Swarthmore College Bowl Basics of Academic Competition

College bowl is a game in which two four-player teams race to answer the most question on topics ranging from the standard academic subjects (history, literature, science, etc.) to pop culture and general knowledge. There are two types of questions: the tossup, answerable by players from either team (who may buzz in at any time and who answer as individuals), and the bonus, which is answered by a team which ahs just answered a tossup. Answering a tossup correctly earns the team ten points and the chance to answer a bonus; answering incorrectly before the moderator has finished reading the question results in a five-point penalty. Bonus questions are worth thirty points, and are made up of more than one part. The are several major formats and styles of play:


In the early 1990's, several teams (including several from the southeast) decided that CBI questions were too easy and of too low quality, and began the Academic Competition Foundation, which organized its own set of regionals and nationals. ACF tournaments are untimes, and the founders of ACF intended the format to emphasize knowledge rather than speed. Unfortunately, the format has often been criticized as being excessively difficult. In 1997, the original founders of ACF retired, and it seemed that ACF was dead, but a new group of organizers (including John Sheahan of Chicago and Andrew Yaphe of UVa) have stepped in to start a new organization with the same initials, the Academic Competition Federation. The 1997-8 academic year saw the inauguration of this new ACF, as well as the continuation of ACF-oriented tournaments like Maryland's Terrapin Invitational and Virginia's Wahoo War of the Minds.


The other major quiz bowl format is NAQT (or National Academic Quiz Tournaments), an organization founded by former players in 1996. NAQT organizes conference championships, sectional tournaments, and a national intercollegiate championship; it also sells intramural packets and high school questions (which are either used for easy college invitationals or for university-run high school events). NAQT rules vary slightly from the standard fare. Rounds are timed, but teams are given the opportunity to answer a bonus for each tossup they answer even if time runs out; players receive fifteen points (instead of the usual ten) for especially impressive early buzzes on "power tossups"; and non-verbal, non-written conferring is allowed.


Each year, College Bowl, Inc., runs a series of fifteen regional tournaments and a national tournament, using timed rounds and relatively easy questions. CBI ran the "College Bowl" TV show of the fifties and sixties; it began running intercollegiate tournaments in the late seventies, and for much of the eighties was the only format around. Many teams complain about the low quality and high cost of CBI tournaments, though they retain a following because of their emphasis on speed, pop culture, and current events, and their name recognition. (The college bowl campus program is, after all, the direct descendant of the popular 1960's TV show.) Within the last year, they have declared bankruptcy, which has led some to wonder how much longer they will exist.


Many colleges and universities (including Swarthmore) run invitational tournaments of their own, usually using packets submitted by the competing teams (but occasionally with internally generated packets of NAQT questions). Invitationals have different rules and philosophies: they vary from hard-core ACF tournaments (like those at Maryland and Georgia Tech) to modified-ACF or NAQTish events (like Penn Bowl and MIT's Beaver Bonspiel).


In 1997-8, Testing Recall About Strange Happenings (or TRASH) was founded by a corps of players including Swarthmore's own Fred Bush. The TRASH organizers write a series of trash packets to be used at regional trash tournaments around the country each fall, and at a TRASHional tournament held in the spring.


In addition to conventional tournaments (which have a strong emphasis on academic subject areas), teams also run trash tournaments, with questions on topics like pop culture, general knowledge, pop music, sports, OJ, and junk food, to name just a few. TRASH is a nationwide league of regional trash tournaments, and many other schools run their own trash events. Trash tournaments ofter have unusual rule innovations, such as the "lame rule" or "get out of a -5 free" cards, and eligibility requirements tend to be rather lenient.

Maintained by Adrian Packel. For more information, contact Chris White.