Qualifying for the SSNCT

SSNCT logo


There are two classes of small schools that will compete in separate divisions at the Small School National Championship Tournament. The first division, designated the Traditional Public Schools Division, is for public schools with 500 or fewer students in their top three grades (which must overlap grades 9–12), and that are the default school for their district. The second division, designated the Open Division, is for all other schools with 350 or fewer students in their top three grades. The full definitions of the two divisions are available here.

Automatic Qualification

There are three ways in which a school may automatically qualify for the Small School National Championship Tournament:

  1. Finishing in the top 30% of the teams from eligible schools at a high school varsity tournament that uses NAQT questions. This includes traditional one-day tournaments, leagues, televised tournaments, and all other events that use questions provided by NAQT, whether or not they use NAQT’s official format and rules.

    This computation “rounds up,” so a tournament with 6 small school teams from Traditional Public Schools, 9 teams from small private schools, and 15 teams from large schools would issue SSNCT invitations to the top two (6 × 30% = 1.8, rounded up) small school teams from Traditional Public Schools as well as the top three (9 × 30% = 2.7, rounded up) teams from small private schools. In general, every team tied for a spot in the top 30% receives an invitation, though NAQT reserves the right to break ties reported by the host at its own discretion (and so award fewer berths).

    NAQT also reserves the right to declare individual tournaments as “non-qualifiers” if they have eligibility policies designed to exclude teams or players on the basis of ability.

    Finally, the team must win at least one game during the tournament, and the tournament must include teams from at least three schools (of any size or type).

    A list of upcoming events is available on the NAQT website. Most of these events are qualifiers for the SSNCT, but some will have eligibility policies that preclude qualifier status.

  2. Being the highest-placing team from an eligible school in any class or division of an official state championship with rules and questions similar to those of NAQT (but not provided by NAQT). For instance, if the Winnemac State Championship awarded 1A, 2A, and 3A titles, the top team from an eligible school (if any) in each of those divisions would earn an invitation. Note that the invited team might not be the class- or division-winner if that winner is not eligible for the SSNCT division in question. For example, if the Winnemac 2A division were open to schools with 250 to 600 students (in grades 10–12), and its order of finish were…
    1. West High School (public, 550 students)
    2. Performing Arts Charter (lottery-based charter, 320 students)
    3. St. John’s (private, 280 students)
    4. East High School (public, 450 students)
    …then Performing Arts Charter would earn an SSNCT invitation (to the Open Division) for being the top eligible team (in 2A) and East High School would earn an SSNCT invitation (to the Traditional Public Schools Division) for being the top eligible team (in 2A).
  3. Any eligible team that qualifies for the HSNCT automatically receives an invitation to the SSNCT. This could occur if two Small School teams finished #1 and #2 at a ten-team tournament (where all of the rest of the teams are from large schools).

Invitations to the SSNCT are generally based on the NAQT High School Eligibility Rules, but hosts are permitted to deviate from NAQT’s eligibility rules. In general, a team’s performance cannot qualify it to the SSNCT if it would be ineligible to play at the SSNCT (e.g., if it comprises players from multiple schools or includes one or more players who are ineligible to play at the SSNCT under the High School Eligibility Rules). However, NAQT may choose to consider qualification based on other eligibility rules, as for events run by major state activities/athletic associations. In such cases, teams may qualify to the SSNCT despite not satisfying the High School Eligibility Rules, but if they attend the SSNCT, the team there must satisfy the High School Eligibility Rules.

NAQT reserves the right to adjust rankings submitted by hosts to better conform to game results. In such cases, if the host requests it, we will post both the original ranking and NAQT’s ranking (but qualification to the SSNCT will be based on NAQT’s ranking).

Skill-Based Divisions

If a tournament divides its field into varsity and junior varsity divisions (or similar divisions based on skill) that don’t compete against each other, then the number of invitations issued for each division of the SSNCT will be 30% of the total count of eligible teams across all divisions, but all teams in an upper division will be ranked above those in a lower division (regardless of record or statistics). (Divisions that don’t use questions from NAQT will be ignored for this purpose of calculating the total number of teams.)

For example, suppose the varsity division has eight teams from schools eligible for the Traditional Public Schools Division and twelve non-Small School teams, while the junior varsity division has four teams from schools eligible for the Traditional Public Schools Division and twelve non-Small School teams. Then a total of four (30% × (8 + 4) = 3.6, rounded up) SSNCT invitations would be awarded, and they would be given to the top four small schools in the varsity division. The top small schools from junior varsity divisions are encouraged to apply for wildcards.

School-Based Divisions

If a tournament divides its field into divisions based on school size and/or school type that don’t compete against each other, then each division will be considered a separate tournament for the sake of qualification, and small schools will qualify from each independently.

HSNCT versus SSNCT Invitations

A small school team may earn an invitation to both the High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT) and the SSNCT with a single performance.

Because those events are held on different dates (and use different questions), those schools are encouraged to attend both championships.

Qualifying Multiple Teams

In order to qualify multiple teams from the same school for the SSNCT, the teams must attend the same tournament and qualify independently. Teams that qualify at different tournaments—even if composed of entirely different students—do not provide their school with more than one berth at the SSNCT. Wildcard consideration will be given to additional teams from the same school that have demonstrated a high quality of play throughout the year.

Invitations Are Not Guaranteed Spots

Qualifying for the Small School National Championship (that is, receiving an invitation) does not guarantee a team a spot in the field: The tournament has a limited field size, and it is possible that the field will fill and some qualifiers that wish to attend may not be able to. Teams are encouraged to register as soon as they know they have earned a berth (and have secured funding). It is registering for the championship, not qualifying, that guarantees a spot.


For a tournament to be a qualifier, participating teams must be allowed to consist of at least three players (but do not need to actually consist of at least three players). In other words, “singles” (“solo”) and “doubles” tournaments cannot be qualifiers.

NAQT reserves the right to designate additional tournaments as qualifiers for the SSNCT as it sees fit. This is extremely rare.

NAQT reserves the right to decide that a tournament is not a qualifier if NAQT believes that the tournament deviated very strongly from acceptable quiz bowl practices or involved substantial aspects that are not quiz bowl, or otherwise at NAQT’s discretion. This is also extremely rare.

NAQT may decline to issue, rescind, or attach additional conditions to an invitation, if it finds that one of more of the recipient school’s players, coaches, or other affiliates engaged in conduct inconsistent with Section K of the Official NAQT Rules. This may be applied to conduct that occurred at quiz bowl tournaments (regardless of whether the tournaments used the Official NAQT Rules and/or NAQT questions) or outside of tournaments.

Wildcard Invitations

NAQT accepts wildcard applications from schools that did not qualify by the above criteria but whose teams have demonstrated a high quality of play in academic competition throughout the year. Particular consideration will be given to schools that, for geographical reasons, had difficulty attending NAQT tournaments.

NAQT reserves the right to accept wildcard applications at any time after they have been submitted; that is, NAQT may accept particularly strong applications immediately but may postpone making a decision on others until further tournaments have completed or it has a better idea how many SSNCT spots will be taken by automatic qualifiers. Teams may inquire as to the status of their request at any time. NAQT understands that wildcard teams need to know whether or not they can attend the tournament as soon as possible and will make every effort to contact teams as soon as a final decision has been made about their request.

Standby Teams

Teams located near the tournament site, or ‘B’ and subsequent teams from schools attending the championship, may be interested in attending on a standby basis. Standby teams are not guaranteed a spot in the field, but if there is a last-minute cancellation, they’ll replace the missing team without paying a registration fee.

Due to MSHSAA rules, teams from Missouri that are members of MSHSAA are ineligible to join the standby list (unless a team from the school has qualified to attend the championship).

Special Rulings

NAQT has made a number of special rulings regarding unusual qualification situations.


Questions, comments, or suggestions may be directed to NAQT at ssnct@naqt.com.

Tournament Schedule

NAQT maintains a schedule of high school tournaments, TV shows, conferences, and leagues.

View Schedule