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Disclaimer: This article is about rules. Its contents are not authoritative. Please consult official rules for up-to-date information.

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The Rules of the Game

During a quizbowl match, a team may lodge a protest to dispute the acceptability of an answer to a question or the application of rules and procedures. 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.

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 player (often the captain) or coach will indicate their 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 with 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, and there may be additional rules regarding who can lodge or be involved in discussion a protest, how it may be adjudicated, etc.

Following serious issues with protest resolution at the 2011 NSC, the 2012 NSC pioneered the concept of using a standardized written form to make sure miscommunications about protest substance and lack of tracking of protest status were eliminated. This process is now followed by many other national tournaments.

In both the 2009 HSNCT and the 2010 ACF Nationals, the championship-determining final game was decided by the margin of a protest whose resolution was announced after all gameplay was completed. Several observers felt that this method was both extremely anticlimactic and could actually affect gameplay, as participants in the finals could not be sure of how many points were needed to clinch the game. As a result, ACF now generally tries to resolve protests in crucial games near the end of the tournament on an "as soon as possible" basis, pausing gameplay as needed to announce the protest resolution, to avoid the "staffer walks on stage and announces who won the national championship" scenario from occurring again. PACE also formalized this process as a rule around the same time, though it had been observing it de facto since 2003. This approach is not practical at lower levels than nationals or during phases of the tournament where all teams are still participating; in those games, the traditional post-game resolution is still used.

Number of Protests

Standard quizbowl allows 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. However, it is considered bad form to make frivolous or unnecessary protests, and repeatedly doing so may lead to sanctions. Some tournaments ill-advisedly limit the number of protests a team may lodge or put other restrictions on protest procedures; ironically, such tournaments often use poorly written questions that make protests all the more necessary.

Other formats

The rules for Questions Unlimited contain separate sections for "protests," "appeals," and "Appeals to the Supreme Court" though the practical differences among these terms, if any, are not consistently distinguished in either the rules or the post-tournament writeups.

College Bowl's rules have provisions for "challenges" and "game discrepancies." The College Bowl NCT was known to be very insistent that there is no such thing as a "protest."