College Bowl team heads to Nationals

Question: Which Williams team qualified for a national finals tournament this weekend? Answer: the Williams College Bowl team. Who, you might ask? Imagine playing Jeopardy for hours on end against other colleges. That is the simplest definition that one can offer for the contest described as “the varsity sport of the damned.”

Williams’ team, competing in the Northeast region of College Bowl International’s (CBI) annual national tournament, defeated nine other colleges and universities en route to capturing the school’s first CBI regional title since 1991. The team, comprised of Ted Geiger ’99, Matt Dessem ’99, Joel Iams ’01 and Lydia Haile ’02, went undefeated in the competition, beating the likes of Harvard, Dartmouth and Amherst. M.I.T., Boston University, Middlebury, Tufts and Connecticut College were among the other schools that participated in Saturday’s tourney held at Providence College in Rhode Island.

Each game in CBI format consists of two seven-minute halves during which a moderator reads both toss-up and bonus questions. A team member must buzz in and correctly answer a toss-up to earn the opportunity for bonus points. Ten points are awarded for a correct toss-up, while a bonus can be worth anywhere from 20-30 points.

Five points are deducted when a player rings in with an incorrect answer before the moderator completes the reading of a toss-up. In this format, an outstanding team performance will usually yield over 200 points a game.

Williams entered the weekend as an underdog, considering that Harvard had captured three of the previous four regional titles. The team was undaunted, however, having nearly beaten Harvard on several occasions earlier in the academic year.

The Williams squad plays in a variety of formats, some with questions focusing in strictly academic pursuits, others with a mix of questions fixed in academic, popular culture and current events categories. The CBI style includes a higher number of pop-culture and current events questions per round than the other game formats.

Geiger didn’t feel that the question content made much of a difference in the final results. “A few teams were helped [by the nature of the questions] but the best teams, Harvard, M.I.T., and us were about as good as normal.”

The CBI game play also favors teams that can buzz in quickly. “Speed was definitely at a premium this weekend,” notes Geiger. “We are a good speed team and Lydia and Matt know toss-ups in their categories very quickly,” added Geiger.

Dessem felt, “this wasn’t our best format,” and he observed that “[CBI] hasn’t changed too much from the original game,” CBI held its first championship in 1978 and is descended from the old College Bowl television program.

In round robin play, the team went a perfect 8-0, receiving challenges only from Dartmouth and Amherst. The team advanced to the semifinals along with Dartmouth of the same bracket and both Boston University and Harvard of the other bracket.

In the semifinals, Williams was matched up against a quality Harvard team. Harvard dominated the first half of the game, jumping out to a commanding 145-65 lead. Williams came back, though, getting the first five toss-ups of the second half with fast buzzes. The final score was 245-160. Iams rang in for five toss-ups while Geiger managed three.

The final featured Williams and Dartmouth, who made the 1998 finals as well, and was the first Harvard-less final since 1992. The team played arguably its best match of the day in the final, with all of the team members contributed to the victory.

“We kind of scuttled through the morning games and weren’t particularly dominant. But everyone stepped up in the playoffs. We all had excellent games,” said Geiger.

The score of the final game was 275-165. Geiger led the way with five toss-ups, Iams hit for four, Haile got two and Dessem contributed one. After the game, Geiger and Iams were among the five selected to the all-New England team by vote of the players.

The regional championship enables the Williams team to travel to the University of Florida in Gainesville to compete for CBI’s national championship. The matches will be held over the weekend of April 16-18. The favorites heading to Florida are the University of Chicago, Stanford, and the University of Michigan, last year’s winner.

The team plans to participate in several other tournaments run by individual schools this spring. The “circuit” of teams that host tournaments in the Northeast includes Harvard, B.U., M.I.T., Yale, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania. The squad also hopes to host a few teams here on campus this spring for matches in a variety of formats.

Williams College Bowl encourages all students who are interested in getting involved in the activity to come to a team practice on Tuesday nights in the 1964 classroom in Hopkins Hall from 8:30 to 10:00 P.M. The team also has a web page online at

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