High quality quizbowl tournaments use schedules that fairly recognize the best performing teams while promoting participation and providing a better value by offering all teams several games throughout the day.
When games in the twenty tossup/bonus format are run efficiently, rounds run at about a 30-35 minute pace, allowing one-day tournaments to offer eight to ten games for all teams and, for larger fields, more games as necessary to determine the top few teams.
The fairest format for a tournament would be a full round robin in which all teams play each other, which avoids the potential for some teams to have an unfairly easier or harder schedule than others. Of course, most tournaments are too large to schedule a full round robin.
High quality tournaments generally use a pooled round robin structure in which the field is initially divided into multiple pools of equal size and balanced strength, which each play a round robin. Following these rounds, teams are ranked within their preliminary pools and reassigned into new pools for the playoff portion of the tournament. The highest ranking teams in the preliminary rounds advance to one or more "championship" pools and are still eligible to win the tournament. The remaining teams advance to one or more "consolation" pools where they will not be eligible to win the tournament, but will gain more experience by playing more games against teams that finished similarly in the preliminary rounds. In larger tournaments with multiple "championship" pools, more stages of advancement may be necessary to narrow the field to a final "championship" pool before the final rankings are determined.
Ultimately, a schedule following these principles offers each team a few games against a variety of opponents in the preliminary rounds and a few games against teams of similar skill in the playoff rounds. As long as the initial pools are properly balanced, the pooled round robin structure reduces the chance of a team having an unfairly difficult schedule, resulting in a fair ranking of teams.
Teams are divided into pools of equal size, typically six or eight teams each, with byes added if the field size is not a multiple of six or eight teams. Teams play a round robin within their pools, meaning that each team will play every other team in their assigned pool, allowing performances of teams in the same pool to be compared more fairly because they all played the same set of opponents. This is an advantage over methods like power matching/Swiss pairing or random draw preliminary rounds that are more susceptible to teams having unbalanced strengths of schedule. Based on the round robin results, the top ranking teams (typically the top two) in each pool remain eligible to win the tournament.
For a pooled format to be fair and successful, it is critical to note that teams are not randomly assigned to pools. If only the top 2 teams in each pool advance to the championship rounds, it would be extremely unfair if the top three teams in the tournament were randomly assigned to the same preliminary pool, because the third place team in that pool would be excluded from the championship rounds while less skilled teams in other pools would have an easier path to the championship rounds. To avoid this, the tournament director must take into consideration any available information about each team's skill level, such as statistics from previous tournaments and the team's submitted roster for the event, and assign teams so that the preliminary pools are roughly balanced.
Once the preliminary round robins are complete, each team has played every other team in their pool exactly once, so teams can be ranked fairly within their pools by win-loss record. Ties for the same record within a pool are usually broken in regular season tournaments by average points per game, but could also be broken by tiebreaker half games or full games if enough time and packets are available.
Based on the preliminary rankings, all teams are reassigned to new pools for the playoff rounds. Typically, the top 2 teams in each pool will advance to one or more championship pools and remain eligible to win the tournament, while the remaining teams will advance to one or more consolation pools to play more matches against teams with similar preliminary records.
The inclusion of consolation games for teams that are no longer eligible to win the tournament is a defining feature of high quality tournaments. Instead of sending the remaining teams home early like other formats, these teams are offered more games against other teams that had similar records in the preliminary rounds, allowing them to play more meaningful games against teams of similar skill to gain more experience on questions they have already paid for and would otherwise not be able to hear in a competition setting.
Once teams have been reassigned to playoff pools, teams play another round robin against the teams in their new pool. To maintain the fairness of comparing records against a common set of opponents, only the playoff games are considered when ranking teams within their new pools. By doing this, a team that takes an extra preliminary loss to a tough opponent that doesn't advance to the championship pool isn't penalized for facing a tougher opponent that teams from other pools didn't play.
When multiple teams from each preliminary pool advance to a particular playoff pool, playing a full round robin would result in teams playing repeat matches against opponents already played in the preliminary rounds. In cases like this, it is common for tournaments to use a crossover playoff in which repeat matches are not played, instead carrying over the result of the already played game from the preliminary rounds to count in the playoff standings. This allows the tournament to be completed just as fairly in fewer rounds.
Once all scheduled round robin games have been completed, teams are ranked within their final pools by record in the pool to determine their placement in the tournament. Again, a points per game tiebreaker is usually used in regular season tournaments to break any ties for the same record for non-trophy spots, but tiebreaker games could be played if desired. High quality tournaments often break ties for trophies (generally awarded to the top 3 or 4 teams) on games rather than using a statistical tiebreaker.
While not required, another common feature of high quality tournaments is the possibility of playing an advantaged final by using this finals format pioneered by the Academic Competition Federation:
This could take zero to two additional rounds to determine final placement.
Since all of the championship teams have played each other once, there can be at most one undefeated team, and up to three teams with one loss if there is a three way tie for first place at one loss. This format guarantees that a team that advances to the final championship pool cannot be eliminated from winning the tournament with only one loss in the championship pool.
A common format for an eighteen team tournament begins by dividing the teams into three balanced pools of six teams each, which each play a round robin in rounds 1-5. Following the preliminary rounds, the teams are ranked within their pools by record. Any ties at the same record are either broken by playing tiebreaker games or statistically by greater points scored per game. The top two teams in each pool advance to the "championship" pool to play for first through sixth place, the third and fourth ranked teams in each pool advance to the "consolation 1" pool to play for seventh through twelfth place, and the remaining two teams in each pool advance to the "consolation 2" pool to play for thirteenth through eighteenth place.
Each playoff pool has six teams, with two teams from each preliminary pool. A full round robin could be played in rounds 6-10, with only those games counting toward final placement. It is common for regular season tournaments to shorten the playoffs to only four rounds by using a "crossover" playoff. In each playoff pool, the two teams advancing from Pool A have already played each other, the two teams from Pool B have already played each other, and the two teams from Pool C have already played each other. In a crossover playoff, the results of these games (three per playoff pool) are carried over to be counted toward the playoff standings instead of playing repeat matches, meaning that three teams in each pool start the playoffs with a 1-0 record, and the other three teams in each pool start the playoffs with a 0-1 record.
Using the crossover playoff, each team plays nine rounds against nine unique opponents, with at least five of those games against teams of similar skill.
Following the playoff rounds, tiebreaker games and the finals format described above are usually used to determine the final placement of the teams in the championship pool.