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August 1, 2014

Should Teen Champs be in the TOC?

2014 Teen Tournament
Overview Teens in the TOC Joe Taglic interview
Quarterfinals Semifinals Finals
1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 1 2

Until 2000, Teen Tournament winners received an automatic berth in the following Tournament of Champions. I’m not sure what Melissa Sexstone and Chacko George did to sour the mood of the producers – heck, Chacko won his quarterfinal!

Teen Champs who went on to the TOC semifinals. (Images from J! Archive/Rice University)

Teen Champs who went on to the TOC semifinals. (Images from J! Archive/Rice University)

There’s probably a decent reason for the subsequent snub: the 2001 TOC field was stacked with 5-time champions, with two more (Mark Dawson and Alan Bailey) already bumped to the next. Inviting the Teen Tournament champion would have taken up a slot, and of course, Teens were notoriously poor against the adults.

Or were they? I looked at the stats and was surprised: through 2000, Teen Champs had a better rate of advancing to the semifinals than did College Champs.

And not just advancing by sneaking through the back door and grabbing a wild card, either. Here are the details (QF winners in green, wild cards in yellow):

TOC College Champion Teen Champion(s)
2000 Carolyn Cracraft Chacko George
Melissa Sexstone
1999 Andrew Hutchings
1998 Craig Barker Sahir Islam
Josh Den Harthog
1996 Shane Whitlock Amanda Goad
1995 Ben Lyon Matt Zielenski
1994 Jeff Stewart Matt Morris
1993 Phoebe Juel Fraser Woodford
1992 Billy Baxter April McManus
1991 Scott Gillispie Andy Westney
1990 Michael Thayer Jamie Weiss
1989 Tom Cubbage Eric Newhouse
1988 Michael Block
1987 Michael Galvin

As you can see, the Teens were 8-for-14 (57.1%) on getting to the second round, while the Collegians were 6-for-11 (55.6%). Assuming all players are of equivalent strength, you’d expect a success rate of 60% (not accounting for the potential effect, however small, of having multiple champs in the same tournament).

There are two big differences here: one obvious, one not (at least from the table above).

First, Teens were much better at winning their quarterfinal matches. At 4 to 1, it’s not even close, even with the larger number of games from which to draw from the younger set.

The second – and probably the death knell when it came time to cut a guaranteed slot – was Tom Cubbage, who ended up winning his TOC. Jeff Stewart, another College Champ, finished second in 1994.

It’s worth noting that Eric Newhouse led his semifinal but lost on a triple-stumper, and Amanda Goad was $300 off the lead going into Final in her semi, and responded correctly.

Of the 12 College Champs who played in the post-Teen-TOC era, two won their quarterfinals (Pam Mueller, Vinita Kailasanath) and three clinched wild cards (Cliff Galiher, Nick Yozamp, Erin McLean). That’s a much lower conversion rate (41.7%) than we “should” see, all other things considered equal; Cliff did make it to the finals, finishing third.

In this year’s Teen Tournament, we’ve seen some great gameplay, and you could certainly argue that whoever wins would make a formidable foe in the TOC. But with another field stacked with five-timers, in which even the very impressive 4-time winner Mark Japinga will likely take the alternate slot, this is probably not going to be the year for a Teen renaissance.

I suppose the producers could up the frequency of TOCs, or even the number of players in the field to, say, 18. But that would require sacrificing either two weeks of players who have never been on Jeopardy!, or the excitement of the two-day final match. It’s a tough situation.

  1. dhkendall permalink

    Now that they have the Teachers Tournament, I don’t think that it’d be good to reinstate the Teens in the TOC and take up yet another slot. (This isn’t saying that I agree with having the Teacher’s Tournament either, but just stating facts). I appreciate your numbers as, like always, you crunched the numbers that I was afraid to, and made me think about a different conclusion that I thought was foregone (I thought it was because the teens did worse against the adults (and the college people are closer in age – heck, they could qualify for the adult show (like the Teachers) while the teens could not)

  2. Kelly permalink

    I’ve thought for awhile that a good compromise would be to give the Teen winners a berth, but delay it until the first ToC taped after they turn 18 (since that’s the minimum age for adult play). (To be fair I’d apply that rule to any College winners who may still be underage too.) Then again I also think that the Teachers Tournament is a bit redundant (if they want to celebrate teachers then they can just give out the special prizes to the school, etc. whenever a teacher plays on the regular show – no offense whatsoever to any teachers out there), and I’d like to see the Seniors Tournament reintroduced since older folks can have a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to the buzzers (as before you’d have the option to play either in the regular games or the ST) but maybe with a higher minimum age (e.g. 55 or 60 instead of 50) since so many baby boomers now occupy that age bracket.

  3. Chuck C permalink

    I will say it dhk: get rid of the Teacher’s Tourney and let the teens back in. :)

    Like Kelly states, if you feel the need for a Teacher’s Tourney, then run it as a charity one (either directly or match their winnings in a regular game).

  4. Aria permalink

    Although I agree that now isn’t the time, I always thought it was a bit unfair that they stopped inviting the teens. I would’ve loved to see Elyse Mancuso in a TOC. Besides, Michael Braun played in the UTOC when he was still a high school junior and played a really good game, even though he didn’t advance.

  5. Kelly permalink

    I have another idea: Since whoever wins this Teen Tournament will be the 15th since they stopped inviting them to the ToC, hold a “Teen Reunion ToC” with those 15 winners (prizes would be the same as a regular ToC) and start inviting them again with next season’s winner.

  6. Joe Taglic permalink

    A radical solution (something that seems unlike what the producers typically arrange) would be to hold a play-in after every third teen tournament. Invite back the last three teen champs to play a one- or two-day match (we now how much they love their two-day total-point affairs), with the winner advancing to the ToC. Who wouldn’t want to see Jeff Xie vs. Leonard Cooper vs. Elyse Mancuso?

  7. Arjav Rawal permalink

    BTW, Mark Japinga didn’t take the alternate–he played on November 14th’s show. Google Jerry Slowik for more.

  8. Matt permalink

    Actually, the Collegians did a bit worse than you give them credit for – the table omits Janet Wong, winner of the Season 16 College Championship, who failed to advance from the quarterfinals of the 2000 ToC. So they were 6/12 for an even 50%.

    Wong’s omission masks another possible reason for dropping the Teen champs, at least at that time: the 2000 ToC was the first one to have four players who earned their slots as tournament champions, vice through regular play. As mentioned here and elsewhere, the 2001 ToC overflowed with five-timers – but the 2000 ToC had 11, taking up all the remaining slots and excluding any 4xers from that cycle.

    No ToC since 2000 has had more than 3 auto qualifiers, even though TPTB re-introduced the possibility when the Teachers Tournament was brought in. The possibility of having too many AQ’s was my first thought as to why the Teen Tournament and College Championship were excised from Season 31…

What do you think?