College Quiz Bowl

At the college level, quiz bowl is played — with similar rules and questions — in two different contexts.

The first is as a campus activity. This sort of quiz bowl usually takes the form of an intramural tournament that features teams from fraternities, dorm floors, clubs, honor societies, or classes. This is a relatively casual tournament with comparatively easy questions. It may be played on a single day or spread out over several weeks depending on the number of teams involved and the resources available on campus.

The second is as a competitive, interscholastic activity for which players attend periodic practices and then represent their school at intercollegiate tournaments. Those tournaments may be based on the school’s athletic conference or state, but, in general, they are open to all teams able to make the trip to the tournament site.

Most schools sponsor both on-campus and interscholastic quiz bowl and view them as complementary activities: the varsity quiz bowl club/team provides its expertise in helping to run a smooth intramural for the student body; in exchange, it receives campus activities funding to help it attend more off-campus tournaments. The campus tournaments can also identify good players who might be interested in joining the quiz bowl team.

Quiz bowl questions range over the entire spectrum of a college curriculum and also include a certain amount of current events, sports, and popular culture; there is more “non-academic” material in on-campus tournaments and more “academic” material at interscholastic events.

The matches feature a blend of individual competition and team collaboration, since no individual player is likely to be an expert in all subject areas. Quiz bowl can reinforce classroom lessons and also encourage players to go beyond their majors to master other areas as well.

Tournaments that use NAQT’s eligibility rules are, in general, open to all post-secondary educational institutions though some individual tournaments might impose limitations on certain classes of players (e.g., graduate students). In particular, community colleges are eligible to participate in NAQT’s college programs, though there is also a parallel community college program intended for them.

A school’s quiz bowl season would generally run from early October until late April, though events do occur both before and after those thresholds. Teams will usually practice weekly, but more dedicated teams choose to do so more frequently, particularly in weeks leading up to major tournaments. Most practices consist of intrasquad games, but some may also include alternate activities to emphasize particular subject areas.

From time to time during the year, the players will be grouped into teams (of players with complementary strengths) and sent to tournaments. NAQT rules allow multiple teams from the same school to participate, so everybody can get a chance a play.

Nationwide, the most common form of competition is the so-called “Saturday tournament,” in which anywhere from 4 to 24 teams from different schools drive to a central location (the “host”) and play five to fourteen matches, each of which takes about 30 minutes. Valuable prizes are rare at the college level; while most tournaments will offer nominal prizes (small trophies or books) to the top teams and players, some are played for nothing except glory.

Most tournaments have a registration fee of $80 to $120 that varies with location, length, and amenities, but there are discounts provided for teams that provide buzzers, clocks, staff, or who have traveled a great distance to compete. Most tournaments do not require that a faculty or staff member accompany the team.

Any institution may choose to host a tournament, which can serve as a fundraiser for its team. Many college quiz bowl teams also run high school tournaments as fundraisers and to entice players into considering them for their post-secondary education.

The year begins with Collegiate Novice tournaments geared toward newer teams and players.

In February, teams may attend their Sectional Championship Tournament (SCT); the top teams from that tournament qualify to attend the Intercollegiate Championship Tournament (ICT). The 2023 ICT featured 32 Division I teams and 32 Division II teams that came to Rosemont, Illinois (near Chicago) for 16 rounds of amazing competition. The 2024 ICT will take place on April 5 - April 6 in Rosemont, Illinois (near Chicago).

For the purposes of Sectional and national championships, NAQT divides players (and their teams) into Division I and Division II; this is not based on school size or classification for athletic purposes, but upon quiz bowl experience. In a nutshell, players that have previously qualified for the ICT must play in Division I (with harder questions and stronger competition) while everybody else may compete in Division II. The general idea is that teams compete in Division II until they qualify for nationals, at which point they are good enough to begin competing in Division I the following year.

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