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During a quizbowl match, a team may lodge a protest to dispute the acceptability of an answer to a question and request a reversal of some initial decision during the game. If the protest is upheld, the effects of the original decision are usually undone and some resolution procedure implemented, such as adjusting the scores and/or playing an additional question.

The rationale behind protest resolution procedure in good quizbowl is to ensure that players are not penalized for errors or ambiguities that stem from the text of the questions or answers during a match.

Grounds for Protests

Rule sets vary as to what issues may be protested. The following example list is taken/adapted from the rules for the 2012 PACE NSC:

  • The answer in the packet is wrong given the question and the protesting player/team gave the correct answer.
  • A tossup is sufficiently ambiguous such that, given the question text up to the point at which the player buzzed, the answer given would reasonably be accepted by an otherwise knowledgeable person without access to the answer line
  • The player gave a correct alternate name for the answer that was not included in the list of acceptable answers to the question,
  • Two or more clues pointing to contradictory answers were read out during one question and there is therefore no single correct answer
  • The moderator awarded points for an unacceptable answer
  • The player gave enough information to uniquely identify the answer, but the question required more information than is necessary
  • The question is an exact repeat of a question from a previous round (this is rarely protested in practice, since the usual procedure is simply to throw out the question as soon as a repeat is discovered and read a replacement)

One cannot typically protest issues that cannot practicably be reviewed (such as a moderator giving too much or too little time unless the discrepancy is egregious, whether an answer was given before or after time was called, and the closeness of pronunciations). Such issues are often called "moderator discretion", albeit somewhat imprecisely.

Protest Resolution Procedure

The typical procedure for lodging and adjudicating a protest runs as follows: Immediately after the problematic question or action, a captain or coach will indicate his/her desire to lodge a protest by simply saying "Protest." The moderator will then make a small note or mark on the scoresheet next to the number of that question and say "Noted" or "Marked." At this point, the team should not explain the grounds for the protest any further. In many rule sets, teams may also lodge a protest after the half for any question in the first half or at the end of the game for any question in the second half. In some cases, such as playoff matches or finals matches, protests are relayed immediately (perhaps even if they haven't been officially lodged, if the intent is clear enough) so that research can begin sooner.

Depending on the rule set and possibly at the tournament director's discretion, protests are often not resolved unless they could change who won the game. (This can sometimes cause issues relative to statistical tiebreakers or individual awards.)

Protests are typically evaluated by a protest committee. Rule sets typically have detailed procedures for resolving different types of protests, in terms of awarding and/or taking away points, reading replacement questions, etc.

In some state high school formats (such as IHSA), protests must be made immediately and are resolved on the spot.

Number of Protests

It is a good quizbowl practice to allow teams to make as many protests as are needed, since the editors of tournaments are fallible and multiple protests may be needed to resolve ambiguities properly, but it is considered bad form to make frivolous or unnecessary protests. In contrast, bad tournaments often limit the number of protests a team may lodge or put other restrictions on protest lodging procedures, in part because the bad questions often used at those tournaments would otherwise result in an overflow of protests and in part because bad quizbowl organizations don't trust teams to judge when they have been unjustly denied points by a question.