College Bowl

College Bowl

College Bowl was a format of college-level quizbowl run and operated by College Bowl Company, Incorporated. It had a format similar to the current NAQT format. College Bowl first aired on US radio stations in 1953, and aired on US television from 1959 to 1970. After a seven-year hiatus following its cancellation on television, the game reappeared on college campuses in 1977 through an affiliation with the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) that lasted for 31 years. In 2008, the College Bowl Company announced its suspension of the College Bowl program, citing increased costs and financial infeasibility of continuing to work with ACUI.



Originating in a USO activity created by Canadian Don Reid for World War II soldiers, the game was developed into a radio show by Reid and John Moses. Grant Tinker, later President of NBC and MTM Enterprises, got his start as an assistant on the show.

The format was simple. Two four-member teams representing various colleges and universities competed; one member of each team was its captain. The game began with a "toss-up" question for ten points; the first player to buzz in got the right to answer, but if (s)he was wrong, the other team could try to answer (if a player buzzed in before the host finished reading the question and was wrong, the team was penalized five points). Answering a "toss-up" correctly earned the team the right to answer a multi-part "bonus" question worth up to thirty points; the team members could collaborate, but only the captain was allowed to actually give the answer. The game continued in this manner, and was played in halves. During halftime, the players were allowed to show a short promotional film of their school; or they might talk about career plans or the like.

The first College Quiz Bowl match was played on NBC radio on October 10, 1953, when Northwestern University defeated Columbia University, 135-60. 26 episodes ran in that first season, with winning teams receiving $500 grants for their school. Good Housekeeping magazine became the sponsor for the 1954-55 season, and a short third season in the autumn of 1955 finished the run. The most dominant team was the University of Minnesota, which had teams appear in 23 of the 68 broadcast matches. The 1953-55 series had a powerful appeal because it used remote broadcasts; each team was located at their own college where they were cheered on by their wildly enthusiastic classmates. The effect was akin to listening to a football game, but this type of excitement evaporated in later versions, in which both teams competed in the same room.


G.E. College Bowl
Format Game Show
Created by Don Reid
Presented by Allen Ludden (1959-1962)
Robert Earle (1962-1970)
Country of origin  United States
No. of series 12
Running time 30 Minutes
Original channel CBS (1959-1963)
NBC (1963-1970)
Original run January 4, 1959 – June 14, 1970

Though a pilot was shot in the Spring of 1955, the game did not move to television until 1959. As G.E. College Bowl with General Electric as the primary sponsor, the show ran on CBS from 1959–1963, and moved back to NBC from 1963-1970. Allen Ludden was the original host, but left to do Password full-time in 1962. Robert Earle was moderator for the rest of the run. The norm developed in the Ludden-Earle era of undefeated teams retiring after winning five games. Each winning team earned $1,500 in scholarship grants from General Electric with runner-up teams receiving $500. These payouts doubled during the last few seasons. One upset occurred in 1961, when the small liberal arts colleges of Hobart and William Smith in Geneva, New York, defeated Baylor University to retire undefeated as the third college, along with Rutgers and Colgate, to do so. Another example, Lafayette College retired undefeated in Fall 1962 after beating the University of California Berkeley for its fifth victory, a David and Goliath event. The show licensed and spun off three other academic competitions in the U.S.:

  • Alumni Fun, which appeared on all three major TV networks in the 1960s and featured former college students
  • Bible Bowl, which has evolved into at least three separate national competitions and used the Bible as a source
  • High School Bowl, which was broadcast in some local TV markets and featured high school students

In 1970, modern invitational tournaments began with the Southeastern Invitational Tournament, and the circuit expanded through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. These tournaments increasingly made various modifications to the College Bowl format, and came to be known as quiz bowl. Earlier invitational tournaments, such as the "Syraquiz" at Syracuse University, had occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.

Agnes Scott College's defeat of Princeton

One of the great upsets in College Bowl history—or indeed, in the history of any intercollegiate competition—came on March 6, 1966, when a small women's college, Agnes Scott College, took on the defending champions from Princeton University, which had challenged and defeated a team from Mount Holyoke College the previous week. Agnes Scott's four-woman team of Malinda Snow, Betty Butler (later Ravenholt), Katherine Bell (later Hunter) and Karen Gearreald fell behind 185-130 with less than two minutes remaining. With just a few seconds left on the clock, Butler correctly answered a toss-up question about Einstein, and Gearreald nailed the bonus question ("For twenty points, what were Balmung and Durandal?" "Swords!") to give Agnes Scott a shocking 220-215 victory. Ironically, Gearreald was blind and could not see the clock; she had no idea only a few moments were left in the game.

Agnes Scott came back the next week, but was defeated by Marietta College, 230-115; the 1966 games constituted its only College Bowl appearance. (The win over Princeton is available on YouTube: [1], [2], [3].)

Betty Butler Ravenholt went on to become a scholar and writer in the field of health policy in emerging nations. Katherine Bell Hunter earned a master's degree from Wake Forest University and a PhD from the University of Alberta; she later taught botany at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gearreald, Agnes Scott's first blind student, went on to earn a master's and doctorate from Harvard University in English literature and linguistics, and a juris doctorate from Duke University. In 1997, Gearreald was elected Agnes Scott’s Outstanding Alumna for Distinguished Career. Malinda Snow earned master's and PhD degrees from Duke University and teaches English at Georgia State University.

Princeton's captain, Steve Chernicoff, went on to become a five-time champion on Jeopardy! in its 1994-95 season and won over $83,000.[1] He later advanced to the quarterfinals of the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions in 2005.

International versions

University Challenge

A British version of the televised College Bowl competition was launched as University Challenge in 1962. The program, presented by Bamber Gascoigne, produced by Granada Television and broadcast across the ITV network, was very popular and ran until it was taken off the air in 1987. In 1994 the show was resurrected by the BBC with Jeremy Paxman as the new quizmaster. It remains very popular in Britain. The show, and the catch phrase used Gasciogne (and later Paxman) before each toss-up question, "Your starter for 10," was the inspiration for the novel Starter for 10, and the subsequent film.

Challenging Times

An Irish version of the competition called Challenging Times ran between 1991 and 2002. It was sponsored by The Irish Times newspaper, and presented by Kevin Myers, then a columnist with that newspaper. Over the course of the show, University College Cork had the most wins, with three, while National University of Ireland, Galway qualified for the most finals, winning twice and placing second twice.

Later history

The game returned to radio from 1979 to 1982, hosted by Art Fleming (the host of the original Jeopardy!), with the 1978 and 1979 national tournament semi-finals and finals appearing on syndicated television. The two champions from those years competed against teams from the UK for the "College Bowl World Championship," which were also televised; in 1978, Stanford University played a team of UK all-stars under College Bowl rules, and in 1979, Davidson College played Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University under University Challenge rules. (The UK teams won in both years.) There have been two television appearances since then; the 1984 tournament semi-finals and finals aired on NBC, hosted by Pat Sajak (of Wheel of Fortune fame), and the entire 1987 tournament on Disney Channel, hosted by Dick Cavett. The University of Minnesota won both iterations. In 1976, the program became affiliated with the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) [4], which continued to promote the competition as a non-broadcast event after the demise of the radio and television experiments. That affiliation ended in 2008, and the College Bowl program is no longer active. The College Bowl Company continues to administer the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge at historically black colleges and universities.

In the 1990s with the rise of the Academic Competition Federation and National Academic Quiz Tournaments, both with their own national championships, a number of schools (such as the University of Maryland, the University of Chicago, both former national champions, and recent runner up Georgia Tech) "de-affiliated" from College Bowl. Factors which contributed to this process included, among other issues, eligibility rules for College Bowl (which limited the number of graduate students who could compete and required a minimum courseload), higher participation costs for College Bowl relative to these other formats, and concerns regarding the quality and difficulty of the questions used in College Bowl competitions.

In 2009, brief scenes from the early 1960s episodes of College Bowl with Allen Ludden appeared in the film Gifted Hands.


In the 1987 and 1988 regional tournaments, College Bowl was accused of recycling questions from previous tournaments, thereby possibly compromising the integrity of results [5] (questions for tournaments need to be new for all teams involved, or certain teams could have a competitive advantage from having heard some questions previously). The 1987 National Tournament, on the Disney Channel, saw additional controversy, as a number of protested matches proved to strain the television format. In addition, the company, especially in the early 1990s, attempted to collect licensing fees based on copyright and trade dress claims from invitational tournaments that employed formats that it claimed were similar to College Bowl, and threatened not to allow schools that failed to pay these fees to compete in College Bowl events. As it was, the company's intellectual property claims were never tested in court and these events along with the growing Internet community of quiz bowl players led to a great increase in teams, tournaments, and formats.

Top four finishers of CBI National Championship Tournament (1978-2008)

Year Host Champion 2nd place 3rd place 4th place
1978 University of Miami Stanford Yale Cornell Oberlin College
1979 University of Miami Davidson College Harvard Oberlin College Cornell
1980 Washington University in St. Louis Fresno St. Washington University in St. Louis MIT Washington St.
1981 Marshall University of Maryland Davidson Marshall Michigan St.
1982 University of New York UNC-Chapel Hill Rice UW-Madison Vassar
1984 Ohio St. University of Minnesota Washington University in St. Louis Princeton Vassar†
1986 Georgia Institute of Technology UW-Madison Princeton Georgia Institute of Technology Utah
1987 Orlando, Florida University of Minnesota Georgia Institute of Technology NC State Western Connecticut State University
1988 University of Illinois at Chicago NC State Emory Princeton Kent St.
1989 College of DuPage University of Minnesota Georgia Institute of Technology Kent St. George Washington University
1990 University of Minnesota University of Chicago MIT George Washington University Rice
1991 University of Illinois at Chicago Rice Cornell University of Minnesota University of Wisconsin
1992 George Washington University MIT Stanford University of Pennsylvania Cornell
1993 USC University of Virginia University of Michigan University of Chicago Harvard
1994 University of Florida University of Chicago University of Virginia Brigham Young University†† George Washington University
1995 University of Akron Harvard University of Chicago University of Michigan Brigham Young University
1996 Arizona St. University of Michigan University of Virginia Princeton Cornell
1997 Montclair St. University of Virginia Harvard University of Oklahoma University of Chicago
1998 University of Texas at Dallas University of Michigan Cornell Stanford Chicago
1999 University of Florida University of Chicago University of Michigan University of Minnesota Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
2000 Bentley College University of Michigan University of Arkansas University of Chicago Williams College
2001 Cal St. Los Angeles University of Michigan University of Chicago UT-Austin Cornell
2002 Kansas St. University of Michigan UCLA University of Florida University of Chicago
2003 University of Pennsylvania University of Chicago University of Florida University of Rochester UCLA
2004 Auburn University at Montgomery University of Minnesota University of Michigan University of Florida Georgetown
2005 University of Washington University of Minnesota University of Rochester Stanford Truman St.
2006 University of Hartford UCLA University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Washington University in St. Louis University of Minnesota
2007 USC University of Minnesota USC Williams College Baylor
2008 Macalester College University of Rochester University of New Mexico University of Minnesota The Ohio State University

No tournament was held in 1983 or 1985, though regional tournaments were held in each year.

†Tied for third (lost in semifinals, no playoff for third place).

††In 1994, Brigham Young University finished second in the round-robin, qualifying for the final series. However, as the final best-two-out-of-three series was held on Sunday, the team declined to participate, and the University of Virginia took their place instead. Brigham Young was awarded third place.


  • Nasr, Carol (1969) The College Bowl Quiz Book. Doubleday, New York.

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