Revisiting contest numbers

Among the most contentious issues in JACC over the years has been the emphasis on contests at our various conferences. The issue is still brewing and will be big topic of discussion at the organization’s annual business meeting at the March convention.

The issue is so contentious that it nearly split the organization in the 1980s and it could threaten a split again at this time.

In the 1980s, the issue was emphasis on contests over emphasis on workshops at conferences. Today’s issue is how many entries to allow in each of the mail-in competitions.

For more years than not in the organization’s history, that number has been three. A couple of times, including last year, it was rolled back to two. Last year’s vote was very close and the discussion passionate.

Twenty years ago there were fewer than 15 contests, but today there are more than double that. With the changes taking place in the industry and in our classrooms, the pressure to keep adding or splitting contests is intense. And once established you risk goring SOMEONE’S ox when you propose eliminating a contest.

Large-staff schools who either have better resources or more of the talented students tend to win lots of awards. Smaller-staff schools often don’t win as many awards and want to see opportunities for awards to be spread around. Often times Southern California schools prefer more contests and more opportunities to win them while Northern California instructors are sickened by the emphasis on competition and would like to see the awards and opportunities spread out. But that’s not the whole issue.

If 60 schools participate in contests and enter three entries in each (whether they have three strong entries or not), it doesn’t take a math major to see that we have some large categories.

“So what?” some will ask, it’s been that way in JACC for most of its 55-plus year history. What has changed is the number of contests. It is getting harder and harder to find enough judges, even in a state as large as California, especially when we find ourselves competing with other organizations looking at those same judges. Add to that that we ask judges to actually put comments on all those entries so students who lose can learn from the process, and you can see why conference planners are tossing their hands in the air.

I spent the last weekend in meetings with JACC’s board of directors, who are inclined to revisit the number-of-entries issue at this year’s general business meeting. There are serious pros and cons for allowing two entries or three entries. And both sides are passionate in their choices.

A compromise solution will be one of the proposals the board of directors will bring to the business meeting in March. It’s the 2.5 proposition. But even the board could not develop a consensus and will bring a multi-choice proposal to the assembly.

Along with the choice of remaining at two entries it will propose a return to three. Either decision is likely to create a rift. The innovative 2.5 proposal would allow schools to enter up to three entries per category, but only as long as they average only 2.5 entries overall; they would have enter only one entry in a contest for every contest they wanted to enter three. Sounds a bit complicated, but with today’s online registration of entries, it is something that could be checked early in the process. Schools who violated the average would see ALL of their entries disqualified.

There’s more to it than that. Not all schools publish magazines, so newspaper, broadcast-new media and magazine groupings would each have the averaging. It is possible, too, that the writing-editing, art-design, and photo areas of newspapers would each be calculated separately, though that hasn’t been decided yet.

If the organization embraces the 2.5 plan it would be a compromise for the two groups. The overall number of entries would increase only a bit over the 2.0 plan, but not as much as it would under the 3.0 plan. Schools with lots of potential winners in various categories would still have the increased opportunity to win.

I’m not sure I prefer the 2.5 plan personally, but I recognize it as perhaps the only true compromise between the two other camps. It does JACC no good to revisit the 2.0 vs. 3.0 option every few years and have so many hurt feelings in the organization. Some version of the 2.5 compromise deserves a chance..

For those wondering how it would work if adopted, the database-driven online registration of entries would count your entries for you. If you go over your limit, you would be prompted to eliminate some entries on your own or have all of your entries disqualified when they are mailed in. You would know as soon as you completed entering names on the entry form whether you were in compliance.

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