given to champions as part of partial sponsorship arrangement with Continental Airlines.||108||n/a|
|1996||Held in New Orleans and at Marymount University in Arlington, VA.||Winner of New Orleans phase given free travel to Washington to compete for overall championship.||125||n/a|
|1997||Held at Loyola University in New Orleans from May 29 to June 1, and Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 12-15.||Winner of New Orleans phase given free travel to Washington to compete for overall championship.||114||n/a|
|1998||Held at Loyola University in New Orleans from May 29 to June 1, and Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 11-14.||Winner of New Orleans phase given free travel to Washington to compete for overall championship.||118||n/a|
|1999||Held at Loyola University in New Orleans from June 3 to June 6, and Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 10-13.||Winner of New Orleans phase given free travel to Washington to compete for overall championship.||125||n/a|
|2000||Held at Loyola University in New Orleans from June 1 to June 4, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 8 to June 11, and Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA from June 15 to June 18.||Winners of New Orleans and DC phases were to receive free travel to Malibu to compete for overall championship, but see tournament page for what happened instead. Overall tournament winner received $2500.||119||n/a|
|2001||Held at Loyola University in New Orleans from May 31 to June 3, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 7 to June 10, and Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA from June 14 to June 17.||Winners of New Orleans and DC phases received free travel to Malibu to compete for overall championship.||133||n/a|
|2002||Held at Loyola University in New Orleans from May 30 to June 2, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 6 to June 9, and Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA from June 13 to June 16.||Winners of New Orleans and DC phases received free travel to Malibu to compete for overall championship.||129||n/a|
|2003||Held at Loyola University in New Orleans from May 30 to June 2, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 5 to June 8, and Drury Plaza Hotel, St. Louis, MO from June 12 to June 15.||Winners of New Orleans and DC phases received free travel to St. Louis to compete for overall championship.||105||n/a|
|2004||Held at Loyola University in New Orleans from May 28 to May 31, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 3 to June 6, and Drury Plaza Hotel, St. Louis, MO from June 11 to June 14.||Winners of New Orleans and DC phases received free travel to St. Louis to compete for overall championship.||112||n/a|
|2005||Held at Loyola University in New Orleans from May 28 to May 31, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 3 to June 6, and the Embassy Suites O'Hare, Chicago, IL from June 10 to June 13.||Winners of New Orleans and DC phases received free travel to Chicago to compete for overall championship.||114||n/a|
|2006||Held at the Crowne Plaza Riverwalk in San Antonio from May 27 to May 30, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 2 to June 5, and the Crown Plaza O'Hare in Chicago from June 9 to June 12.||Winners of San Antonio and DC phases received free travel to Chicago to compete for overall championship.||101||n/a|
|2007||Held at the Crowne Plaza Riverwalk in San Antonio from May 26 to May 29, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 1 to June 5, and Ramada Plaza in Orlando from June 9 to June 12.||Winners of San Antonio and DC phases received free travel to Orlando to compete for overall championship. The "Muller Foundation" sponsored a $2000 scholarship for the winning team.||90||n/a|
|2008||Held at the Hilton DFW from May 24 to May 26, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from May 30 to June 2, and Holiday Inn Chicago O'Hare from June 7 to June 9.||125||11|
|2009||Held at someplace in New Orleans from May 23 to May 25, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 6 to June 8, and Sheraton Four Points in Chicago from June 13 to June 15.||Winners of New Orleans and DC phases received free travel to Chicago to compete for overall championship. The two finalists in Chicago were each given $1000, and the overall winner received monogrammed letter jackets.||125||37|
|2010||Held at Loyola University, New Orleans from May 29 to 31, Marymount University in Arlington, VA from June 4 to June 6, and Sheraton Four Points in Chicago from June 12 to 14.||121||56|
|2011||Held at Loyola University, New Orleans from May 28 to 30, the Sheraton National hotel in Arlington, VA, from June 4 to June 6, and a Chicago-area site from June 11 to 13.||136||54|
|2012||Held at Loyola University, New Orleans from May 26 to May 28, the Westin Alexandria (VA) from June 1 to June 3, and Sheraton Four Points in Chicago from June 9 to June 11.||Winners of New Orleans and DC phases received free travel to Chicago to compete for overall championship.||148||47|
|2013||Held at Hampton Inn and Suites New Orleans Convention Center, Washington DC, and Chicago-area sites.||Winners of New Orleans and DC phases received free travel to Chicago to compete for overall championship.||152||60|
|2014||Held at Hampton Inn and Suites New Orleans Convention Center from May 24 to May 26, the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center (VA) from May 31 to June 1, and Sheraton Four Points in Chicago from June 7 to June 9.||140||62|