Starting a College Team
Establishing a new quiz bowl team will be a different process at every college or university because of variance in size, student body composition, and administrative support, but the following ten steps are some of the most important to creating a competitive program that can outlive its founders’ stint at the institution. These steps are listed in a more-or-less logical order.
Join the quiz bowl community. First and foremost, anybody interested in starting a team should get in touch with other active and nascent programs around the country. Other students and coaches will be able to provide a plethora of advice about every aspect of founding and leading a team. One should be sure to read the college sections of The Quizbowl Resource Center for discussion and tournament announcements. This is a great forum for electronically meeting active players, asking questions, and just absorbing the culture and current issues faced across the country. There is also an electronic group for quiz bowl in Canada. Finally, there is a mailing list for West Coast schools (scroll down that page for subscription information).
It is also a good idea to make direct contact with geographically nearby programs in order to practice with them, arrange matches, or just to observe their practices and tournaments in order to get a feeling for how such things should be run.
Sign up an advisor or coach. Having a faculty advisor is very important for a program, even if that advisor is not able to travel to many events or attend many club functions (though it’s better if he or she does, of course). Advisors are almost always required to sign off on clubs’ requests for money or room reservations and they can be very helpful when working with other departments or offices to gain publicity for the club. Be sure to remember to treat your advisor to a gift at the end of the year; very few universities actively reward faculty members for their work with student groups.
Unlike high school teams, very few college teams have active coaches who run practices, edit questions, and take an active role in training the team. In the likely event that a new team is unable to find an enthusiastic and experienced coach, team members will have to be prepared to assume the responsibility for leadership within the club.
Get a core group together. Probably the next step is to find a core team of quiz bowl enthusiasts who are more willing than most to perform administrative work (as well as play) and who may need to pay their own way to the first couple of tournaments. Unless events are timed very well, it is unlikely that a quiz bowl team in its first year of existence will be able to acquire significant funding since budgets are usually submitted and approved during the preceding academic term. These four to eight players will be the proselytizers for this team among prospective players, administrators, and faculty members. At this point it’s not so important to focus on finding a fully-balanced, top-notch team, but rather a group of people who love knowledge—and expressing it in this form of competition—and who are willing to work hard to build a club.
Acquire practice material. Administrative work is well and good, of course, but people are really interested in actually playing. Now would be a good time to start acquiring questions with which to hold regular practices. Two excellent sources of old, free questions are the Stanford Packet Archive and the Quizbowl Packet Archive. All of the questions found there were written by teams for various invitational tournaments and, as is to be expected, vary widely in difficulty, length, quality, and distribution. Since the heart and soul of quiz bowl is its questions, this archive is also a window into the history of the game. It’s no secret that tournaments have become significantly more difficult and somewhat more academic (less current events, less popular culture, less sports) since the early 1990s. At the same time, there is also general consensus that questions (and question writers) have become much better since then and that teams have much higher expectations for the tournaments which they attend.
It is also possible to purchase practice questions from NAQT or directly from recent tournament hosts; such packets are normally advertised on the mailing lists, mentioned above. Teams planning on competing for the NAQT Intercollegiate Championship will find it valuable to practice on NAQT-style questions.
Begin writing questions. It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of learning to write quality questions. There is great debate among quiz bowl players about the best way to improve, but it’s certainly true that writing questions is a very good way to learn to new facts and, perhaps more importantly, to develop an instinct for anticipating others’ questions. In any case, most collegiate tournaments are run on packets of questions submitted by competing teams. Learning to write good questions can prevent the additional cost of having a packet rejected by a host or the embarrassment of having mistakes and misleading clues discovered when it is read in a real game. There are several guides to writing good questions on the Internet with general agreement as to game mechanics, but often divergent views on stylistic issues. Luckily this provides an opportunity for new writers to seek out their own style (within certain boundaries accepted by the community). NAQT provides a list of recommended references for writing and fact-checking questions.
Get a source of funding. Quiz bowl clubs that are to grow beyond their stalwart founders require a source of funding, which almost always turns out to be an administrative office, the student union, or the student government. Tom Michael has written a very good piece on funding quiz bowl clubs which treats the subject quite thoroughly.
Start attending tournaments. At some point a new team will need to begin attending tournaments. Tournaments are announced regularly on The Quizbowl Resource Center. Official NAQT events are also listed on our online schedule. In almost every case all that is required to register for a tournament is sending an e-mail to the organizer stating that a school is planning on sending a team and providing a contact for that team. The host will generally distribute cost information, driving directions, and a brief description of the tournament’s format and style to teams that have expressed interest (and possibly to the mailing list and discussion board at large).
In almost every case, new teams will suffer substantial defeats (the author of this article lost his third intercollegiate game 660-100) at the hands of experienced circuit teams. This is only to be expected; remember that most good college teams’ members have been practicing two to three times per week for two to three years and have played every question in the Stanford Archive at least once; possibly more frequently. Improvement is usually slow and steady. New teams should also consider being willing to travel farther to attend "novice" events specifically targeted at new players. In addition, NAQT offers Division II play for new teams at its Sectional Championship Tournaments to give new players and clubs a chance to compete against each other.
Run an intramural. One step that most quiz bowl clubs take to publicize the activity is to hold an intramural tournament each year for other campus organizations, fraternities, and groups of friends to compete in. The intramural tournament serves as recruiting opportunity among trivia-loving students (including new freshmen who may be looking for the local team), but will also be a low-key tournament for less-experienced quiz-club members, and is an excellent event for the club to point to when asked about its contributions to the university in order to justify its funding. NAQT sells questions specifically written to be used at intramural tournaments.
Grow the club. Once the team has an advisor, a source of funding, and some experience running practices and attending tournaments, it’s time to expand the club with new members. Many of them may not be particularly interested in—or capable of—serving as leaders, but will be average, good, bad, or even great players who love the game. With the help of the office for incoming freshmen, the Honors program, friendly professors, and anybody else, new players should be invited to practice with the club, sent to tournaments, and generally integrated into the organization. It is not unusual to see two, three, or four teams from a single school at some tournaments when they have an energetic organization. Now is the time to actively seek out people who can fill holes in the existing players’ knowledge.
It is also a good idea for a club to register a contact with Dwight Kidder’s Entering Freshman contact list so that high school players planning to matriculate at the institution know whom to contact.
Run tournaments. It’s now time to consider hosting a real tournament for other schools’ teams to attend, either high schools or colleges. Running a tournament is a time-consuming and frustrating process which can be very rewarding when done right (or even adequately)—and can be absolutely horrible if done poorly. Almost every club will naturally evolve to a point at which it believes that it can run an event as well or better than others in the area; generally its members will also desire additional revenue in order to expand the number of tournaments at which they themselves can compete. Running such an event is beyond the scope of this article as it doesn’t really pertain to new teams, except as a warning that small, young teams should think twice before committing to hosting an event if they are not absolutely clear on what that entails.
NAQT’s members, as a general rule, love to talk about quiz bowl and are delighted when new teams join the circuit. New teams with questions about anything pertaining to quiz bowl should feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.