Members of UC Irvine's "College Bowl" team, whose taped national championship match against Ohio State is to be broadcast today, are quick to dispel the notion that they are so brainy their heads have swelled.
The experience of representing California and the West in the long-running quiz show, which bills itself as "the varsity sport of the mind," said Mark Sugars, 26, of Irvine, "has given me some brief and sporadic fame. . . . But it's just a game."
Team captain Tom Grant, 25, said, "We don't place the stakes so high that we fall apart if we miss a few questions. Our attitude is: Let's have a good time."
The match can be seen at 5:30 p.m. today on the Disney Channel.
None of the five men on the team, nor their coach, Marti Barmore, would reveal whether UCI advanced beyond the first round of the 16-team, single elimination tournament, which was taped in June at Florida's Epcot Center and hosted by Dick Cavett. At stake is $34,000 in scholarships for the universities, including a $10,000 first prize.
UCI Has Done Well
But teams representing UCI have done well consistently in recent years, winning the Western regional championship in 1983, 1986 and 1987. They placed second in 1984 and went to the national championship as a wild card, where they advanced as far as the quarterfinals.
Off and on for the last 34 years, the fast-moving quiz show has aired weekly on network radio and television with the same basic format. It has won Emmy and Peabody awards, as well as congressional and presidential citations.
During those periods when "College Bowl" was off the air or broadcasting only the national championship rounds, the half-hour competition of toss-up and bonus questions was licensed and packaged for intramural and intercollegiate play, at one time involving more than 11,000 students.
"College Bowl" essentially is a family affair, invented by Don Reid and now produced by his son, Richard, 40. If the 15-week revival on the Disney Channel is successful, Richard Reid said, he would like to see matches televised on the cable system throughout the academic year. He also is preparing computer and board versions of the game, which was once a Sunday evening staple in many homes around the country.
The Disney Channel, Reid said, "was 100% behind it. They put a lot of dollars into the promotion. That way we decided it was a good time to bring it back."
Like Ludden's Show
The show to be aired today is almost identical to the version hosted by Allen Ludden on NBC television.
Because there are no commercials, the playing time is slightly longer, and each team may now include two graduate students. But mathematical questions still require a pencil and paper, rather than calculators.
As in the past, the key to winning in such evenly matched competitions "is the ability to answer toss-up questions before they're completed," said Barmore, who has been coaching the school's "College Bowl" teams since 1983.
Reid agreed: "We say at the end that the 'College Bowl' is a game of quick recall and by no means a full measure of these students' outstanding academic achievements."
UCI's team members say that, understandably, the questions asked in the televised version are easier than those in the regional competition, since involvement of the audience at home has always been a key element of the game. On television there are more audio and visual elements to the game as well, including music and art.
In one oddly coincidental bonus question asked at Epcot, clips from seven Disney animated films were flashed for five seconds, and the team was asked to identify them in order.
Comparing the quiz questions to those on standardized tests, Mike Ontko, 22, of Costa Mesa, said "College Bowl" questions were "more superficial but more comprehensive in the topics covered."
For example, Ontko beat the buzzer to identify the Chinese dynasty that shared a name with the metallic portion of a knife handle: Tang.
"We try to strike a happy balance," Reid acknowledged. "It would be easy to create difficult material for the student that would be too difficult for the viewers to answer. There is no magic formula. They're not harder. If anything, people (watching) will find there is more to material to play along with than 15 years ago. 'College Bowl' is always reflective of the times. There's a great deal in the show about cultural activity as well."
Reid, who said he "wasn't smart enough to play" on Syracuse University's team when he was a student there, said he is leaning toward using "more multicultural material" in future games.
Barmore, assistant director of UCI's student activities office when she is not coaching, calls her team "the comeback kids" for the many times they have erased huge deficits late in the second round. She said that there is no dominant star on the team and that she was pleased that in previous competitions, UCI's down-to-earth attitude has made it popular with audiences and other "College Bowl" players.