Ethics Bowl Basics

There are ten regional Ethics Bowls, and from those regions 36 teams go to Nationals. Regionals are held in November, and Nationals the following February. Around Labor Day the 15 cases for the Regional Bowl are distributed to each team, and cases for Nationals drop in late December.

The Regional Bowls are organized thus:

    • The competition is divided into rounds, with two teams and two cases per round
    • For each round, there is a moderator and three judges (and the teams)
    • Coin flip to see which team goes first
    • The case which has been randomly assigned to the round – is pulled by the moderator
    • The winner of the coin toss (Team A) will be read a question about the case.
    • Team A will have two minutes to brainstorm/pull a response together
    • Team A will then present its answer to the question for up to ten minutes. (7-8 minutes is fine, but 10 is maximum.)
    • Team B then responds to Team A. This response can be critical (i.e., a disagreement with all or part of the other team’s argument), or can be synergistic (i.e., elaborate on a point raised by the opposition).
    • Team B will have one minute to confer
    • Team B will then present its response/commentary for up to five minutes
    • Team A then has the opportunity to respond to Team B’s comments (one minute to confer, five minutes to present)
    • The judges will then pose question/s to Team A. Each judge gets one question and a follow-up. (Judges can ask a second question if each judge has had one question and there’s time.)
    • Then it’s Team B’s turn to go first, and the sequence above is repeated.
    • A complex system of weighting will determine how many teams from each regional will attend the Nationals. (The National Bowl is attached to the Association of Applied and Professional Ethics [APPE] Annual Conference)

The best presentations will

    • Have a clear and systematic argument
    • Have a clear position statement
    • Answer the question
    • Anticipate and account for multiple perspectives and/or objections
    • Have a sophisticated understanding of the case—these are not designed to be cases with easy/obvious answers
    • Avoid knee-jerk reactions
    • Remain professional and gracious throughout

Always be aware that you are being observed, so body language, whispering, eye-rolling, etc., will garner very bad results.