Alright losers here we are again at the end of another semester and it is time for me to tell you why all your arguments are bad. Going to do it loudly and in public and get people all riled up.
Sike. Not doing that. But there is a lot to unpack at the conclusion of the first semester and the Shirley.
A thing to note is that when I am referring to the universe of teams I am mainly talking about teams that have gone 5-3 or better at one or more majors. Couple of reasons. One, to make it manageable. Two, not trying to be elitist, but ultimately these are the teams younger people and people lower in the bracket need to figure out so focusing on them is reasonable.
1. The Space Topic: A Theorization
I can’t remember if I have said this out loud before, but it feels like we are in a year long version of debate camp.
The topic feels contrived instead of salient. There is no negative position shaping what people say on the aff (answering ESR on executive power, finding topical flexibility on the healthcare topic). The literature base is a big constraining factor. The impact to that constraint is that the relative quality of positions is flat.
The one interesting thing that causes is people can just occupy the archetype they want to occupy (like at debate camp when you pick whatever assignment because you want to, not because you have to).
You want to read the biggest mechanism (despite being capped at like 3 distinct advantages)? Read ASATs. Want to ratify the status quo? Read SSA. Want to care about link uniqueness? Read Russia (although I am not sure coop now features prominently in anyone’s strategy). Want to pretend the topic is something else? Read BMD. You want to be the Chinese politics team? The allies CP team? The NSP PIC team?
There’s something for everyone! That’s because there aren’t any distinguishing features that makes an argument way better than another.
2. The Zaxby paradox
I lived in Virginia for six years and did not have a local Zaxby’s. My only experience was at the Shirley. Always thought it was pretty good. Moved to Lexington where there are Zaxby’s. Ordered it fresh. Tasted TERRIBLE.
The only way I want to eat Zaxby’s is when it has been sitting there for at least 25 minutes. Preferably in the rain. Nothing makes it taste better.
3. The Affs are coming
Going into Wake there were a limited number of Aff clusters. ASAT ban proposals, China SSA, RPO’s, Russia ADR and STM (Dartmouth liability and more general proposals). That covered roughly 95% of teams.
It is not like that so much anymore. Rules of the road, missile launch notification, solar radiation management, radio frequency interference, Russia SSA, Russia ISS coop were all broken at Wake. This in conjunction with outlier Affs like BMD, future weapons, space weather,cyber and LOAC.
Cal beat the NSP PIC with rules of the road. Michigan lost to multilat cp/india da with missile launch notification. Solar radiation management lost to the cap k and the japan da. RF interference lost on T-STM. Russia SSA beat the K but lost to de-dev. Russia ISS beat peach tix.
Very interesting spectrum of Neg responses. Very mixed bag of Aff success. But the swamp is growing. I imagine shit is only getting weirder from here.
4. Second Dinner
Does tournaments providing dinner at 5:00PM resolve debaters desiring food at 9PM? Do coaches always cave on second dinner? Do debaters stay up no matter what until they get food? How much sleep do debaters get on the night of day 1 and day 2?
I felt these issues acutely this weekend and I am not sure if there is a clean way to resolve them.
5. Peach Tix
Names for this argument that suck: removal, conviction, impeachment da, impeachment politics. Say it with me: peach tix. That’s it. That’s the name.
Unfortunately for our friend peach tix it has probably peaked. It got a lot worse between Harvard and Wake. I can imagine a million ways it could get worse in a month. I can’t imagine ways for it to get better.
RIP peach tix (October 2019—October 2019).
6. Are Policy Debates Boring?
A frequent subject in framework debates. Pretty subjective at the end of the day, but I wanted to explore it further.
We’ve already established that there are quite a few Affs in circulation post-Wake. What about the Neg? We’ll define boring vs not boring by how many different off case positions have been present in a 2NR vs a team with a plan. Small numbers are boring. Big numbers are not boring. Our sample will be teams that have gone 5-3 at a major who have a sufficient wiki to figure out what their 2NR’s are.
The average number of distinct arguments gone for in a 2NR given this sample is 8.75.
The winner of the UGA RS award for going for the same thing over and over again is MSU GS. I believe the number is 4 2NR’s. T-ADR (once), the unilat CP, the Xi DA and Russia politics.
Honorable mentions: MSU PS (5) who went for a commercial CP too. Kansas MM (5), who should have tied MSU GS with allies/unilat cp, democracy da, containment da and peach tix, got tricked into going for space war good once. Berkeley, Kansas and Emory as squads fell below the average.
We are going to need to settle on what team historically went for a bunch of shit to name this award after. First place is a tie between Kentucky EH and Michigan JS with 14 things. I will admit Michigan PR maybe could have won this award. I have them with 12. But their wiki is TRASH. Trash wiki’s win no awards on this blog. Michigan and Dartmouth are large squads that keep it relatively fresh in the 2NR across their teams.
So no, I don’t think policy debates are particularly boring. On top of that, even though you may sometimes know something is coming, that doesn’t make it easy to figure out what to do. Vertical debates that go deep on less pieces of paper present their own unique complexities. It’s not all NSP PIC and politics out there (although that has received a lot of air time to my disappointment).
7. Most Stacked Squad
Honorable mention---Berkeley. FG and NR are top 5 teams, no debating that. BW provided clutch walk overs (which is such a great way to facilitate deep elim runs it should never be discounted).
But there are three squads that have greater depth.
Third---Dartmouth. Six teams that have managed 5-3 or better at a tournament. Two teams that have won elims.
Second---Michigan. Five teams that have managed 5-3 or better at a tournament. Five teams with an elim appearance. Three teams with an elim win. Impressive.
First---Kansas. Six teams that have managed 5-3 or better at a tournament. Five teams with an elim appearance. Three teams with an elim win. One major tournament victory sets them apart from Michigan for me. But let it be stated for the record Kansas’ support for many regional tournaments is noticed, it is appreciated and they do well for themselves when they attend those regionals (not to say other squads don’t do it, but when I think supporting regionals I think Kansas).
CORRECTION---Wake...GSU was a stacked performance. Win, semifinalist, three quarterfinalists. Cleared five different teams this semester (altho I think one of those is defunct). Serious supporters of regional tournaments. Very deep squad this year worth mentioning.
8. 2 to 1
I believe there are roughly 71 teams that have gone 5-3 or better at a major (the “roughly” is because it depends on how you consolidate one person going to tournaments with different partners). 49 are policy teams and 22 are K teams. I don’t really have a point or question, but thought it was worth saying.
Also at GSU, Harvard and Wake there were 18 policy teams in the top 32 and 14 K teams. Strange it was the exact same at all three.
9. Best Revolutionary
As Cal NR loves to tell me there is three kinds of clash in debate: policy v policy, K v policy and K v K. So I went fishing to see if anyone had a noticeable advantage in rev v. rev debates. I found:
Honorable mention—Rutgers AH (10-7, 59%). Mostly because they have had the most of these debates.
Fourth---Cal NR 9-4 (9-4, 69%)
Third---Wake BC (6-2, 75%)
Second---Kansas BD (10-3, 77%)
First---Wake EF (8-2, 80%)
10. Most Dramatic Statement in a Debate this Semester
It was Fleming in the octas of the Patterson when in the 2NR he was aggressively red in the face and he yelled that we couldn’t end his Kentucky tournament on the NSP PIC. Nothing comes close. I think about how unnecessarily he raised the stakes in that 2AR every day.
11. Best going for Framework
Honorable mention---Gtown BP. 6-4 in 10 clash debates. I believe they had the biggest sample of teams I looked at.
Personally, the best framework speeches I have heard this semester are from Gabe J of Northwestern. Just unreal.
The data roughly comports:
NU JW 7-2, Kentucky EH 4-1, Cal FG 4-1
But I think there is one team that has a better record.
Michigan PR! 5-0! Wow!
12. Michigan PR, my gawd.
Prior to the Shirley I would say Michigan PR was having a somewhat typical year for a sophomore and a frosh despite both being TOC champions. 6-2 everywhere, won an elim. Four 2-1 decisions. Sounds about right.
But this Shirley run though! Starting 6-0 with wins over Wake EF and Cal NR. Noice.
Then things get spicy. Winning two clash debates on a 5-0! Including another win over top 5 Wake EF. Getting five judges to agree in a clash debate is a monumental task. Beat Dartmouth on de-dev. Noice. Then beat Cal NR going for framework (only Dartmouth and NU have duplicated the feat). Noice.
Has there been a debater like Giorgio? Technical skills, a high school career that involved a TOC win going for K arguments, then switching and doing policy stuff meaning they are one of the most flexible debaters in the country. Exciting to see what happens next.
13. Spark tho
But that finals 1NC. Holy shit. Not my cup of tea. If I was able to scan every 1NC that occurred at the Glenbrooks this weekend how many times would I see a similar 1NC?
Like I get it. I have no room to talk. Kentucky won on war good a bunch last year. Who the fuck am I to judge?
But we have a noticeable problem I think, and these files have aggressively infiltrated high school. The discourse is hitting an all time low (and I am blaming Kentucky for most of it on the file dissemination front).
Now I am not one to say that these arguments should 100% be banished from debate. Like there are real people who try to justify blowing up countries like Iran all the time so subjecting that conversation to SSD seems fine. That argument doesn’t really apply to spark which is less entertaining Thanos logic.
Point is I am not going for bans. I am saying three things. One, Affs should stop sucking at debating this, please. Two, judges should relax aggressive offense/defense assessments that lead to Neg teams talking themselves into this shit. Third, judges should just totally zap evidence that is from cranks that shows up in these debates.
Let’s go back to agreeing war is mostly bad and should try to be avoided.
14. The Most Consistent Teams
This one is a bit of a rabbit hole but stick with me. Who are the teams that perform the most dependably? I looked at four tournaments (GSU, Patterson, Harvard, Wake).
I added prelim and elim ballot wins up and divided by total ballots for each tournament.
From those scores you can get a standard deviation and an average performance for a given team.
But obviously there is a lot of context behind those numbers for any given two teams. So how do you compare two teams? You use a coefficient of variation. What is that? Go fucking google it. This is a debate and dogs blog, not a stats blog. If the number is closer to 0 that makes a team more consistent. If it is closer to 1 they are less consistent.
The sample of teams consists of teams that went 5-3 at one of the four tournaments one or more times. This number doesn’t say how likely a team is to win a given debate. A better way to think about it is “if Wake happened a 100 times the teams with low scores are more likely to achieve the same result than teams with higher scores”
Top 10 most consistent by ballots:
Rutgers AH 0
Dartmouth ET 0.007471202
OU RW 0.04330127
NU JW 0.044965135
Pitt MO 0.054126588
Michigan FH 0.060631049
Trinity DK 0.077856137
Dartmouth LV 0.080293746
Berkeley NR 0.084274011
GMU BG 0.087859049
Emory Jablonski/Partner 0.223296878
Dartmouth MS 0.225276967
Texas CM 0.225276967
Kansas MS 0.248563052
Emporia SV 0.25
Kentucky KL 0.25
Wake BE 0.25
Wake Harper/Partner 0.261821635
Michigan JS 0.299717318
Mo St DK 0.606091527
What about elims? If we give a score of 1 to clearing up to 6 for winning a tournament.
Gtown BP 0
Harvard Ahmad/Partner 0
Rutgers AH 0
Berkeley NR 0.117647059
Dartmouth ET 0.153846154
NU JW 0.285714286
Baylor RW 0.333333333
Wake BC 0.346410162
Trinity DK 0.384900179
WVU BM 0.433012702
Kentucky EH 0.547101204
Kansas BD 0.634323942
Wake EF 0.692820323
Michigan PR 0.692820323
Emory CM 0.765941686
GMU BG 0.816496581
Michigan JS 0.860662966
GMU AH 0.866025404
Kansas MS 0.866025404
Michigan FH 0.866025404
15. Aff frontrunners
If 2A’s across the land are not trying to A. read the most Affs and B. read an Aff in every area of a list topic then you ARE NOT trying hard enough. Unfortunately, on this topic every Aff claims to be every area so that makes part B not as cool.
Two teams have read three Affs: Cal FG (rules of the road, ASATs, space weather) and Michigan PR (China SSA, exotic weapons, joint BMD).
But two teams (to my knowledge) have read four: NU JW (RPO’s, LOAC, China BMD, Russia BMD) and Michigan JS (China SSA, exotic weapons, joint BMD, and China launch notifications).
16. Debatedocs and the wiki
Debatedocs as an idea is good, mainly for coaches who can coach more and don’t have to run around collecting email chains. Participation is mixed. No Neg team has gotten debatedocs onto an email chain. So the only threads it catches is if a participating team is Aff and they remember. The remembering is pretty hit or miss. We did better last year compared to Harvard and Wake this year. Kentucky teams included.
Debatedocs doesn’t replace the wiki. The wiki is an archive of what has happened that is much easier to access. Debatedocs is about streamlining prep for the two hours a debate is happening.
I believe we can collectively get something done. I believe debaters can walk and chew gum at the same time and they can remember to put firstname.lastname@example.org on their chains. I believe they can remember to update the wiki even if it crashes in the middle of a tournament. We can do this people!
17. Novice debate
This is the first year (at least since I have been at UK) that we are fielding novices. They went 4-2, won an elim and lost in quarters. This was their third tournament ever.
Novice debate is a lot of fun. It melts the heart of the most jaded debate old timers. I am very familiar trying to get a high schooler to forget bad habits and learn good habits but working with a blank canvas via someone who has no prior experience is new and interesting.
Ultimately, debate might not be for everyone and we have a lot of work to do with reducing rates of burnout and the toxic elements of debate tournaments, but allowing people to be exposed to debate to see if a spark grows into the transformative interest we are all familiar with is a priceless thing a debate team can accomplish.
Kentucky was fortunate enough to get more support from the university to facilitate this. We need to work as a community to help streamline adding people with no prior experience to the activity.
Good first semester, happy holidays, enjoy the rest and thanks for reading.
1. The field is wide open?
So far three different teams have won majors (Wake EF, Cal FG and Kansas BD). Not only that but there have been six different teams in finals (Cal NR, NU JW and Emory GS being the other three).
Six different teams in the finals of the first three majors hasn’t happened since 2003-2004 (the vaunted Europe topic which was a hodge-podge list of orders of magnitude worse than the one we have now). MSU Stahl and Strauss lose to Harvard Klinger and Tarloff at GSU, Berkeley Shalmon and Singh beat Northwestern Branson and Gottbreht and Emory Phillips and Wolmer beat Georgia Ramachandrappa and Watson.
This could be one of the most fluid Copeland races in quite some time. A lot on the line at the Shirley!
2. The Harvard Roast
Was very funny. Particularly brutal in places from what I recall about past roasts. But I say everyone’s args are bad as clickbait and I get CPD dumpster fired. Sigh, Harvard exceptionalism strikes again.
3. Zahir is overrated*
I judged Zahir from Emory for the first time. Some people say he is a legend. I don’t see it. Sophist is more accurate. Maybe it’s the hair. Maybe it’s the fact his partner does all the work and he gets all the credit. But the guy is a hack.
4. Were policy debates boring?
I am moving more and more into K land, but I still like perusing all the docs.
Generally because Harvard clears to octas people really want six wins. So they break a lot of new arguments. Did that hold for this Harvard? Historically Harvard feels like a mini-NDT.
The best back and forth docs of the tournament were Michigan PR vs Kentucky EH. Michigan breaks a new aff (their second of the tournament so they win the badge for trying the hardest) and EH breaks multiple new arguments in response. Good shit.
Wake KM broke an aff about cyber…and that was it on the new Aff front I think. Everything else new was just modified versions of old stuff (Emory PD, NU LOAC, Kentucky lasers).
Maybe the topic’s fault. Lots of area overlap + the topic is wide on mechanisms but narrow on terminal impacts and things that can actually answer CP’s so stuff feels the same even when it’s somewhat different.
5. A real difference between K debates and policy debates
Here is something people may not appreciate about K and policy debates. Policy debates are easier to digest efficiently. This is because you can read the evidence from a policy debate and have a pretty clear idea about the range of things an opponent can get away with.
The same cannot be said for K debates. This isn’t because of shiftiness of character but just by the nature of the arguments. K stuff starts at a higher level of abstraction, it has to be applied, it has to be analogized, it has to be unpacked etc. This all comes about in the explanation part of the debate you have to see to fully understand. Or you have to track folks down and play a game of telephone which is suspect. Both are time consuming endeavors.
This has two implications. One is that it obviously privileges teams with more bodies to dedicate to becoming specialists. I can’t imagine a one-team and one- or two-coach operation being fully up to speed on everything that happened at this tournament.
The second is the transaction costs for figuring shit out are high and people just ignore it/give up. I think this is a more reasonable explanation for people sounding bad in these debates than malice or disinterest. If resources are finite and you have to experience a critical mass of K debates before you figure out what is going on then it is going to take a while for you not to sound like a rube.
This is why I never really understood “you have stuff to say” “debates still happen all the time” “there is always clash because people say the opposite.”
People debating by the seat of their pants, waiting for Buntin to write a case neg to something, reading the same shit all the time, reading the most generic cards, coaches doing everything for debaters then getting burnt out themselves…that is a superficial form of debate
It’s obviously worse than when you see a debater able to do extensive negative work pre-tournament vs an Aff who is aggressively deep in their literature, new arguments are read and a clash of titans ensues.
Is other stuff more important than what I just said? Perhaps. What’s the best way to end up in the latter circumstance and avoid the former? Unclear. But one is obviously better than the other.
This was the best weekend for politics in a long time. People who thought USMCA was better than the removal DA are wrong. The people who talked about impeachment in the House instead of removal in the Senate are also wrong. I was very surprised there was divergence on what was most readable since it seemed these removal cards fell right off the internet tree.
7. Hegemony Good in K debates
This wins a lot of debates. That has a lot to do with the ethos of many contemporary K debaters. First, to thoroughly beat heg good you have to read more evidence than you are used to and it can’t be from English professors. Nobody puts their head down and reads some cards in this spot.
Second, they put too much stock on being able to say there is something bad about hegemony. But the Aff always starts from a position of saying the alternatives are worse and reading cards that seem to take into account the positives and negatives of hegemony and say it is a net positive.
Hegemony good performed well at Harvard. It seems to be an overperforming strategy because Neg execution not because it is an optimal strategy.
8. White Hall forever
Fuck Sever. Fuck Langdale.
9. Double check your cards/authors
Baylor RW wins another debate that starts with indicting an author of their opponent. They are the only team I recall that has an extensive track record of results doing something like this. I would say the inflection point in debates like this is usually a poor CX for their opponents.
10. Most improved
In my mind I have to give it to Rahul from Berkeley. Granted he was a first round last year, but I think he is way better. He is much clearer and I think he has made strides giving the 2AR as well.
Does he say no link on the DA page and then tell you to read that DA on framework? Yes, he does. It sucks. But I can’t deny how good he sounds.
For all the other thirsty people who want me to talk about them on the internet: thanks for reading. But no.
*=this take was sponsored by an anonymous donor. If you would like me to write a take, my Venmo is open.
Thanks to everyone who came out this weekend. I wanted to use this post to talk about running tournaments while things are fresh in my mind. I would love to know what other people think.
1. Division of Time
A debate needs to take about 3 hours from when the pairing goes out to when the ballot comes in. About 100 of the 180 minutes is people actually talking. At the Patterson we gave 45 minutes of prep which left roughly 25 minutes to decide. If you were judging and had less time than that then you or the debaters did something egregious to draw out the debate (Only 92 minutes technically for a debate).
I think the 3-hour rule should be a hard constraint on scheduling but how the time is divided between pre-round prep and decision time is variable. I spoke to a handful of coaches and got mixed views. I did not pose this question to current debaters. The assumption from some coaches was debaters just want pre-round prep and don’t care about decision time.
That leads me to:
2. Tournament Meals
There are three questions that come to mind.
First, should the tournament provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner on both Saturday and Sunday?
Second, what’s the preferable quick meal if you had to choose one---sandwiches or pizza?
Third, when the tournament provides lunch and dinner how should one schedule that? We did lunch after the 2nd round of the day then dinner after the 3rd round.
The available options are:
Lunch after round 1 OR after round 2
Dinner after round 3/before round 4 OR tail end of round 4 (I have never seen a tournament do this but it is a theoretical option).
3. Award Ceremony
Should there be one on Monday? I used to think they significantly slowed down Monday operations and that most people didn’t bother going to them, but I believe we only ran 15 minutes ahead of GSU on Monday.
4. Asking to Leave
This one doesn’t really have a question attached. This issue is one of the biggest gaps between people who run tournaments and people who participate in tournaments. The goal of tournament administrators is to keep the curtain up and make the next thing happen. The goal of people out of the tournament is to leave 90% of the time.
We know you want to leave. The default way to pair an elim after the doubles is to take all the people who are in the tournament or staying anyway and see how that pairing looks. You don’t have to ask to leave. The goal is to not keep people hostage. Given the lax prefs at our tournament this is much easier to achieve than other tournaments.
The main cost of these requests to me, as someone who runs tournaments, is feeling pressure to satisfy and please everyone. It’s overwhelming and taxing when you get a flood of people after the doubles telling you about their drive and wanting to leave. I obviously get it. But we all mutually agreed to a set of obligations to make the tournament happen. Our default mode of operating is to minimize unnecessary burden as explained above. I would prefer if people knew we were trying our best and stop asking.
5. Appealing to Tournament Staff
When folks go to tournaments something suboptimal could happen. When that happens folks usually come to tournament staff and say X is bad and they would like something done for them.
One of the guiding philosophies of a running a tournament should be to make the rules transparent then consistently enforce them across the whole tournament. Sometimes what a tournament does is suboptimal and they should obviously be open to refinement. The question is do you try to fix them on the fly or do you wait for next year.
I think there are issues for those that want remedies in the heat of the moment, even though their appeal is justified and reasonable insofar as they are protecting the best interests of their teams and debaters.
First, similar rules have probably been enforced on many other tournament participants. This notion of fairness/reciprocity significantly constrains tournament administrators.
Second, one of the reasons people feel so comfortable making these appeals is because they know people running the tournament, could be friends, have been colleagues in other instances, etc. But not everyone at the tournament has this level of comfort, familiarity and access to those that run tournaments.
It would be better if people restrained themselves at the tournament instead of asking for ad hoc enforcement of rules that were published before the tournament. When rules become enforced on an ad hoc basis there is a certain class of participant that benefits the most (be it debaters or judges).
As this whole exercise demonstrates, there are many practices that I think can be improved and refined. Know that at least for tournaments I run I am open to make things better, but am not interested in changing things that much once a tournament has started.
Let me start this by saying I am going to talk about this not really in any official capacity at Kentucky, but just one vantage point among many in the debate community. My views are partial and incomplete. I am not going to get to everything that could be said about this, but would love to keep the conversation going after this post.
The last time the debate community had a sustained conversation out loud about this kind of thing was fall of 2012 through spring of 2014 (in my mind). At the time I was in my first two years of coaching and I had no idea what was happening. The internet record on those conversations is very spotty and difficult to access. And a good chunk of the current debate community missed that discourse entirely and is simply living in its aftermath.
I start with that preamble because it seems when this subject comes up the feeling is that it has been fully hashed out and nobody listens to anybody else. But I think a chunk of people have never been given the chance to participate. And the issues have not gone away; we just stopped talking about it.
So let me share some thoughts.
Policy debate is struggling. Programs are contracting, not expanding. We need solutions for that.
The main track has to do with costs and specialization. Regional tournaments are key to drive down costs (they also have the nice benefit of creating more champions and chances to win things to help justify a program, having only 8 national circuit tournaments and 8 winners isn’t enough to go around).
Open source is another good way to drive down costs. The ADA novice packet is a very good idea. It definitely makes it more manageable to have people jump in. There should also be a backfile version of this to help new programs. The final component should be curriculum materials that outlines: how to recruit students on campus, how to teach novices from initial recruitment meeting through their first tournament and maybe some tailored to transitioning folks from other kinds of debate.
There is one main argument I would like to make against MPJ that relates to making debate more sustainable. Debate needs dedicated and engaged adults who are treated as valuable and whose work dynamic is not described as a death march. MPJ works at cross purposes at creating knowledgeable and engaged judges.
This argument aligns with my own personal experience. I was a mediocre debater. There were many, many things I had no clue about. In my first two years of judging I had the good fortune to judge a wide swath of high-caliber teams in both policy and K debates. If I didn’t judge those K debates, I still would, to this day, have no idea how they work.
Cross-pollination of debaters and judges is one of the best things that can happen at tournaments. The combination of MPJ and less regional travel greatly reduces the scope of judges a team can get.
We are all aware of the psychological and emotional forces at play when someone goes to a tournament and burns rounds or judges in the 0-6 bracket the whole tournament. It fucking sucks and makes you feel bad. And it is based on no objective criteria. And it’s usually sexist, racist, etc.
Instead of debaters being able to insulate themselves for nefarious and arbitrary reasons it would be a better system to have them adapt, be able to execute multiple arguments and not see judges as a preference number but as a person they could learn something from.
The last three years of the Kentucky tournament prove the best teams don’t need to strike 50% of the judges to win a tournament. They win anyway.
What is the argument for how MPJ helps the activity grow? What value is more important than activity growth AND MPJ helps that value?
Nobody wants to judge the same debates all the time, nobody wants to be put in a box and nobody wants to be told “you cannot teach debaters anything and you aren’t good enough to judge these two good teams.” It is a terrible recipe for getting people to care about debate enough to the point they are willing to go through the trials of sustaining a program at an institution that does not have one.
We are back! We really have gotten ourselves into a pickle with this one. At Kentucky we have new coaches and new debaters which really made GSU fly by for me as we learned to work together and had a lot of folks experiencing their first debate tournament ever. But some things did not escape my notice:
1. Could be worse
Democracy is the crown jewel of what a bad topic is. The mechanism on its best day did not generate interesting neg ground. When you combo that with things being so timely that there were no scholarly advocacy articles in general (let alone about democracy assistance) you have a real shitter on your hands.
Space isn’t that! But I don’t think it is going to hold up very well. We did talk for a whole year about Mexican cartels, an old WTO case, how Sweden regulated prostitution and bodily property rights (and cryogenics for one tournament). Maybe it was there and I didn’t hear it, but I didn’t hear nearly as much complaining on that topic. I also found the energy topic to be uninspired. It always gets a pass because energy cards are easy to cut and there was an election and I am pretty sure the TPP DA started around then. But that topic sucked.
2. Gold standard cards
One of the issues with space is that the pool of cards, particularly for the Neg, is pretty narrow. Usually at some point during the year people agree what the best card on something is and everyone reads it. On this topic it seems like there is widespread agreement right out of the gate on several issues. If I judge you and you want to just footnote these gold standard cards that people know by heart to save time, I am all for it:
Juul 19—one of the rare cards that says cooperating with Russia and China on space is bad
Blount 19---STM CP
Andsell 10---Unilateral ADR
Chow 18---RIP all teams that thought this article wasn’t getting read round 1
Agathangelou and Killian 16---IR K card of choice
Green 16---did you know if people know where stuff is, they can ASAT it??
I will say there are some articles that I thought would be staples that are not really in circulation yet. Something to strive for! Possibly coming to a RR doc near you.
3. NSP means no K Affs
I too am worried about K teams’ chances because of how the resolution says national space policy.
4. Debating anti-blackness
When the Aff is answering anti-blackness and you are doing fine on it’s not ontological that doesn’t mean that race/racialization goes from 100% explanatory power to 0% explanatory power. It could very well be the case that the Neg is not allowed to consistently have their cake and eat it too in this context, but you have to explain why that is true. And you generally have to be cognizant of the notion that even if it is not an immutable structure, anti-blackness can heavily influence a wide range of subjects.
5. Doc of the Tournament
Dartmouth ET, quarters, Neg vs Wake EF. This 1NC is so fucking good (how can it not be when you have a bona fide link to the metaphysics of presence). Not getting it over the finish line is gut wrenching. RIP Dartmouth.
Congrats to Pittsburgh and GMU for clearing two teams at a major (was too lazy to go look, I assume it has been a minute since they had two in elims, but maybe I am wrong). Fills my heart with nostalgia for my D7 days. Special shout out to GMU AH, they have been out here scrapping for a minute, they have good looking docs and it’s always exciting to get that first one.
EDIT: Congrats to WVU too! I thought they cleared at Northwestern last spring, but that was incorrect. I am but a cog in a soulless big D6 school, but can still appreciate schools with heart doing well.
7. Impact things
One of the weird things I have been thinking about this topic is how on the one hand things like space war and space debris should be pretty reasonable impacts because important stuff happens in space and these cards draw pretty direct lines (which historically makes for a durable debate argument). On the other hand, the defense and advantage CP’s to all this stuff are really fucking good. Like if this topic happened in 2014 when the agenda DA existed the Aff would be toast in pretty much every debate.
Sorry Aff teams, I guess you had your fun reading single payer and NFU and this topic is karma.
In bullet points:
a. ADR is topical, shut up
b. Don’t think there was high profile Neg win. Gtown got in the ballpark in the octas, but no dice.
c. RPO’s seems suspect, but has biggest Aff on topic crown. Will someone dethrone it?
d. STM seems to have some potential
9. Thank you for being brave
Cal reading planetary defense, Northwestern reading SPS and Kansas reading exploration (kind of). Blessings on you for not being cowards (unclear if the opposite of coward in this case is strategic but the gambit seemed to do ok for at least one tournament).
Top 5 coaches of the decade
Who had great teams? In what numbers? Across how much of the decade? These are pretty obvious questions to ask when trying to come up with a list. Another big thing I considered was how many coaches could duplicate their successes with similar budgets and debaters.
One thing that I found very challenging was I thought of a lot of great coaching staffs and it felt weird to single anyone of them out. When I thought of great teams, I often found multiple good coaches associated with them. So not being as familiar with the inner workings of teams there was a lot of credit splitting at a glance. I feel strongly about three of these and not so sure about the other two. So here goes nothing:
5. Jonah Feldman—Berkeley
I think he started there on immigration. I don’t have precise stats for you. I believe Cal had a first round team every year except on the energy topic.
4. David Heidt---Michigan
I believe he also started there on immigration and coached there through legalization. 7 first rounds, 2x NDT finalists, 1x NDT semifinalists, 1x NDT quarterfinalists. Arg coach extraordinaire.
3. Adrienne Brovero---UMW
Nukes to war powers one of the most impressive runs for a small school in history. I feel safe saying that if you put another coach in charge at Mary Washington, they do not do what Adrienne did, not even close. She is the ultimate professional. She is the only reason the gears of debate keep turning so we all know when and where to show up for stuff. She has taught me the most about being a debate coach and that is when I only take to heart half the stuff she says because I am so dense.
2. Jonathan Paul---Georgetown
Gtown AM=best team ever. Georgetown was a barely functioning program when he took over on nukes (I am pretty sure it was nukes). They were the 2nd best program of the entire decade after that. A true mastermind.
1. Jeff Buntin---Northwestern
If one were to make a list of the top 25 debaters of the decade, I think 7 NU debaters would easily show up: Fisher, Spies, Ryan, Layne, Peyton, Miles and Arjun. He showed up at Northwestern on the ag topic. They have had a team debate on Monday every single year since then.
Literally the entire community reads the shit he cuts. He comes up with some of the best args in the game, not close.
Top 5 judges of the decade
This one is pretty tough. I am going to inject some personal tastes which probably make my answers a bit different than the mainstream. I thought of what one would typically think about, but also two other things. First, I want a judge who is thoughtful but efficient. I can’t have someone who invariably goes to decision time. Sorry Crunk. Second, if I had a debater who was about to have their last debate who would I trust to do it right?
The list in no particular order:
All the topics ranked in order
Qualities of a good topic: Neg gets a DA that is not politics. There is an interesting reform vs. revolution debate to be had. Affs can survive CP’s. The lit base refreshes itself as the year goes on. Aff’s have some ability to generate new Aff’s but the Neg can apply a theme of argument to generate ground (they just might have to do it in a more specific way than the stock iteration of the argument).
10. Democracy---so bad. Democracy assistance generated no real DA’s. Affs happened during the year, but all the Affs were terrible. Six countries with not very much in common at all (besides US democracy assistance did not matter for their fates at all). The orientalism K was a slayer. Just yuck.
9. Immigration---I didn’t think it was too bad at the time. I was still pretty bad at debate back then so I dunno. I think the fundamentals of the topic were pretty weak, but it didn’t matter because midterms and the agenda DA were good so no one cared?
8. Legalization---I kind of have a soft spot for this topic. Reading about PAS, prostitution and organs was just a really unique experience. I think the marijuana debates were reasonable. I still to this day know nothing about online gambling. But objectively these areas were disjointed as hell and legalization didn’t really produce a topic DA that helped insulate the Neg against new affs. Also, we said United States in the resolution but that ending up meaning USFG? So fuck that.
7. Executive Power---Yikes. What a tornado. You know how some things are better than the sum of their parts? This is not one of those fucking things. This was 14 stupid things stapled together then put in a bag with some dog poop then left by your door. But hey, at least there was the Zivotofsky DA.
6. Energy---ah, my first year out. I was always playing catch-up on this topic figuring out how things worked. The debates were reasonable, but not memorable. It doesn’t feel like this was the best energy topic, but they have a pretty high floor. MEH.
5. War Powers---I held this topic in pretty high esteem at the time, but I have softened on that. I still think it was an actively good topic.
4. Healthcare---this topic was good. Everybody who didn’t like it is dumb. Moving on.
3. Climate---I thought this topic was really good. You could write new affs but the Neg had a few different angles and could prepare for them. Didn’t have to go for politics. K debates were really interesting. Good wholesome fun for everyone
2. Nukes---really cool topic. Just some epic throwdowns across a wide swath of areas. So many things you could talk yourself into reading 50 cards about in a debate.
1. Military Presence---Okinawa! Marines! Rotational presence! The things that made the topic great! Never really got tired of this topic. I really enjoyed what UK did on this topic and was a personal favorite to coach.
NDT hosts ranked
So I reject the premise of this question. Best NDT host of the decade maybe should be an accolade. But not all ten ranked. NDT hosting is thankless. I can only imagine the heightened stress and complexity of it being the most important tournament. I really enjoyed Minnesota and Kansas and Berkeley. I wasn’t wild about Binghamton in March but that has nothing to do with hosting skills.
Best regular season tournament
Gonzaga has a restaurant right next to their tournament hotel called Blackbird that is incredible, so they win.
There are a lot of ways to approach a question like this. I don’t think there is a clear correct method. This is a more challenging question than the best partnership one because the field of potential answers is much larger (people do work across multiple partnerships).
I can imagine some people gravitating toward figuring out the best team list and then parsing between those twenty folks. But I think a list like that, one overly focused on stats, misses the opportunity to have a list that reflects the game changers that have come through the activity in the last ten years. A lot of unique history has been made in the last decade.
Another fun way to think about it is if you were drafting a debate team who would go in the first round? Who’s really good in the round? Who would make a great teammate? Who would be a workhorse for the squad?
Another thing I thought about was how many other folks could pull off what that person did in their given circumstances. This was a key factor separating some honorable mention folks from the top ten list.
A list like this always going to be implicated by vantage point. While this is usually a downside, I think it can be an upside too. I am more familiar with certain folks than others throughout the decade. It is good and fun to share stories about people you don’t know and are sleeping on how great they are. Lists like this aren’t a means of disrespect, but a vehicle to share one’s perspective and hear others in return. I will eat up any response to this post that helps paint a better picture of someone’s time in debate.
Combo Category---Best Small School Debaters + Debaters Who Created a New Peak for Their Program
Combo category because a lot of the best small school debaters created new peaks of success for their program. Not really trying to setoff a T-small school debate. I know some teams are secretly small at heart, but whatever. I DON’T want to hear it.
Harry Aaronson/Cameron Dehmlow Dunne—Indiana AD: I love that Indiana came into existence this decade and reached incredible success with these two! Harry=NDT 3rd speaker. NDT doubles.
Dan Bagwell/Logan Gramzinski---Samford BG: Octa’s of the NDT on immigration. My overwhelming memory of Samford from this time was they would pick annoying Affs. I don’t actually remember what they were on about on immigration, only remember De-Alert (a coward’s Aff) and Yemen (for which nothing that was done could be considered democracy assistance, that was only Dan though, Logan graduated). Was alerted that Samford teams cleared at the NDT long ago, but they were the first team in 25 years to do so. Good enough for me.
Andrew Baker/Brian Rubaie---UTD BR: NDT Quarters. So good! Counterforce Aff! Watching them beat Kansas KQ’s Foucault Aff on Irigaray. 2010 debate at its finest!
Brian Box/Matt Munday---Wichita State BM: De-Dev! Heg bad! Neg vs new Aff from Georgia LL (Lacy/Layton, 10th bid). Georgia’s reading some shit about Tunisia? Libya? Who fucking knows. It has a zillion impacts. Around impact 12 or 13…economic decline! The rest is history and Wichita BM was an NDT quarterfinalist.
Taylor Brough/Khalil Lee---Vermont BL: CEDA champions. NDT Doubles. First round bid (first in Vermont history? Not sure). I remember them for beating people on disclose your prefs.
Kevin Kallmyer/Peter Susko---UMW KS: NDT semifinalists: Ask Ryan Galloway about this semi’s debate if you have 3 hours to spare. Kevin Kallmyer…best small school debater of all time?? I think he is in the top 20 debaters of the decade at least.
One of the things that makes debate unique and fun to me are the districts and the circuits. You show up in a district. You go to a regional tournament. You hear about the folks who did well at those tournaments previously. You look around and see those people doing well nationally from your district. Sometimes you hit each other, and they destroy you (Kentucky prelims on nukes).
You want to graduate from those regional tournaments to do well nationally and become an end boss in your district. Great debater graduates and starts judging you. They are endlessly helpful and super nice despite being EONS better than you.
Kevin was that kind of person when I debated and D7 helped cultivate that deep love of debate. What a fucking king and it’s what makes debate great.
Mary Marcum/Hunter McFarland—Wyoming MM: Scrappy AF. Love the mountain west. Wish I judged them more.
Colin McElhinny/Tom Pacheco + Patrick McCleary---UMW MP and UMW MM: 5th bid on energy! 6th bid on war powers + NDT Octas! Mary Washington best small school of the decade?? Yes. Thank gawd I debated all these people when I was a senior and they were sophs before they figured shit out and got way better than me. Thanks, dumb luck! Some of the most prolific card cutters the game has seen.
Cody Crunkilton/Miranda Ehlrich---Minnesota CE: NDT semifinalists on legalization. They made you earn it. Infamous for the impact turn. I have told this story on the internet before I think but I am doing it again!
My first interaction with Cody and Miranda was at the coast my senior year. I had no idea who they were. Until that point Minnesota teams in my career kept going for queer theory and psychoanalysis K's. I walk in and I see Miranda with. . .pink hair? I see Cody with some goofy shirt on, so I thought things were gonna get weird. They proceeded to light us up on the PIC out of radical islamists to our Syria AFF (which we were warned about pre round, but I blew off caring about that). Thanks Luke Hill for bailing us out though!
Matt Gomez/Jeffrey Horn---UNLV GH: 3rd bid and NDT quarters on healthcare. More appearances later in the post for these two.
Nick Nave/Devane Murphy---Rutgers MN: CEDA + NDT champions, ever heard of them?
Elijah Smith/Ryan Wash---Emporia SW: Same thing, but they also did it first so there. 3 tournaments, 2 wins + a finals. Mind boggling.
Leah Moczulski/Paul Kanellopoulos---Gonzaga KM: Nicest team of the decade? Yes. Best 4th team of the decade? I am not going to look at it and just say yes. Dartmouth RR on democracy. Took a handful of L’s to NU BK. Broke an Aff that involves a RHINOS impact and won with Dheidt judging. Fucking nice.
Also was my last debate ever! The panel: Sarah Lundeen, Sherry Hall, Stephanie Spies, Fitzmier, Adrienne, Hardy, Judd Kimball. We are Aff. We are happy to be there and out of gas. We try to turn their Chinese politics DA, but the 2AC was bad. We get Hardy’s ballot on Leah didn’t kick the CP, stuck with it, it links to the DA. Took no seconds of the 2AR. We proceed to lose 5 of the other 6 (thanks Judd!)
Here is the real question though, what team is more of a mouthful: Leah Moczulski/Paul Kanellopoulos or Viveth Karthikeyan/Alex Gazmararian? We only ask the super serious and important questions on this blog.
James Allan/Jefferey Yan---Binghamton AY: NDT Octafinalist and first round bid team from Binghamton! What comes to mind when I think of this team is they are the kind of K team that is decreasing in popularity which is a pity. Teams like this are really fun. When I debated Binghamton back in the day I lost on wipeout (like aliens, universe shattering weapons, the whole nine yards). Glad to see the squad has diversified the arsenal.
Derek Hilligoss/Jasmine Stidham---UCO HS: NDT octafinalists and first round bid team. Best set col team of the decade?? Not really sure how to prove that. Most D3ish D3 team of the decade?? I don’t feel I have the localized knowledge to say for sure. Fuck, I have bitten off a lot more than I can chew with these questions. They are good, they are nice, they are the best team in program history, Derek likes the Thunder (the poor bastard) and Jasmine doesn’t know what sports are so that leads to funny things online. Good shit.
NOTE--- To be considered in one of the following categories, one of the main things that comes to mind when thinking about that debater has to be the category in question. When listing folks in these categories I am doing it in no particular order.
Best AFF Writers
Remember when thinking about subcategories I was thinking about folks whose main quality to me represents the category. So there are a lot of great 2A’s out there, but they don’t stand out in mind as “you have to break a new Aff against aliens to save planet earth, what debater is tasked to write said Aff?”
Carly W---nukes NDT finals was a work of art.
Arjun---NDT semi’s on energy and NDT finals on legalization. Two of the best crafted Affs of all time!
Ezra---respect to the king of the new Aff
Truf---no one said this was an impartial blog. Over the last two year both prolific and highest quality stuff imo.
Suo---K Aff’s before and after have paled in comparison to masterpieces BoSu threw out there.
Best in the Clash
To me this means who is best at going for or defeating framework. Obviously lots of people have a lot of clash debates, but that doesn’t mean they get to be in this category if they are infamous for a few other things.
BoSu---a lot of folks read different K aff’s that lead to the same approach against framework in the later speeches. I thought BoSu read a handful of different affs that tackled framework in unique ways. They did it at a level of sophistication not yet matched since they graduated imo.
Donnie Grasse---I am bias, but I think this one is objectively right. Best topic education style arguments in the game + great record + he had a unique way of phrasing and impacting things that hasn’t really been duplicated. Not your grandma’s truth testing framework debater.
Corrine Sugino---I thought Wake AS was the hardest to framework against particularly on climate.
Hemanth---no cards, no extraneous parts. Great at making complex things intelligible. Great on his feet. Great in CX. A true master.
Alex Miles---I am very biased in favor of debaters in this category from war powers onward. I think framework debates changed around then and K teams grew in number and quality (particularly on war powers and legalization there are a zillion of them that are very good). And I think Miles was best of the best during that time.
I am only thinking about people I watched who maintained a very high level of clarity and were so fast that I could not keep up. Three people in my time meet that standard:
THAT’S IT. Sorry everybody else who is a notch slower or a terrible mumbler.
Least Predictable 2N
I considered folks who really embody the notion of “if you put it in your 1NC you are willing to go for it.” Sorry people who went for politics all the time, I imagined another category for you. The more I thought about this, the less people cleared the bar for me. Old wiki dying/being too hard to look at didn’t help jog my memory.
For instance, I think Northwestern has reasonable notoriety for going for stuff that is not politics. But when I think back on their debaters from the decade I remember Layne going for orientalism all the time and I remember Miles going for drones good all the time (and the treaty cp/da on legalization).
Other people I thought had reasonable range I remember going for politics a whole hell of a lot still (Markoff and Ellis). I get it, sometimes it is the best thing, it is a NB to CP’s and hard to find other stuff that links on the fly. Pairs good with case D and some turns which is a favorite subject for most 2N’s. But ya boring 2N’s.
So I may need some help from the community on this one. I think three people stand out to me personally off the top of my head.
Andrew Baker---I debated him a lot on immigration and saw him debate a lot on nukes and ag and he just really didn’t give a fuck about what he went for. Like 2NR’s on ASPEC didn’t give a fuck. Going for Irigary because the 2AC said 3 things. I remember having a debate against UTD BR where my 2AC goal was to beat midterms and whatever CP it was a NB to, but there were 4 or 5 other things in the 1NC. Baker takes like 8 mins of 2NC prep and the block is everything else that was in the 1NC (like some real stinkers got extended) and UTD beat us. Most people don’t know who this guy is, but he was really good.
Donnie---I am only saying him mainly because of his propensity to extend 2 or 3 things in the 2NR. You can’t be boring when you never kick shit in the 2NR.
Peyton Lee---I think she was the most flexible NU 2N. I remember the helium DA, China competitiveness DA, Greenwashing DA and Coal DA in pretty big top 5 debates. Went for T in a few spots. Might have gone for politics a lot too, but whatever. Think I recall a Heidegger and rights malthus 2NR in there too. RANGE.
Two other people: Will Morgan and Bolman. The average number of positions a K team goes for in a year is what? Somewhere between 1 and 2 on average? Granted I am thinking mostly against Affs with plans. I can see the range having to be wider by necessity when negating an aff without a plan. I think these two would top the wiki test for most positions listed on the neg, but could be wrong.
Most predictable 2N
Ah, the most predictable 2N. This category means two things to me. One, your 2NR’s have to be at least 95% the same thing. Two, you have to be successful to a certain extent while playing with what one would consider a handicap of being overwhelmingly not diverse in argument selection.
Jeffery Horn---2nd semester on healthcare was pretty creepy with how you knew what was coming and it didn’t really mater.
Advait Ramanan---I think he might have almost ruined it in the 2nd semester because he started going for Zivotofsky.
Hemanth---econ DA behemoth
Wimsatt---I am not going to look and would be interested to know, but I would be SHOCKED if you told me he went for a DA that wasn’t elections or politics.
Thur---true to his Wisconsin roots, a 2NR doesn’t have to be fancy to be good/effective.
Note---not really listing K teams in this one because my thinking here is these folks introduced other positions but regardless of how little you said on some of them would not go for them. Different dynamic then a one off K situation BUT does lead to the following category.
Best going for a K
One big factor in thinking about this was who would I rather overwhelmingly be Neg against rather than Aff. Another is who had good range. Another is who was very good at taking complex things and making it intelligible (particularly for a doofus like me).
RJ Giglio---fluid across multiple kinds of positions. Texas on democracy…round 7 or 8. An ass beating on Lacan I will never forget.
Edmund Zagorin---NDT quarters on immigration. Go watch it:
Layne Kirshon---democracy topic. Orientalism K. 5 majors won. Best Copeland of the decade. Unstoppable force.
Markoff---complexity K in finals of the NDT??? It mainly means he has no fear, but doesn’t mean he is the best at going for a K. Sorry.
Q---more on her later.
Jasmine---overwhelmingly true I would prefer being Neg on climate and healthcare vs UCO HS and Jasmine going for a K was the reason.
Marquis---the only thing that was going to save you was him being top heavy! The six minute overview was probably the most intricate explanation of Afro-pessimism I have come across.
Spurlock---so slow but so effective. A lot of moving parts. Lot of engagement with the aff in specific terms. Very difficult to effectively come up with a 2AC blueprint against.
Let’s move on to my top 10 debaters of the decade
10. Nick Nave---Rutgers
Historic NDT champion. Debated at KCKCC and Rutgers and reached the pinnacles of success from the small school starting point. I am not the person to best articulate their story in debate but can pay my respects by recognizing the great and historic accomplishment that didn’t occur in any other decade. Their work with the WDI has demonstrated they are a true community builder.
9. Hemanth Sanjeev---Harvard
NDT winner. 2x Copeland winner. Great in the clash. Wildly efficient. Nice and laid back. Best in CX of the decade. It is difficult to find someone who can translate such smart shit into such a digestible package.
8. Rashid Campbell---Oklahoma
Historic NDT top speaker. An NDT where they were 8-0 with 23 ballots. There are a lot of debaters with absurd stats and it would be very difficult to parse them. But there was never a debater like Rashid, and I don’t think there has been one like him since. Presented sophisticated positions in a singular style about subjects like code-switching that the debate community hasn’t fully wrapped its head around.
7. Natalie Knez---Georgetown
Most underrated 2N of the decade. NDT top speaker and 2x NDT finals. Some of the greatest speeches of all time in the finals of the NDT on climate and healthcare. The run to the finals on healthcare is an all-time accomplishment. Popping two new affs in elims that year, beautiful. Going from almost quitting to NDT finals with a frosh. I can’t think of many other people who could pull off such a thing. Great strategist, seemed to be willing to entertain a lot of ways to get the job done (before she dismissed most of them as stupid).
6. Andrew Arsht---Georgetown
The real question is would the greatest debater of the decade lose to me when they were a frosh and I was a junior. Assuredly not! I guess you can say he figured some things out past that point. I really wasn’t trying to honor the same thing multiple times on this list, but Georgetown AM is just too good to deny.
5. Andrew Markoff---Georgetown
But the classic question is do you prefer Arsht or Markoff? MARKOFF. All day every day. 2AR’s are all well and good and some might say Arsht is on the short list of greatest at giving that speech. But 2NR and 1AR’s are what gets the heart beating. Thinking about how you are going to read all the cards Markoff is getting through in the post round. How is he saying so much? He won the debate 3 arguments ago. Fuck, he has two minutes on the clock still. What is happening?
10 elims during the NDT’s they won. 7 Negs and 3 Affs. Just sayin.
4. Elijah Smith—Emporia and Rutgers
Historic NDT win (first of several this decade). First to unite CEDA and NDT crowns. Changed the trajectory of debate. Most of this equally true of Ryan as well, but I am trying to be spot efficient! And Elijah came back and was the 5th bid and NDT quarterfinalist so that broke the tie for me. Doing the in’s during that energy NDT was wild to watch. Pretty good for a high school LD’er!
3. Stephen Weil---Emory
One of the first great debaters to personally stomp you really sticks with you. The stats don’t hurt. 167-24 on immigration and nukes. So clear. So fast. One of those debaters where getting to a 100 neg cards read was a realistic possibility (Civ Good against WGA BS on the ag NDT? Going for prolif good? Going for the deterrence DA?) Won the NDT quarters on immigration on the buddhism K! Quarters on the nukes NDT, Aff vs. MSU LW. 1AR is great fucking speech about CP theory. I watched it 100 times that summer and that is all I knew about theory for the next two years! (which really explains a lot honestly). Can you name another person that you can have a conversation about being the best debater, judge and coach in a given decade? No, you cannot.
2. Arjun Vellayappan
I really tried not to be too stat centric when creating this list but at some point, someone is going to come along and amass such a resume it is hard to deny. That is the case with Arjun.
I believe he won 12 majors including the Shirley all four years (the first time was a closeout we are counting). NDT finals, Copeland, Copeland, NDT win (with two other NDT quarterfinal appearances to boot).
Back of the hand calculation says he won 316 debates and lost 53. He won 86% of the debates he participated in.
I would draft him first if I was building a debate team because I would know the Aff ship would be well taken care of and he seems like a great team player despite being sooo much better than everyone else. Just a class act that beat the shit out of everyone for four solid years without really relenting at any point.
1. Quaram Robinson
So, let’s start by saying that Kansas BR making the finals of the NDT on military maybe the most impressive accomplishment in the entire decade. The number of teams outside the top 16 that made an NDT finals before that point is: zero (I am pretty sure, I looked through 2005 and assumed it was a law of nature).
People who want to say Emporia winning the NDT was more impressive would be justified. But hey Emporia was a first round and won CEDA going into that NDT. Lots of different number bids have made the finals and won the NDT. The 17th ranked team has NEVER made the finals and it was a frosh and soph! Incredible. Lots of teams similar to Emporia have won the NDT since but will there ever be a run like Kansas BR?? I am not so sure.
The follow up act was a Copeland and NDT victory, one of the best team performances of the decade. Their average final place that year was 1.8. NU BK (best Copeland of the decade imo) was 3.57! (because they lost in the doubles once)
Four different partners. Great 1AC’s, specific neg evidence, a person I would always want to be Neg against because of how effective of a 2N they were. A class act and a historically great all-time debater.
A lot of history was made this decade. I hope this post will lead others to share stories about debaters that stood out to them. Regional debate hero, small school warrior, a certain kind of specialist, that great debater that beat you down when you were young, that favorite debater you got the chance to judge. There are a lot of great debaters with a lot of great stats that got snubbed off my list. There are no objectively right answers or approaches here. Nothing but respect for the debaters of the 2010’s
Every decade the debate community takes some time to reflect on what has transpired. Charles Olney is organizing the project for the 2010’s. He put it this way: “One of the most interesting parts of the project has always been the coaches poll, which invites coaches to reflect back on the decade. Who were the best individual debaters? The best teams? The best judges? Which topics were good and which were bad? Which hosts did the best? These questions invites rankings, but more importantly they give us all a chance to reflect on what makes the activity great.”
A few big picture notes at the top. First, there are so many great teams over the last decade. Looking back has been truly mind boggling. Second, nothing but fun is intended by talking about this publicly. I view this post as an extension of debate’s rich oral war story history which makes it so unique. Third, I debated three of these topics and it was trolly to realize that we would have to extend the list to top 300ish of the decade before Liberty GW got in the conversation. W00f. Fourth, there are a million right answers. I am happy to share what I thought and excited to hear where people differ.
The categories are:
Top 10 teams of the decade
Top 10 debaters of the decade
Top 5 coaches of the decade
Top 5 judges of the decade
All the topics ranked in order
NDT hosts ranked in order
Best regular season tournament host
We are talking about the top 10 teams of the decade today. Note--when I give out honorable mentions I am thinking of teams on the bubble/the top 15.
The first questions I asked were easy to figure out: what is the set of NDT winners, and what is the set of Copeland winners?
NDT winners in chronological order:
Copeland winners in chronological order:
That leads to following overlap, NDT + Copeland winners:
Gtown AM (not in the same year though)
There is one other group to keep an eye on and that is NDT runners up:
The number of teams that won an NDT, won a Copeland or both is 12. So already somebody really really good is going to get snubbed. Then we have a team like Michigan AP who has the unique stat of two NDT finals appearances. And this is just at a glance.
The next question I asked was what metrics would be relevant to look at? I wanted to go one step beyond NDT finish and bid ranking, but didn't want to get into the tall weeds unless a uniquely useful tiebreaker emerged. Hopefully things would shake out without getting too granular.
The thing is, with teams this good, things will not swing on one team being in GSU quarters and the other being in the semis (or at least I hope not because that would be annoying to parse). So here are the metrics I looked at:
What were your NDT performances?
How many majors did you win?
How many majors did you lose in the finals?
What did you do at RR’s?
What first round bid were you?
The next thing I did was to think about things in eras. Let's get into the nitty-gritty and jog your memory of how many incredible teams there have been this decade.
Nukes and Immigration Topic
Looking back on these topics are funny because I debated on them. At the time I thought all these teams were so impossibly good. I couldn't fathom how a team could have so many cards, know what they say, be so fast and be so unbeatable. If I were given a 100 chances at any of these teams I am sure I would lose 100 times.
At a glance:
NDT Winners: MSU LW then NU FS.
NDT Finalists NU FS then Emory IW
Copeland winner: Emory IW then Emory IW
That creates a nice little short list of the era, any other worthy of consideration? 7 majors on nukes. 4 different winners (UTD BR, Emory IW, MSU LW and NU FS).
Shoutout UTD BR: They beat Emory IW twice at GSU that year to take the title.
Emory IW debated 104 times that year. They went 93 and 11. They lost to 5 different teams that year. NU FS, MSU LW, Whitman CS, Wake CS and UTD BR. MSU LW is the only team to have a winning record against them (4-3). NU FS went 3-4. This might come up later. Was Emory IW the hardest team to get a win against? We shall see!
What about on immigration? 7 majors. 6 different winners! Cal BP, Emory IW, NU FS, Kansas KQ, Harvard JP, Emory IW, and OU GW. Wow!
Weird thing: Cal BP didn't apply for a first round on nukes to come back on immigration. So they don't have a bid ranking for nukes.
Harvard JP---4th bid on nukes, 2nd bid on immigration. Kentucky RR win. Won USC. Finals of GSU, Kentucky and Fullerton. NDT quarters on immigration. Pretty good, but not top 10! So here is their honorable mention.
So across those two years, here are the stats for noteworthy teams (note on RR's, it goes in chronological order so KY RR on nukes, Dartmouth nukes etc):
Before looking at things I had a huge soft spot for Emory IW. Definitely some bias from being so bad on nukes and thinking they were so ridiculously good on that topic. But NU FS! That win and that finals at the NDT are huge.
1. NU FS
2. Emory IW
3. MSU LW
Democracy, Energy, War Powers and Legalization
My senior year! My first two years coaching! My first year at UK! Memories!
At a glance:
NDT Winners: Gtown AM then Emporia SW then Gtown AM then NU MV
NDT Finalists: NU BK then NU LV then Michigan AP then Michigan AP
Copeland winner: NU BK then Gtown AM then NU MV then NU MV
Huh, I wonder how that NDT win, Copeland, NDT win is going to stack up across the decade. Seems ok I guess.
Teams that won majors on these topics: Gtown AM, NU BK, Loyola EM, Harvard DT, Harvard BS, NU MV, Michigan AP, MSU ST.
Sidebar: do Harvard BS, Harvard DT, Loyola EM or MSU ST deserve an honorable mention?
Harvard BS does---3 majors won, 2 finals, 8 semifinals, 3 second places at RR's, two NDT semifinals. 3rd, 2nd and 3rd bid. Much better than first honorable mention Harvard JP. Contender for #11 all decade.
MSU ST is close to honorable mention but not quite there. Won Texas on legalization. 1 finals, 2 semifinals. 3rd and 1st at UK RR. Quarters and Semi's of the NDT. Two strong NDT's, but not quite enough regular season numbers I think. Top 25 easy trending to top 20.
Loyola on democracy had a very good year. They were the 3rd bid that year. Here are all the 3rd bids of the decade:
Welp, MSU LW, NU FS, Gtown AM are in the GOAT conversation. Harvard BS > Loyola. Is Loyola the LEAST GOOD 3rd bid team of the decade??
No, that appears to be a scrum between Emory, Georgia and UNLV. Emory and Georgia won the Dartmouth RR but not a regular season major. UNLV won a major. Median finish goes UGA, Emory then UNLV. Emory made it to the octa's of the NDT on military, UNLV quarters, UGA quarters. Hard to say!
Long way of saying Loyola doesn't get an honorable mention but is very good.
Holy shit that was a lot of stuff apart from the original question.
So Gtown AM, NU MV, NU BK, NU LV, Emporia SW, Michigan AP. Gtown AM and NU MV are a cut above and this is how the GOAT list looks with their stats considered:
Our working GOAT list:
1. Gtown AM
2. NU MV
3. NU FS
4. Emory IW
With: MSU LW, NU BK, NU LV, Emporia SW and Michigan AP lurking. We will return to them later. We have to see if the last 4 topics of the decade leads to anyone leap frogging them clearly.
Military Presence/Climate/Healthcare/Executive Power
A lot of the teams in the first two chunks of topics had multiple years together. This breaks down across these four topics. The best debaters did a lot of work across multiple partnerships, but the question is best debate team. Take a look at things at a glance:
NDT Winners: Harvard HS then Rutgers MN then Kansas KR then Kentucky BT
NDT Finalists: Kansas BR then Gtown KL then Gtown BK then Georgia RS
Copeland Winners: Harvard HS then Harvard MS then Kansas KR then Kentucky BT
3 NDT + Copeland winners in 4 years! Wow! This is where thing get interesting because things get murky. It gets to a question of how you rank these accomplishments. Here is how I did it:
Winning the NDT is huge. It's the hardest tournament by orders of magnitude. A lot of debate folks are also sports nerds. And sports nerds will tell you to avoid things like counting stats and compensate for variance by looking at bigger samples. Another common sports nerd thing is to think about if you did something a 100 or 1000 times who would come out on top the most. So there is some appeal to thinking a Copeland represents a lot because it factors in a lot of tournaments.
I just can't bring myself to ranking a Copeland winner over an NDT winner straight up. The body of work over more than one season would have to indicate something impressive. If a team didn't win the NDT but made the finals that is a big deal.
That premable is necessary because here is what we got for 5 through 10
NDT + Copeland winners: Harvard HS, Kansas KR and Kentucky BT
Copeland winners + NDT finalist: NU BK
NDT winners: Emporia SW, Rutgers MN and MSU LW
Interesting leftovers: Michigan AP, two time NDT finalist (I have no idea what to do with this stat)
That leads to honorable mention #3: NU LV. Closed out Shirley + NDT Quarters on Democracy. On energy they won 3 majors and were in the finals of the NDT. I was able to judge this team a lot and am very thankful. If all these teams debated in an elim bracket I would put long shot money on LV to win. They punched above their weight always and duked it out with GOAT of the decade Gtown AM for a whole year. The semis of the NDT that year was a work of art.
So at this fork in the road I am resolving to put the NDT + Copeland winners 5th, 6th and 7th. But what's the order?
Welp, that didn't clear things up that much. What about the average finish of each of these teams?
oooo, interesting. The plot thickens.
What about those RR finishes though? They are tough to judge. On the one hand you got this digestible result and you know they had to beat some good teams to get it. On the other hand there are two points. One is that it feels weird to me to put particular stock in RR's and not just look at a team's record against all the bid teams or all the top 10 bid teams etc. RR's are just snapshots of what feels like a larger head to head picture.
The other issue is that K teams are historically underdogs at RR's due to judging. I can see a comment like that splitting the room down the middle, but it is where I land having looked at ten years of RR results. Other things have a way of working themselves out so the number of K/policy teams in elims or the first round voting and what not is close to 50-50. But that isn't how RR's have worked. So I am not going to look at a team like Kansas KR and say oh you are worse because of the way you performed at RR's. NOPE.
Let's look at one more stat, an incredibly self serving one.
1. Gtown AM
2. NU MV
3. NU FS
4. Emory IW
5. Kansas KR
6. Kentucky BT
7. Harvard HS
Emory IW's two years of two Copelands, NDT quarters and NDT finals along side 4 major wins and 4 finals. If any of the 5 through 7 teams had another year to look at together I could see shuffling the order.
So we have 3 spots left and the following teams floating about: MSU LW, NU BK, Emporia SW, Michigan AP, Rutgers MN.
Is there a weak link in this chain? Well:
MSU LW---won an NDT that involved NU FS and Emory IW. They beat NU in the finals and Emory twice. WOAH. So MSU is not getting bumped from my list.
Emporia SW---they did 4 things as a partnership. They went 2-4 at the Pitt RR (wtf). They were in the finals of Northwestern. They won CEDA. They won the NDT. That is a fucking peak performance right there.
Rutgers MN---Won the NDT. Won CEDA. Won USC. Lost Texas finals.
NU BK---NDT finals + NDT semifinals. Copeland winner. But not just any Copeland winner. Maybe the best Copeland resume of the decade.
Michigan AP---NDT finals twice. Won one major. Finals of two others. Casual 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st RR finishes during war powers and legalization.
We have arrived at honorable mention #4---Michigan AP.
So we need to cut one between Emporia, Rutgers and NU BK. The only thing that is giving me pause is NU BK was one ballot away from an NDT win and they had a strong two years, but Emporia and Rutgers have better peaks. Pretty difficult.
My final list:
1. Gtown AM
2. NU MV
3. NU FS
4. Emory IW
5. Kansas KR
6. Kentucky BT
7. Harvard HS
8. MSU LW
9. Emporia SW
10. NU BK
11. Rutgers MN
12. Michigan AP
13. NU LV
14. Harvard BS
15. Harvard JP
EDITOR's NOTE----the first version of this post snubbed the hell out of Harvard MS. Oops. I would put Harvard MS 14, BoSu 15 and bump Harvard JP.
CORRECTION---NU BK won GSU on democracy, not Gtown AM. Those stat images have been changed to reflect this.
I could go back and forth on the NU vs Rutgers thing for a while. End of the day, NDT semi's, Copeland, NDT finals > NDT win, 7th bid, CEDA win where only two other first rounds were defeated on the way to the crown.
That's how I see it. Feel free to let me know how you see it. What a wild question to ask. More parts later with the other categories.
The following was written by Mikaela Malsin, topic committee member:
As a Topic Committee member, I wanted to discuss what I understand to be some concerns and frustrations raised over the topic process and over this year's slate of resolutions. I strongly prefer not to use Facebook (deactivated my account in 2014, created a new one in order to run various Georgetown pages, but oppose it as a social/dialogic platform and am trying to stay off). For the record, I am speaking only own my own behalf.
1. The Topic Process. I think it is fundamentally flawed from start to finish. This is my second year on the committee, and it's been really enlightening; in prior years I would often grumble along the lines of "omg, why does the committee ruin the topic" (sincerest apologies to all prior topic committees from years I said or thought that), and now I think I have at least some insight into the problems. I don't yet have solutions, but I know there's a lot of interest in generating them and I hope to see/help produce reform proposals soon.
Problem: Most of the topic process, including the role/function of the committee, is poorly defined. I’ll include the full text of the “Topic Selection” section of the CEDA Constitution at the end of this post. If you want to contribute to the topic process (anything from writing a paper to serving on the committee) there’s not much guidance on how to do that, and definitely no guidance regarding what is expected of you or how you should go about making decisions.
One example of the problems created by limited guidance: The topic paper process lacks clear guidelines and certainly lacks consensus re: what a topic paper should look like, what should appear on the ballot, and whether the committee should or should not play a 'gatekeeping' role in that. There were 10 controversy papers on the ballot this year. Reading all 10 and making informed decisions about them is incredibly time/energy intensive, and that's just the work to be done to rank your personal preferences. Is that really a burden we want on everyone? Or are we okay if people vote without reading all the papers closely?
Problem: Resolutions created by committee, completed in a compressed timeframe, based on the work of others. I really think this is the largest issue, though also an incredibly difficult one to reform. I worked on last year's topic paper, attended the topic committee meeting as a voting member, and was still unhappy with the resolutions we produced.
We take the collective work of one group of people, in the form of a paper written to persuade the community with a necessarily limited set of evidence to support it, and try to turn that into an unspecified (minimum of 3, but what is a 'good' number? Would 3 be enough? How many is too many?) number of resolutions to present to the community to vote on. It is a messy and unwieldy process.
We want the community to get resolutions that reflect the controversy area that was selected by community ranked vote. That requires repurposing/expanding upon the work from the paper, and it also requires either mind-reading or ongoing, binding consultation with constituents from the community — which may be desired, but currently lacks a good mechanism/process and also becomes incredibly difficult once the topic meeting starts (more on this further down). As an example from a previous year, the Healthcare Coverage topic paper recommended "expand benefits" and "access" as key terms for inclusion in the resolution. These were the two [u]primary[/u] recommendations for resolutional wording; neither of those terms appeared on more than one resolution on the ballot as a result of the research done at the meeting. If people "thought they were voting for" a topic focused on healthcare benefits and access, they would be disappointed, but the truth is that it's not possible to know exactly what the community (as represented by their school's vote) "wants" in voting for a particular paper.
We also want every term that appears in the resolutions to be well-vetted and to produce a year's worth of good debates. We divide up research assignments and then try to make assessments based on what we and others have done. It's hard to make good decisions that way. We focus on a few small pieces at a time and then try to put those pieces together. People get invested in their individual projects/assignments, because they've put in work on them. People get distracted by a work e-mail, miss a few minutes of discussion, and get lost. People try to convey concerns or opinions from constituents and are imperfect messengers, or haven't been given evidence to support the arguments being passed along.
This work is primarily done in 3 days. There's a general expectation that the resolutions will be complete by the end of the weekend of the TC meeting. That's not actually a CEDA requirement, but it does make sense in that people go home, summer institutes/classes begin, etc., and committee membership is an unpaid position — the understanding is that the topic committee's work should be complete by the end of those three grueling days. So people put in some preliminary research, but the *vast majority* of the work is done during the weekend of the meeting.
This means two primary things: 1) It's not reflective of the best work that could be done, since it's such a compressed timeframe. Adrienne Brovero consistently points out that we should be putting in more effort between controversy vote and meeting time, and she's absolutely right, because three days is just not much time. 2) Input and thus influence comes from people who can and do follow along, make contributions and put in work. That is quite a bit of effort, and most people don't — even if they wanted to, the livestream might or might not be working, it's hard to follow the flow of the conversation, etc. To attend the meeting in person is expensive and exhausting. All of this happens against the backdrop of the end of the academic year, national high-school championship tournaments, the one chance most debate people have to travel or take any kind of break or visit family, etc.
Also, by the time we vote on the slate of resolutions, we are exhausted and ready to snap. Feedback on those resolutions is limited to those paying attention/following along and motivated to get in their input before Sunday afternoon.
So most people discover the 'results' of the meeting at the very end and are perplexed (again, I was always one of these people too). I think a better version of this work would involve more thorough group research/vetting at every step with community input, but it would honestly take a month.
Problem: Lack of representation. I think this is also directly related to the above. The ways in which community members communicate with TC members is scattered and ad-hoc. There’s no particular process or mechanism for soliciting feedback. There’s no real clarity on what it means to be a community representative, or how best to represent one’s constituency (and for everyone besides the grad and undergrad reps, the nature of that constituency is frankly also ambiguous). Also, most of that input/feedback comes as the meeting is ongoing, which compounds every issue with the meeting itself. If you are hearing from people and trying to communicate particular concerns, it trades off with focus on the discussion at hand; if you're dedicated to contributing to the discussion and work at hand, it's hard to be a good "representative."
If there is something people feel strongly should be included in a resolution (or all resolutions), the way to do it is to present research to the committee and make a case for it. However, it’s not necessarily clear from the outside or before the fact what issues the committee will be considering, even to the committee itself. Also, if people don’t want something included (e.g. National Space Policy) that is a harder case to make, simply by virtue of the difficulty of proving “inclusion will be bad for debate.” As always, it is harder to go neg.
2. This year's topic process/resolutions. I've heard a few particular concerns and will try to address them briefly.
A. Fidelity to the topic paper. As discussed above, I think there are fundamental problems with the process that make fidelity to the topic paper a difficult principle both to operationalize and to do perfectly. I think the resolutions produced are mostly reflective of the topic paper. They are not identical to the 5 resolutions suggested, but that's why there is a three-day meeting scheduled every year in the first place. If people would rather vote for precise/particular resolutions along with the controversy area, that is a reform that could be proposed. I'll also address what I understand to be the most controversial divergences ('national space policy,' India) below.
B. Critical teams see the resolutions as unacceptable. This one surprises me because I thought the topic area itself would tend to require, at a minimum, the kind of interaction with foreign nations that necessitates governmental action (the topic paper itself discusses the mechanism in exactly those terms). I am unclear on what might satisfy these concerns, and would have welcomed input along those lines, particularly going into the meeting.
C. 'National space policy'. This was actually some of the earliest and most comprehensive research done post-topic paper — shoutout to Patrick Waldinger working much harder than the rest of us. As a group we researched iterations of "international space cooperation" as a primary mechanism, and generally agreed that it does not meet most standards as a limiting phrase, particularly if you don't want the aff to use, e.g., private companies only (and privatization is listed as primary neg ground in the topic paper). There was disagreement and debate over 'national space policy' vs. 'space policy,' and 'national space policy' was believed to be more specific in ways that would be useful for neg ground.
D. India. I'll take the heat for this one, and I'll die on this hill. The topic paper lists India in all the suggested resolutions, but only has specific sections on China and Russia. On Day One, people researched various countries. The research produced on India demonstrated a fairly extensive degree of cooperation currently occurring between the U.S. and India, which obviously complicates neg ground. The neg cards produced did not promise much. From talking to people who work on space policy in D.C., my understanding is that *the* controversy around international cooperation in space revolves around China and Russia. This makes some sense given the very different nature of the relationship. My reasons for opposing India's inclusion in the resolution are very similar to the reasons most people didn't think we should include, e.g., Japan or the EU. If India was flagged as being the reason people voted for the paper, or if there was evidence presented (at any point in the process, by anyone) to demonstrate a viable controversy area with *unique* neg ground, I would have felt differently.
TL;DR I think if you are dissatisfied with this year's resolutions, you probably have an issue with the larger topic process, and so do I. I'm interested in identifying the best ways to fix it.
IV. TOPIC SELECTION
Section 1: The CEDA Topic Selection Committee will be responsible for choosing problem areas and writing debate topics. The CEDA Topic Selection Committee will consist of nine members: Two of the following (President, 1st Vice President, 2nd Vice President) three at- large members, one undergraduate student representative, one graduate student representative, one representative appointed by the National Debate Tournament, and one representative appointed by the American Debate Association. Open nominations for the at-large members will be solicited at the Fall business meeting. The term of office of the three at-large representatives will be three years, and to provide for overlap one will be elected each year.
Section 2: By May 1 the committee will report to the Executive Secretary no fewer than three problem areas to be voted upon by the general membership. In early July the committee will report to the Executive Secretary no fewer than three resolutions corresponding to the winning topic area.
Section 3: The Executive Secretary will distribute a formal topic selection ballot to all CEDA members in early July. The designated deadline must be no more than five days before the topic announcement date.
Section 4: Topics will be selected through a proportional voting system. Voters will be required to rank as many choices as they wish, consecutively, with one being the first rank. All first place votes will be counted. If one choice receives a majority, it wins. If not, the choice with the LEAST first place votes will be thrown out, and ballots that had the discarded choice as first will be counted using their second place votes. This process will be repeated until one choice attains a majority. If two or more of the choices to be eliminated have equal numbers of first place votes, they will be eliminated together, with second place votes for both added to the respective first place totals on the same round. If a choice is eliminated and its second choice is already eliminated, that ballot's third choice will count as a first choice, and so forth. In the event of a tie, the resolution with the highest number of initial first-place votes will win. If still tied, the resolution with the highest number of second-place votes will win, and so forth.
Section 5: The CEDA topic will be announced on the third Friday in July. When announcing election results, the Executive Secretary shall report the total number of ballots received and the vote totals for each topic wording.
Section 6: The chair of the Topic Selection Committee may be a committee member selected by a majority vote of the committee. The committee may also elect a non-voting chair from outside their membership.
Section 7: The Executive Secretary shall, upon receipt of a problem area ballot or a topic- wording ballot, provide acknowledgement of its receipt via email to the sender. The notification shall not disclose the particular vote, but is merely intended to inform the sender their ballot has been received and will be tabulated. The Executive Secretary shall inform any member of problems with their ballot at this time (e.g. improperly completed ballot). When announcing results, the Executive Secretary shall report the total number of ballots received and the break down of votes for each problem area.
Section 8: Within each four-year cycle the national topic should reflect a rotation of at least one 21 of each of the following topic categories.
So, ADA nats happened. And the NDT. And the topic is over. And there hasn’t been a take for as far as the eye can see. The necessary corrective is here! Part one and part two are here and here. In no particular order:
1. People doing funny stuff in the body of cards.
I LOVE it. I need everyone to share with me every screenshot they have of this phenomenon immediately. HR’s contribution:
2. Are Warm Up Tournaments Necessary?
We went to ADA, not just for the warm up, but that was definitely a part of the reason. We also have pulled back from winter break tournaments due to budgetary concerns and debater feedback. I think if one looks at this closely, they will find no causality. Kentucky and Georgia debated at ADA and made finals. Wake didn’t and made semi’s. Hegna did and got top speaker. Caitlin didn’t and got 5th.
Kentucky has had a very mixed bag over the last five years of how people felt about skipping tournaments. Probably not one of the biggest influencers on end results. BUT, I will say in warm up’s defense, there is nothing quite like the fear of looking stupid in front of people to get the juices flowing and up the preparation. BT in particular were very happy they went to ADA and got a lot of the kinks out like. . .
3. Dropping DA’s
The ultimate full circle. We read the Japan DA at GSU. That Japan DA ends up in Georgia docs. Georgia reads that Japan DA against us. Trufanov cannot fathom how to answer it.
I ate food during the first part of the ADA finals and when I got back the 2AC cx was winding down and Gabe J says Truf dropped a DA. I said stfu that troll sucks. Then he shows me the 1NC. Then he shows me the 2AC. And then we spend a lot a lot of time talking about whether they can do anything besides going for conditionality.
Reports from the judges were that they noticed pretty much immediately, but then started wondering what elaborate piece of showmanship was going to occur in the 2AC. Did UGA read impact defense against their own DA? Did the 1AC straight turn the Japan DA to the point you need no additional cards? Not so much.
There was a good deal of scrapping that happened after this that created some pause, but what a way to lose your first and only NFU policy debate. R
4. The ADA Tournament is Good
The competition is high quality. The quarters were 5.5 first rounds, Indiana AD and Trinity DK. The case for a warm up is reasonable, although not definitive. I think the slant of the judge pool is exaggerated. Liberty HT in quarters + Kentucky pref experiment proves good teams find a way. But the ADA national list didn’t look that far off from a national tournament.
But here is the real reason the ADA tournament is enjoyable: it is built around a series of programs that take novice and JV debate seriously. That creates a unique culture and tournament experience worth celebrating. It’s not the model we chose at Kentucky, but I grew up in it and respect it. It’s one of the most realistic ways to grow the activity.
Also, everyone who has won that tournament is smart and talented.
5. New Affs Bad
Not talking about the stupid thing in policy debates I don’t even flow. Talking about this Michigan GW vs Wake EF debate at the NDT. Here is the argument from the 1NC:
“Interpretation- Non-black people should disclose their 1AC against black people. 4 reasons to prefer:
a.) Fairness- non-white people are already structurally ahead in the debate community, this means that competitive equity and openness is especially key.
b.) Securitization- the refusal to disclose against black folk is a securitization from nuanced dialogue because there’s have no time to prep. They literally disclosed no parts of the aff after being explicitly asked. This is external exclusion offense.
c.) Resistance Clash- They destroy the quality of method debates because as the aff they get infinite permutations and prereq arguments so side bias already swings affirmative, which means all we have is the ability to create nuanced arguments against the aff.
d.) Rush to Unintelligibility- In method debates there is always a rush to who can say the least in order to avoid clash which uniquely hurts method debates. We have a responsibility to build competitive standards with each other in order to engage methods.
At best this is a reason to vote them down for their pedagogical model, but at worst they shouldn't get theoretical arguments like permutations because they’ve destroyed nuanced clash.”
So white people are structurally ahead + depth is important. The first argument seems to fall apart quickly. Why is the corrective that you have to disclose? Why not that you aren’t allowed to switch affirmatives at all?
The bigger issue, though, is fairness along another axis, which is team size. The advantage small schools get from the asymmetry of breaking new seems to massively outweigh the marginal improvement 25 minutes of thinking would get the Neg. I think invoking fairness in this context would backfire.
So, the depth argument speaks to a larger issue. On the Neg side we have this linear notion that the more time an argument is known the better off the opponents will be. That could impact you like 30 minutes at a time. You didn’t know about an Aff, they told you 30 mins before the debate, your 1NC will be marginally better. Not night and day better, but better.
But there is a linear impact going the other way. That impact is the amount of pretournament preparation you have to do to not get caught by surprise. If your goal is the pop a new Aff on something specific (which mine is, it’s the only thing that can get me to feel something from an argument preparation standpoint) you have to change a lot of the way you prepare. Disclosing doesn’t completely take away from that, since 30 minutes can’t do all that much. You will want something you can quickly tailor. BUT it might create a sense of complacency that is much worse for overall argument development due to spinoffs and unforeseen connections.
The big thing that swings in favor of new Affs is small schools need it + getting the coaches out of the room is good for argument growth. I guess you could solve the 2nd thing with CI—tell us, we won’t tell our coaches, but seems hard to verify.
6. Dude Judges
They need to fucking chill. Judges need to be there for the debaters. That means don’t raise your voice and don’t use the post round to teach tough lessons. Non-male debaters are entitled to the same range of feelings and emotions in a post round that male debaters are afforded.
I have been yelled at in a post round before (only one is sticking out in my mind at the moment, so if you thought you yelled at me you probably didn’t do a very good job). It is not great, but it doesn’t mean any tension is an attack or requires escalation. If you have trouble dealing you may want to remove yourself from the situation instead of hoisting yourself onto others and telling them to deal with it.
Non-male debaters across social media were sharing stories of several judges doing a bad job in the post round. Listen to them and get your shit together.
7. The Most Tested Aff
I can’t believe going into an executive power topic the most scrutinized Aff by fucking miles was CEA’ing NSA’s for NNWS’s.
8. So this Happened
Ouita Michel (formerly Papka) is a UK debate alum. She won the NDT in 1986 (was either the first or the second woman to do so, if anyone has definitive history either way, let me know). She has since become a chef who owns a restaurant empire in Lexington. You may have seen her on the latest season of Top Chef. Here is what she said after the win:
“Congratulations!! We are so proud. This officially means I will cook whatever your heart desires for your close of season dinner at the Hill. Prime beef? no problem, lobster? its in the pot. Just no liver and onions-- ha!”
That is NICE. I can’t begin to fathom what to do with a blank check from a world class chef.
9. Breaking New isn’t for Everyone
I don’t mean people shouldn’t write and break new Affs. I am talking about in situations where there is gap between you as the Aff and the skills of the Neg team. The higher up the ranking you go two things start to happen. One, those teams have debated a bunch of new Affs during the year and in their career. Second, they prepared for the tournament on the assumption people would be breaking new Affs on them. That significantly diminishes the edge you are getting.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be striving to cut an Aff that threads the needle, but I think people too quickly give up on the equity of old. Preparing for new Affs cuts the other way. By the end of NU does everyone have a case neg to everything? No. If you are a team reading a more obscure Aff, are teams going to do targeted research against you? Probably not. The odds that they say something new against your old stuff? Low. The odds they say something a little different you might not be ready for against new? Reasonable.
10. The NDT Bye is Wild
I was going to make the argument the bye is so huge for winning, but looking at all the NDT’s on tabroom that doesn’t appear to be the case. BT, Michigan AP and Emporia SW made the finals with a bye through doubles. Everyone else debated in the doubles.
So, my point is going to be the bye is still really, really nice. The pressure of round 8 (especially if things have gone wrong and you are on the bubble) to relief, to having to ramp up for your first do or die debate that happens very late is an emotional roller coaster. Going from so stoked to career over jars me just thinking about it. Being able to pass on all that was huge. It makes sense why people fill the box and make aggressive moves in the prelims. It is funny how no other tournament really rewards you that like the NDT.
11. Shrine to New Affs Dead in the Box
If people think it would be funny to memorialize all the 1AC’s that died in the box in one place for reference I will do it. I think it is pretty funny. You don’t need to save those top-secret sneaky impacts (hint we were gonna say that war was good). If people will contribute, I will do it.
12. Congress deference Aff
It would have wrecked people. How many off were you reading against deference after you take out amendment, court capital and court clog? That’s what I thought.
13. Courts Neg
It sucks. Minus the amendment CP which is good. Also, the clog. But everything else is bad. Court capital doesn’t work by reading Roberts swings when you haven’t read any cards about why the plan creates urgency to swing in the first place. If you don’t talk about national security or international law the Neg has nothing to say.
14. Sniping New Affs
I want to do this so bad and it seemed like it could have definitely happened on this topic, but I was just too scattered. Like I knew CFIUS was a thing but didn’t do anything to stop it. That would have been my best bet. If I hunkered down and became treaties guy maybe I would have done Paris and OST ahead of time? There wasn’t a moment this year where I wrote an argument in anticipation of a particular Aff, it got read against us and we won. Sad! Maybe next year.
15. Researching the K
Was annoying this year, particularly in the preseason. It quickly became apparent that the stem was nothing like health care or climate (exec power, SOP or constitutionalism didn’t lead to a strong K lit base like the previous three topics). You know what it reminded me of? Legalization! The last legal topic with a weird list! It makes K debates silly. I presume the foreign policy resolution will be reasonable since it will deal with a region of the world and that seems to generate better stuff (Middle East, Latin America, etc.)
16. Amar, Trade Guy, Adam
Love Amar. One year of coaching and his team wins the NDT. Must be nice. Who knew what a mess of an area he got in the preseason. Amar trade cards on the season: 2372 (I counted). Rest of squad: 7. Have fun being a trade lawyer Amar. Your five years on the squad pushed it to new heights.
Weird topic. Unwieldy, but played to our strengths. Good people. Good fun. I have one more post relating to the NDT that is going to drop next week.
There were two pretty funny reactions after I started this blog. The first was that I was trading off with other websites. Everyone knows people, particularly debate people, have limited bandwidth for clicking on things. And concentration of viewpoints in one place was necessary for…something.
The second was related to the content. My first series of posts didn’t really talk about critiques that much. This criticism seemed to misunderstand the blog’s purpose. I wasn’t attempting to cater to a particular audience, but was using talking about debate in more freeing ways as a form of catharsis. Like I stated yesterday, I love debate and really enjoy the people who put so much time into this activity. But I am not usually able to say as much as I would like to folks at debate tournaments face-to-face, and the modes of socializing that happen at debate tournaments aren’t really for me.
To be fair, I was throwing my posts on CPD to free ride and see how many clicks I could get, so that may have generated a sense of justification for those criticisms since CPD (God help us) is the place where deliberations about debate public goods happen. So I stopped doing that.
Anyway, just wanted to throw that out there. If you missed part one you can find it here.
Similar thing today except this time it’s about preparing vs critiques. So after Northwestern what was our thinking?
The first thing that was big related to the NFU Aff. I thought K teams’ business vs NFU through the first two tournaments of the year was not up to snuff. But starting at Gonzaga the docs and the results kept getting better. NFU is a pretty good Aff, but by the second semester the tight Neg docs and critical mass of experience debating it made me worried. So for important K debates we were going to switch Affs. But to what?
The origin of the first Aff is kinda funny. We debated Cal NR at Northwestern. Their Aff at the time was about Empire and debt. Baylor TZ said the executive was bad for affect reasons. Wake EF’s Aff about black deference seemed to defend a broad restriction on executive power based on some rounds I watched. So I wanted to pursue a defense of executive power that hadn’t come up to date.
This is where Ideen Saiedian enters the story. Ideen debated for USC, is a great guy and I follow him on twitter. He tweets frequently about Iran and Syria, particularly relating to leftist hypocrisy concerning US intervention and engagement in the region. This interested me and I explored further. So thanks for educating me Ideen!
This led to a literature base of folks critiquing forms of anti-imperialism. Most of these folks seemed to advocate some form of US intervention in Syria. The arguments these folks made shed new insight for me on binary thinking and flattening critique. They gave me new angles and vocabulary to articulate these ideas in a debate.
For those interested in source material:
Khiyana: Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution
Syria And The Left: The Pitfalls Of Anti-Imperialism
Syria and the 'Anti-Imperialism' of Idiots
Syria and the Left," Jacobin
A Foreign Policy for the Left
Syria and the Problem of Left Solidarity
Indefensible Democracy, Counterrevolution, And The Rhetoric Of Anti-Imperialism
Aleppo, barbarism, and the anti-imperialism of fools
So this started as a Neg position, but given the topic was everything it became easy to make this a trade Aff about arming the Free Syrian Army.
The main teams we had in mind with this Aff were Wake EF and OU PW. There was a reasonable amount of institutional memory of how an Aff about foreign policy centered on activist demands from another country plays out given our experience on the military presence topic reading an Aff about Okinawa and basing.
Wake EF’s NDT innovation was very interesting for this argument. Still a structural argument, but with a different implication concerning a more direct material race war. Made for a pretty interesting final round hypothetical. Would they continue with that idea given this Aff is guns good? What would their main link arguments be on the fly? Getting the guns from other sources was a no go because the USFG is heavily policing arms flows for ISIS reasons.
If the Neg went for an argument that concluded don’t give Syrians guns because of “residual link logic” concerning the US being bad, the 1AC was specific about saying that was bad. What would the counter to that have been? Like I said above, historically when we have read an Aff like this the debate was heavily shaped by fungibility and pornotroping, but I wonder what other angle of attacks would have been figured out.
The other Aff we had was mostly designed for OU JS and settlerism arguments. The Aff was sanctioning Russia good. First, we are in a political/hybrid war with Russia that we are losing and it could escalate. Second, cards about how lumping together the US and Russia is bad. Third, Russia spreads bad ideologies worse. Fourth, analytics centered on US experiences do a really poor job of explaining Russia state formation and what they are about. Basically a thread that said the Neg had to have cards specific to Russia. Finally, a card that said you can’t really appreciate how true these arguments are if you don’t speak Russian so default to Truf. That last one was kind of a troll, but did have a reasonable card behind it.
Bing AY we were going to read NFU. They had reasonable stuff against it, but their potential range was a worry. They started incorporating Spanos and Baudrillard trolls, so who knows what they would say against a new Aff. Felt similarly against Cal NR.
Liberty HT was a unique case given argument focus and stylistic choices. We had two Neg debates with them in the first semester. Neither of the other two Affs really answer the questions Liberty raises about portability and efficacy of scholarship, so it was NFU by default. Being Aff against them at ADA and learning the ropes was a huge help.
Now let’s talk about Neg prep. I enjoyed this part a lot. First, I looked at every K team. Anything could happen and I did not want to be surprised. Also for a team like HR that was going to be finding a way to scrap for 5 wins and be hovering in the middle of the tournament. . .that means more than half your debates could be against the K. For example, of teams that went 4-4 or better here are those that had more than 5 K debates in prelims:
But on the flip side BT only had one in prelims! Which is to say, you have to be prepared for everything, but there is only so much time in the day. That means you have to try to make smart choices, and you also have to plan to get lucky and dodge some areas you didn’t cover (K or policy, doesn’t matter).
So what to do? First, what subject matters are prevalent. Here was my list going into the tournament:
Nuclear/Psychoanalysis, Afro-pessimism, melodrama, affect, Asian internment, postmemory, coloring, surveillance/ableism/medicalization, queer anarchy, opacity, disability/ableism sans surveillance, dark sousveillance, settlerism/nukes, surveillance on queer people, settler colonialism with no nukes, black feminism, Derrida/nukes, choreosonics, poetic negritude, nukes with no psychoanalysis and no Derrida, black joy/poesis, psychoanalysis/exec power/Trump, black deference, empire/imperialism, cybernetics, English language bad, racist surveillance, surveillance and Chicanas, black anality, Harney/Moten/undercommons.
Soooo, a bit of a spectrum here. Two of the biggest standouts in terms of frequency are antiblackness and arguments about surveillance. But that is a lot of mechanisms attached to antiblackness and the relative strength of the ontological claims is pretty different.
The next two questions that came up were what do we want to accomplish and what have other folks been doing?
A goal at the outset was to diversify what we were reading as much as we could. Trying to get to three to five off instead of the more traditional two. So, in the context of surveillance that would be like framework, a K, a topic education style DA related to the way they critiqued surveillance and a surveillance good argument.
What were other people doing? Lot of folks going for framework, but they all aren’t doing it the same way. Some did it with not a lot of evidence and said standard stuff (Harvard, Emory, Kansas). Michigan read the classic dml style cards. He has been cutting cards that read like this for five or six years. My issue is they are never about the topic and are limits good cards, but not great at drawing the line to insulate oneself from counter-interps. I think you can just say 90% of the arguments you would get from reading the long card.
Berkeley also takes an interesting approach. They read cards about citizen literacy and engagement and what not. My issue with those cards were they weren’t clear at describing something close to what a topical debate is as being necessary to learn the literacy.
I like extra stuff on framework beyond the procedural stuff, but I feel like it needs to be closely tied to the topic and needs to let you generate a positive and alternative vision for what debate can be about compared to the Aff. That notion led me to the following articles:
Policy Roundtable: The Future of Progressive Foreign Policy
Is the Left Ready to Handle National Security
The state of Leftist foreign policy
A Foreign Policy for the Left,
This formed the basis of a new topic education argument. We also had the business about Syria/humanitarian intervention and anti-imperialism that linked to some old business and maybe new K Affs would link more to it.
Turned my attention to surveillance next. We had a handful of cards about negative critique, can’t be sweeping about surveillance, government surveillance is dictated by practice and norm entrepreneurs so have to design a surveillance system in a context instead of more abstract yes/no style critique. Did not get around to figuring out how to make surveillance benevolent. I saw some folks try to recycle stuff from healthcare but didn’t really know stuff about it that topic and wasn’t going to figure it out here.
I borrowed heavily from others to improve our settler colonialism business. Dartmouth and Michigan have good stuff! Something I am going to research more personally over the summer.
So that left the major outstanding question of antiblackness and the various mechanisms associated with it. If only I had the time to see if I could invent something new. I probably couldn’t but one of these days I am going to hit pause on the policy cards and only cut K cards.
I do this thing all the time, but I particularly do it for K debate. Everybody is out here doing serious research. Who knows how many hours are put into a given subject matter? By February, the debate community has been thinking about antiblackness and how it intersects with whatever the topic is for hundreds of cumulative hours. So my goal is to not start my own understanding from scratch, but to get a fuller appreciation of what people have done to date, because it reflects so much time in trial and error compared to what I could ever do on my own. So when people tell you that wiki surfing is making you bad because you just copy and paste, tell them they are wrong because you are doing it in a way where you are trying to master complexity, not just plug and chug the first doc you come across (if you are doing the latter, stop it).
The evidence on both sides seems pretty reasonable/balanced. There were no innovative wagons I wanted to jump on. I made sure our arguments about capitalism, existentialism and Wendy Brown were up to date and called it a day. It seemed like the cards were not the issue, but information asymmetries and execution.
It seems like folks focusing on the strong ontology version of the argument are doing themselves a disservice because you don’t need to get into a totalizing debate that is hard to prove to win that, chances are, someone doing something in America is going to end up having a racist implication. Probabilistically speaking, given the history that comes up in these debates, public policy bolstering racial hierarchy is a reasonable bet.
And the other side frequently doesn’t have cards or mechanisms to resolve that issue (for example single payer was a good Aff because it had multiple ways to help alleviate hierarchy and had good case studies to back it up. I can’t say the same thing necessarily for NFU or surveillance Affs). But the other side does have a lot (and I mean a lot of cards at this point) that are pretty on point answering the strong ontology claim. I just think it is messier to water down what you are saying after you start (which I see teams do a good amount of the time), but doesn’t seem necessary to get to a specific speech about the Aff. The perm becomes a little better I guess, but if you get a little more specific that should easily compensate.
So didn’t really get there on having 4 or 5 off versus stuff. Didn’t cut the sick postmemory Neg. Did get up to like 3.5 in most situations.
Random other thoughts:
1. Does trying to write other arguments disprove that you don’t have ground on framework? No. The Neg should not be treating ground as a yes/no question, but a question of quality and how hard one has to work to acquire it. The external topic restraint is a ground-generating mechanism. If the Aff can cherry pick by going outside the topic to make it easier to answer what’s in the topic that makes ground worse under that interpretation. It also has to do with the fact that K Affs operate at a high level of abstraction. There is nothing wrong with that per say, but the issue becomes when one’s goal is to win a debate. That puts a high premium on argument avoidance and abstractions are perfect for that because their meaning is not as clearly fixed and the interpretation can change from speech to speech, debate to debate.
They don’t even have to be that self-interested for this dynamic to play out. Academically speaking, fluidity is preferred over fixity/static interpretations so the content of an idea has a sort of natural ebb and flow to it. Academically engaging, but possibly not the best basis for a debate if side equalization is anywhere on the priority list.
Hey high schooler, don’t turn that into a card. You should lose if you do that. Oh, shit is this a card now too? I have to get out of here.
2. Execution matters so much more than evidence in critical debates. True or False? False. Not really because judges are out here comparing cards and checking in. But the cards give you a vocabulary, so you don’t have to sound like a debate meme in the moment. And if they are good cards, they are giving you ways to understand the implications of arguments so you can evolve past buzzwords into fully fleshed out ideas with clear impacts. This is why pursuing research concerning these debates is important. And just because they read a card that has been in circulation for a minute doesn’t mean either side is stagnant or it is just the eternal return of clash debates. The innovations don’t really come from whole new positions, but rather new packaging, two or three sentences at a time.
3. The wiki would help, but there is a sort of naturally occurring information asymmetry generated by these debates. I aggressively scouted what these debates were about. Some of them have a handful of cards, some less. But the real action is in the speeches, in the packaging, in the interpretations. The feedback from debaters in the room and judges is hit or miss. Can’t watch ‘em all at tournaments. Video is unreliable. I don’t really have a solution to this and I am not saying it is a huge pressing problem. When people look at the wiki and want more it couldn’t hurt, but I don’t think that is the real source of an understanding gap.
The issues are very complex, a given debater can fit within a wide spectrum of quality in terms of explanation, they can lead to many different implications, you cannot port them to the masses in a speech doc like a politics 1NR. Not saying it is bad, but it does raise the bar of necessary prep. So the grind continues.
I am Lincoln, head coach at UK and coach with Montgomery Bell Academy. This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.