NTMs! The math:
Who submitted what:
Article IX---Kentucky (Truf)
Commercial RPO's (Marban)
Hyersponics---George Mason AH
Lunar Arachaeology---Dartmouth (Raam)
Lunar Heritage---Northwestern (Teja)
Solar Shield---Berkeley (Fleming)
Space Elevators---Kentucky (Truf)
There is a lot of craft in designing a new Aff. A lot of tedious work. A beautiful thing when done well.
Interesting NTM's won. I would say it was one of the more known quantities. Overall innovativeness of the selections could have been higher. Possible people were running on fumes for ideas given the subject matter.
The fact that Article IX lost, really demonstrates the fact that we cannot have nice things.
By: Genevieve Hackman
The past week and a half have felt like the Twilight zone. In some ways, none of the bad stuff feels real yet. I hear the words that people are saying but they don’t resonate. Everything has moved so quickly around me, but I feel like I am walking through water. My thoughts are slow and interrupted halfway through, and although I am going through the motions I can’t honestly say I remember any of what happened in the first couple of days of the pandemic. In the last few days, I have been able to catch a breath, process the thoughts, and feel the feelings.
I’m heartbroken that I lost my last NDT. So many words have been said about the value of the NDT and all of them are right. The NDT is a time to come together as a community, a time to feel the power that debate gives you for the last time, and a time to mourn and celebrate your career with the only people in the world who could possibly understand what it has meant to you. For me, it was the suddenness of the end that really, really got me. I know the NDT was soon, but I thought I had three more weeks of late nights in the library or debate office, of practice speeches and card cutting, of strategizing and being a part of the most incredible team I could have hoped for. One of the most powerful parts of debate for me has always been the trips to and from a tournament: hours-long car rides and sleep-deprived strategy sessions mixed in with delirious jokes and tense conversations about what is to come. These are the memories that make my whole body feel warm when I live in them. I am immensely sad that I do not get the last trip to treasure as a memory for the rest of my life.
I spent awhile reflecting on what I wanted to say in this post. We have spent a lot of time as a team joking around about everyone having to move through the stages of grief in light of the information. Day one, everyone denied it was a problem. The outbreak wouldn’t be that bad, there is no way they would cancel. Then we were all mad. Every single thing said on the internet, whether I agreed with it or not, pissed me off. My first draft of this post was just, “the discourse fucking sucks.” That was all I had. Then, bargaining. Online NDT? Delay the NDT? Figure something, anything out? I settled into what I expected to be a lengthy depressive state pretty quickly upon returning from our team’s last trip to Vegas. I had the good fortune of some pretty incredible friends and coaches who had countless comforting words, comforting food, and finally comforting silence to keep me company in what felt like an unbeatable wave of sadness.
Unexpectedly, I would say I am in a place of acceptance now. It is over. Seven years (more for some!) of the best, most frustrating, most rewarding activity I could imagine, and it is over. I had no idea when I was deciding in September if this was going to be my senior year that the stakes of that decision were my last NDT. I was tempted to renege, back off and do it all again. But as I thought about going through the motions one more year, it felt wrong. I didn’t want another year of tournaments. I wanted the chance to say goodbye to this activity.
In the time since the news, which feels like a decade but has been only one week, I have thought a lot about what debate meant to me. It has been very little consolation for losing my last tournament, given the anticipation and preparation for what was to come, but there is so much debate has given me that has nothing to do with this NDT. If you’re anything like me, your minutes-before-sleep, dreams, and drifting off in the daytime is full of things you wish you had done differently. One different sentence, a different card, a different strategic choice. I haven’t opened the flows from my last debate or watched the tape of my 2NR because I know I will have to spend sleepless nights with the words I didn’t say echoing in my head. However, there is one regret that I keep circling back to: that there were times when I let debate be reduced to a matter of going through the motions.
There are times when debate just doesn’t click – that’s natural. It is such a rigorous and time-consuming activity, there have to be days when you take a breath and just do what you know you have to do. There will inevitably be days when the things you have to do are boring and hard. When the research isn’t clicking, a concept doesn’t make sense to you, when a W against a specific team feels like it keeps slipping through your fingers by the smallest of margins. One of my coaches calls it ‘being in the suck’ – just the sucky, irritating part of debate. The thing I am describing – going through the motions – is different. It’s half-assing the presets at a regional, showing up to team meetings to stare at a wall, or going to the office to do nothing productive. You are there, but you aren’t doing anything. When I look back at my years in debate, I think there were too many times that I was just going through the motions. At the time, it seemed inconsequential. Maybe it meant I didn’t live up to my full potential, but I was tired, so tired and knew that there was going to be another tournament. Another time when I could debate, and maybe that time I could be well rested, maybe then I’ll feel more prepared. The stars will align, and it will be better than it was today and then, then I will debate with all of the fire that I have on my best days. I regret that so much. There is nothing that can replicate the feeling of that fire and this time…there weren’t more debates. Sometimes, I don’t think I could help just going through the motions. This year has been a wave of unexpected stress and change and I can’t say my mental health has been at its peak. But there were many times that I think I could have, should have, would have been better, and those are the times that are at the forefront of my memory.
So, I think that I wanted the takeaways from this post to be two-fold. First, I want to encourage everyone who still has time in debate to catch themselves when they are just going through the motions. I don’t want to make the mistake of suggesting that is always bad, but rather that it is a thing to reflect upon. Take a second, think about why you feel the way you do and what the best path forward is. I think a lot of the time, the best path forward will be treating every debate like it’s the finals of the NDT. Hindsight is 20/20, and I’m sure this is different for everyone, but my hindsight says that I would feel a lot better if I had done that. Times are changing. You really can’t be sure when your last debate will be, and the value of debating each one like it’s your last is so high compared to the costs in retrospect. Every debate has the potential to spark that fire, and if this one doesn’t, then think about what you can do differently so that it does. I know I had a tendency to blame the opponent/judge/time of day/state/thing I had for breakfast/side of the bed I work up on for debates I didn’t enjoy (don’t get me wrong; I also did a healthy dose of berating myself), but if I could do it again, I would think about what I could do to change that for the next debate. What modification of strategy, trying new things, writing new args, etc could I do to make the next debate feel better for me? I know that this message - live life to the fullest! – will make me sound like a little bit of a broken record, but it’s worth saying again and it’s worth hearing again on the chance that this is the time it means something to you.
The second takeaway is to forgive yourself. Part of the reason I wrote this was to force myself to move past my focus on a single thought – that I didn’t do enough – and move on to forgiveness. I am forgiving myself for not treating every debate like my last until it became conspicuous that it might be true. There were a lot of things left on my to-do list for the NDT. There were a lot of times, especially in the past months, that I have convinced myself to go through the motions. This is my public statement that that…is okay. I am still the kick-ass, confident debater that I remember from the best days and the best debates. To anyone who has been feeling the same about the way things ended for them: it’s okay for you too! Your best debates weren’t errors at the margins, they were the culmination of years of incredibly hard work. No matter when they came in your career, they are still valuable, incredible demonstrations of everything we have put into the activity.
I’m certain everyone is experiencing different things right now. I’m sure that for many people, these words won’t help, and I don’t want to suggest that the ‘senior’s experience’ is universal. There also has been such limited time to process. So much is going on in the world that it could be months before we get the chance to feel the full weight of the end of debate. Maybe I’ll revise my opinions then. But this is my two cents on what debate has felt like for me for the past week. To all of the other seniors: I admire you all endlessly, have constantly aspired to be better because of you, and I wish we could have done it one more time.
We should focus on the public health controversy of the day, not run away from it. This is a preliminary proposal that can be fleshed out with time.
1AC Contest Cleanup
Space Elevator beats NTP 48 to 27. Bogota beat Solar Shield 42 to 31.
Let's wrap this up with a little rank choice voting.
On to the Neg fun.
Rona Impact Turns
We know someone was going to try to solve it or read it as a politics DA or something. That part is elementary. The real question is who had the best impact turns?
I rest my case.
Everyone seemed to think econ-based impacts were better than not. Didn’t understand it. Belarus >>. Japan >>>>.
Unilat, What Happened?
This didn’t really go down the way I thought it would. People were overly engrossed with hotlines for some reason. Ass. Were hotlines better than regular impact defense? No. Did people think so because CP’s must have magical powers? Seems like it.
Unilat did seem to successfully dampen enthusiasm for deep space and SPS.
But what was somewhat surprising was how people didn’t use the Unilat CP to bolster a space leadership/dominance type argument very often. When we consulted field experts on space they were very dismissive of Aff notions. They just said the US should win, the US should lead, Russia and China are very hard to cooperate with/not very interested in it. This notion did not really translate into debates clearly.
I thought it was going be impossible to win on T-Areas cause the Aff could say they’re in all of them and the Neg has to win they’re in none.
But look at T-STM in the Wake Octas, T-arms control is quantitative, and T-deep space. People did better than I anticipated.
Ugh, we devolved into a high school topic this year where so much talk revolved around link uniqueness. Yuck. Aff reading at least 5 cards about this (most of the time starting in the 1AC) then the Neg just folds. Boring.
The Neg did three main things to resolve this issue. First, they ignored it, went for a generic DA and lost. Second, they would try to read links about the plan but would fail and read some generic crap. Third, they would try to CP out of the issues, but didn’t think far enough ahead to answer perms, got confused, then lost.
That last one is where the most hope for the Neg was. They could have CP’ed new space policies that got derailed by cooperating (particularly against China where the espionage DA was better). They could have read links about mixed signals to answer the perm.
This also led people to veer, quite aggressively, into a swamp of process CP’s and internal net benefits. An unfortunate development, but it seemed like teams felt their hands were forced.
A revolutionary idea is they could have tried to read more DA’s to the plan. I will admit, this was impossible in some cases. But more possible then what happened.
No one really tried to impact turn relations and/or CBM type arguments that I recall? These kinds of turns are a bit speculative. Maybe people were self-deterred because they thought the Aff and Neg cards would sound too different. But definitely something worth trying given the dilemma the Neg was in.
Tankiest Generic Positions
1. the Multilat CP
2. the Japan DA
I do not know if there is a third argument. If you never gave a 2NR on these, what were you doing?
Worst positions to win a debate
These are in no particular order:
NSP 1.0 and agenda politics
Libya diplomatic capital
Juul DA (I understand getting seduced by a card that actually says cooperation is bad, but the position as a whole sucks)
Text only constitutional convention 1NC and space weather bipart DA after impeachment
Revisionism DA (is it a DA or merely an observation? What does it prove? Particularly concerning the plan being bad? No one knows, no one ever knew).
Record vs New Affs
This is one of the best metrics by which to judge your preparation. Beating a new aff is the pinnacle of performance. The main enjoyment I get out of topics is trying to pre-empt people’s new affs.
I believe Kentucky EH had the following experience with new Affs:
KY RR—NU JW breaks LOAC—EH wins
KY RR---Emory breaks planet defense---EH loses
Harvard elims---Michigan PR breaks exotic weapons---EH wins
Wake elims---Emory CM breaks ISS---EH loses
Indiana prelims---Minnesota breaks something about missile defense---EH wins
3-2. Not bad. Obviously the NDT is where the real new aff fireworks fly.
How would you have fared at the NDT?
How were you against deep space? What about arguably deep space like the Moon affs from the other day (but they might claim to be all the areas, who knows)?
Did you know about NTM? It was an aff most likely to be read by several schools.
Did you ever get a handle on planet defense? Cyber? Hypersonics? Known quantities with new touch up jobs come NDT time.
What was your fall back position if all else failed? Did you write new impacts to old DA’s? Did you have new generic arguments?
Did you find this card?
I think a lot of people really focus on the Aff come NDT time. They do this with varying degrees of success (mostly throwing up poop that’s only supposed to last one debate). I can see how that would warp or disincentive Neg prep. It feels like sometimes the Aff should run into a buzzsaw (breaking an aff into a prepared negative team or whiffing on a new generic being read against them), but it seems this doesn’t happen very much. Strange.
Best (policy) debates of the year
a. Finals of Georgetown---NU JW vs Cal FG---NU JW breaks 5G and Cal beats them breaking constitutional convention with a new internal net benefit.
b. Harvard Octafinals---Michigan PR vs Kentucky EH---Michigan PR breaks exotic weapons. Kentucky EH breaks the multilat cp, the India DA, the flags of convenience DA and a Kuril Islands impact to Russia politics. Kentucky wins on multilat. It goes on to be a season defining generic argument.
c. Texas Prelim---Michigan PR vs NU JW---Michigan PR reads LOAC, NU reads a DA about commercially hosted military payloads, Michigan straight turns the Japan DA, wackiness ensues.
d. Texas Prelim---Cal FG vs NU FL--- a hearty ASAT ban vs BMD throwdown all around.
e. Gtown Octas---Michigan JS vs Kansas MM---Kansas says asteroid mining. Michigan impact turns with the minerals cause catalytic converters which are bad. Kansas wins 3-0 on not our catalytic converters. A back and forth affair every speech according to those in the room.
The Only Neg Evidence Contest That Matters
I want to see your best CP/DA generic strategy that involves a middle power/intermediary. This is the gold standard of NDT preparation. You will not be able to light a candle to Kentucky’s submission in this category.
We are back with two things. The results for the polls from yesterday AND bonus matchups! We have 4 new 1AC's for which to gander. I am sure the infinite wisdom of the internet will judge them truly. I will save my wisdom and wit about the 1AC's for another time.
Bonus matchup #1:
Bonus matchup #2:
Cyber vs Hypersonics
Hypersonics WINS. 43 to 30.
Article IX vs NTM
NTM WINS. 65 to 60.
Lunar Heritage vs MMT
Lunar Heritage WINS. 44 to 37.
Lunar Archaeology vs Commercial RPO’s
Lunar Archaeology WINS. 53 to 40.
I am pleasently surprised that people took me up on proposal from yesterday. I am not suprrised that some people didn't play because they hate fun. But we have great slate here.
We have 8 submissions. I numbered them in the order I received them. I selected a random number to get a bye. That was Aff #3. The other 6 will duke it out in a partial quarters bracket. I randomly assigned the head to head matchups as well.
UPDATE---new 8th submission! Bye gone! Full quarters! Below!
Here is the Aff that got a bye (UPDATE it has a challenger
The final matchup:
Thanks to the people who submitted! I will reveal who said what after. I will be back tomorrow with another post + keeping this voting going.
We are back after a little COVID-19 and moving the entire TOC online delay. Trying something new, posting smaller posts more often. The Weebly comment system is pretty whatever. Catch the thread related to this post by adding me on Facebook if you would like to join the conversation. If you find yourself having long answers to some of the questions I pose, we could get those thoughts up on the blog as well.
I have a very humble request at the bottom of this post. If you love fun, please oblige. If you hate fun, just please stop reading now.
I feel I may have lulled people into a false sense of security by not saying some arguments are better than others in a while. Warning: I am going to mention some arguments that I think suck.
Rest assured, any critique is not intended to be mean spirited. It is only an attempt to improve one’s process with the benefit of hindsight. These counterfactual type questions have helped me learn a lot over the years.
The person I am most critical with is myself. I thought helping coach a team to win the NDT meant I had most things figured out. WRONG. I learned a lot this year again, mainly about how inadequate a lot of my previous efforts had been.
Nothing to despair about. Just need to learn more and keep trying hard. So, if I say something critical about something and it intersects with you, don’t take it as I am targeting you or being mean to you. Just my opinion, a starting point for discussion, a fun distraction from corona life and something we can probably learn from.
What did people do on the Aff?
I looked at 51 teams who went 5-3 or better at a major, counted up how many Affs each team read, and added that up. That yielded a dataset of 117 Affs read across those teams.
Note, I did not exclude the same Aff read by different partnerships on the same squad. So, I counted Dartmouth market share liability multiple times. The reason I did this is because I was thinking about this in terms of if you were Neg what was the likelihood of debating Russia, China or both in a given debate.
Who read the most Affs?
Same dataset of teams as above. What is a new Aff? After consulting fellow Kentucky debate coaches, we came up with the following:
1. Country combo’s mean new (Russia bmd, china bmd, Russia/china bmd are different).
2. Russia debris is one Aff (doesn’t matter if salvage, lasers or cap and trade etc.)
Average team in dataset read 2.3 Affs.
Honorable mention to Cal FG, Emory GS, Gtown BP, Kansas MS, Michigan JS, NU FL. They all read 4 by my count.
2nd place is Michigan PR, they read 6. China SSA, Russia/China SSA, Russia/China exotic weapons, Russia BMD, Russia/China LOAC, Russia/China ADRO.
1st place is NU JW, they read 8. China LOAC, Russia/China BMD, China BMD, Russia BMD, China 5G, Russia Lunar Gateway, China/Russia RPO’s, Russia/China arms control.
Rona destroys everything.
Let’s assume an online NDT happens. Fun fact, there would still be 5 days before round 1. An eternity in newly accelerated coronavirus time.
How trashed would arguments be? Economy impacts? Dead. Environment impacts? Solved, because no economy. Instability in countries? High. Foreign aggression? Low because of domestic issues, but maybe high when society collapses some.
Similar phenomena after Trump got elected where people just had files of Trump hoses/does not hose X thing.
But wow, solving rona with microgravity research on the ISS in round 6. What a fucking time that would be.
Where were the goofy tech affs
Cooperation parts of topic=boring, mostly stupid. Weird tech=fun, only thing unique about a space topic. You write a big enough fake 2AC to Unilat, you would have been in the clear.
Aff Innovator of the Year Award
Goes to Cal BW. First, they read planet defense unlike you cowards reading bullshit about arms control and K’s and whatever. Second, they showed up to every tournament with updated business and were ready to break new crap. Third, here is the funny list of stuff we had to put in the old case neg because of them:
Neutrinos internal link
Bangladesh nuclear power
Caucasus terrorism (all year for some reason)
What should people have done on the Aff?
Wtf people. Russia by itself at 27%??
China Neg > Russia Neg. Link uniqueness better. China says no. Japan DA. Those three things alone make it so you have to have a very good reason to pick China over Russia.
China and Russia at the same time?? Why? Terrible. What advantage credibly needs them both ex ante to solve? What advantage could be so good it is worth linking to a whole country worth of arguments? Answer: There isn’t one. Trilateral is a hop and a skip from getting dumpstered by the multilat CP.
If people were allowed to do it over, I hope they would land on the following:
1. China SSA---the no DA Aff is always on the short list of best Aff. It would have been too hopelessly boring for me, but objectively one of the best Affs because it has an advantage that is mostly true and little to no DA to it.
2. Russia Debris---didn’t live up to its potential in real life, but this well runs deep. You could have concocted at least 10 or so different versions. Different versions being you read a new plan, you read like one old debris advantage (that you keep changing the impact to) and you read one or two advantages based off the new plan. Salvage, cap and trade, lasers etc.
3. Russia Planet Defense---Emory and Cal demonstrated this area had some sauce to it.
Anyone who said arms control…you are a sucker. You gifted the Neg arguments for no reason. Space war is a terrible fucking advantage. One of the worst “core advantages” I have seen. By August I was thoroughly convinced space wars were not a thing. I would re-buy the legalization pot cartels advantage debate 100 times before the space war debate.
Anyone who said BMD…get a life. Every fucking topic with this BMD shit. BMD is a poor poor man’s NFU. Like I get it, an area that has a bounty of cards for both sides, it can’t be and isn’t that bad. But so fucking corny on a space topic. Sorry you didn’t have the fortitude to jump into the planet defense swamp.
Quarantine, transparency and fun
When it comes to end of the year transparency there are two opposing forces at work. On one hand, people love talking about what died in the box. I like hearing these stories because it lets me think about whether we would have been prepared, whether we missed something and how people developed an idea.
If it gratifies a person all the better. The little joys of debate. Let’s face it, the odds an argument doesn’t get read are higher than that it does (let alone the odds of winning a debate on said argument compared to losing in general or losing on that argument).
The other force is secrecy. I grew up in a college debate environment that felt dominated by secrecy, even after the year ended. Open source and paperless has chipped away at this a good bit, but I can picture people balking still.
We have a unique situation on our hands. No NDT. No real closure. Quarantine. So much time. So much boredom. We can do something about that. Here is my proposal.
Best new 1AC Game
What I am calling for is for you, loyal readers of Debate Musings, to submit to me a new 1AC (policy with a plan, K games can come later after I talk about that and we see if anyone cares about having fun) you had slated for the NDT. What I will do is create a random bracket of these 1AC’s and make them publicly accessible. We will then have them duke it out and let polls decide which 1AC to advance.
Here’s the thing. No one cares about what little thing you may expose by participating in this game. One, people may have already thought of your idea. Two, it is the space topic, when is this shit coming up again? Three, you can be transparent and win. Kentucky on executive power proves this. I think we were one of the most transparent teams in history (probably recklessly so) and we did fine.
But most importantly, we need to have some fun. I have lots of ideas like this for genres of arguments. So, let’s all participate, let’s chase some clout and let’s have a bit of an online festivus concerning what could have been at the Space NDT.
Hit me with those 1AC’s and let’s play who had the best one. The Kentucky submission is going to be a treat.
1. Will Online Debate Kill In-Person Debate?
This is one take I forgot to address in my last post. The argument is that proving online debate works means no university would fund debate travel.
First, I am not an expert in the subject because I don’t deal with department chairs, deans, provosts etc. Even then, a lot of programs are housed in different departments and have different institutional arrangements. Organizationally, debate teams aren’t one-size-fits-all. So, my speculations can be discounted on that account.
Then we get to a couple uniqueness things. First is budget pressure. It is high now. The alternative to cost reduction is not to keep giving debate teams money. It is to cancel them. This doesn’t answer the fact that online debate could simply accelerate the demise. I will answer this in a moment.
The second uniqueness question is the intersection of online learning and higher education. We aren’t breaking new ground here. Online learning was supposed to lead to the demise of higher education. And yet, we still have class in person. Why is that? Because there are issues with online learning. It’s not as good. Face-to-face learning is good. There are tons of cards about this.
Conferences are being cancelled. They are being done online. They are likely to happen in person at next available opportunity. Same thing with classes for the rest of the semester. For people who are looking for a justification to slash debate budgets, many examples of doing stuff online already serve as a pretense.
The conversation will not go like this:
Director of debate: Debate is really good, we should have a debate team.
Administrator: I agree.
Director: I need a lot of money.
Administrator: I don’t want to give you a lot of money, can you make do with less money? Do things online?
Director: There is no way to do online debate, money please.
Administrator: Wow, that person was a tough bargainer. OK.
So, two things about answering the budget DA and preventing accelerated collapse. One, you need to focus on proactive arguments about why face-to-face debate is good. There are cards, it is in line with the mission of most academic departments debate finds itself in etc. Two, instead of shunning online debate, it is likely to better to say you experimented with it, here are nuanced differences that make it less good. It is better to appear on the cutting edge of new forms of learning than to look like luddites.
3. Line by line
Novice debaters were frequently better at it than open debaters. Open debaters just read a bunch of random stuff at the top of flows, went out of order, did a terrible job signposting (by which I mean they said “they said” and then what followed was just a terrible paraphrasing of what the other side said) and little to no transition between what arguments they were answering.
Novices were holding it down by just, shockingly, going in order.
Also, number things! It’s good!
4. Hot breakfast
As a tournament-runner I worry about the hot breakfast because it seems like it has a smaller window to enjoy eating it. Bagels and donuts sit better for longer. I have also seen piles of extra food at Texas and ADA, which implies maybe people don’t care about it as much. But could be an ordering issue. Some people claim to really enjoy the hot breakfast more. Is there a small but passionate pro-hot breakfast segment of the debate tournament population? Are pastries and what not just the better option on average? The anecdotal evidence is unclear.
A very reasonable first take on the topic. There aren’t that many genuinely good cards on this topic, but the Chow articles clear the bar. But the people who read RPOs all year…SHAME. First, this Aff wasn’t that good. That was mainly a function of narrow/redundant advantage claims and inability to innovate. But the Neg also got pretty good pretty quick.
I feel like people in the early or middle part of their debate career might be tricked into thinking that an optimal way to approach future topics is find the next RPO case. DO NOT do it. Read a bigger Aff. Read one that is written about by more people. Be able to read lots of advantages. Have novel ways to create offense in the 2AC.
6. NSP PIC
President bans the plan. Congress does the plan. Supreme Court grants cert and expedites resolving the conflict.
A true monstrosity of a CP. The only thing worse than the CP is the fact that it simply bulldozed some teams in the second semester. Ghastly.
The text doesn’t say the Court rules for Congress?? Maybe they would rule for I don’t know, the president? Then the CP dies? But wait, if they just fiated the Court rules for Congress it gets way less competitive. Oh word, would that change any of the arguments in the 2NC? No?? Huh, weird.
The CP argues only the president can do NSP and that you topically can’t fiat Congress. When there is a Congressional law that bans cooperating with one of the countries in the topic. One of a cascading list of complaints that voids all potential for the CP to appeal to “better debates” or “better interp of the topic”
7. Six round tournaments and scheduling
The ADA tournament did two rounds on Friday. Five rounds on Saturday. Four rounds on Sunday with an awards banquet in between octafinals and quarterfinals. Daylight saving time taking an hour happened Saturday night.
This schedule was rough, not going to lie. ADA lets the host pick between being a Fri/Sat/Sun and Sat/Sun/Mon. I think tournaments should mainly be Sat/Sun/Mon. Friday start forces too much Thursday travel and an extra day of class missing.
I am torn about six versus eight prelim rounds. Six allows you to do 4-3-4. As yester year California tournaments prove that can be pretty nice for the quality of life (especially now that we do 2:15 decision times).
The two most common rejoinders are that teams look at tournaments from a dollar per debate perspective. More debates better. Another is if you have a 100 teams, six rounds doesn’t do the best job sorting. You also may have more 4-2’s missing on points than 5-3’s.
My personal hangup is by the end of the year there are so many arguments or teams my team doesn’t face directly. There is also an issue where despite the argument being present for most of the year it doesn’t seem like people fully grasp how to debate it. Cutting two prelims would exacerbate those issues.
8. Neg vs K Aff
Ironically the ADA tournament had a lot of instances of treacherous K debates.
First, in the quarters, Cal NR switches it up from noodiversity to talking about Stiegler and radical mediation. Oh we aren’t simulating a philosophy of the topic anymore? We are examining the constituent exclusions of the topic? Dope dope dope, those are totally the same thing. We should have seen the Stiegler Aff coming. Silly us.
Then Kansas read a biometric CP against Cal NR. Sorry plebes. Good tech good, bad tech bad. Next.
The next off was saying post-humanism was bad when the Aff said that. Oops. There was humanism good stuff going on on this page that maybe clashed with the Aff, but probably not because Cal NR loves saying not our humanism and it was a bit of a side show.
Which is all to say Cal NR is very good on the Aff. They put you in a spot where you have to answer oddly specific, particular and speculative thesis claims OR be very very good at navigating framework around said claims. Most teams don’t pull it off. Props to them for putting opponents in tough spots.
9. You’re Welcome Zahir
One of the few (the only?) people to be publicly admonished on this blog. I am glad to see you took the criticism to heart, stopped resting on your laurels and decided to try. The result has been winning the last three tournaments Emory GS has attended. It’s obviously 95% to Eugenia’s credit, but I did see a little extra pep in Zahir’s step this weekend. Well done.
This is a guest post from Kristen Lowe. She debated at Emory and now coaches at Dartmouth:
The first time I heard that the National Debate Tournament committee was considering canceling the NDT, I was endorphin-high and sweat-drenched stepping out of a weekend boxing class. As I checked my missed emails, texts, and Slack messages that had accumulated in my hour-long disappearance from the digital world, I saw a message in the Dartmouth slack that the coronavirus was prompting talks of NDT cancelation and stopped in my tracks. I wiped my glasses with my shirt, put them back on, and looked at the coaches’ channel again. My boss’s words were still there. They can’t do that, I thought, dead-still in the middle of a crosswalk. It’s the NDT.
Disoriented in my sense of disbelief, I screen-captured the message and immediately sent it to a trusted friend. “Omg have you seen this?” I asked. “Yeah…” he replied, saying nothing else. Dartmouth was not the only team talking about this.
I rushed home, furiously texting everyone I know. This can’t be real, I kept thinking, shaking my head to dislodge the possibility. But the closer I got to my apartment and the more people responded, the realer it started to feel. “A physical NDT will likely not be happening,” Turner said with certainty to another Dartmouth coach. By the time I’d hazardously paced the half mile back to my apartment, the situation was heavy and material. Perhaps something would happen online or maybe there would be a hybrid option of some physical debates and some digital ones. But one way or another, by the time I reached my living room, the 2020 NDT was gone.
I want to forwardly acknowledge at this point that I am not one of the people most affected by these events. My days as a competitor, my last debate, and my last NDT are all behind me, where they rest peacefully. The debaters in the class of 2020 are the unequivocal victims of this circumstance, and it is their needs and their voices to which we owe our ears and care. In particular, the handful of seniors for whom this would be both their first and last NDT are due an extra sliver of our collective empathy. It is an enormous feat to qualify for the National Debate Tournament, one that exacts a proportionately enormous toll on everyone who achieves it. Despite all the difference we experience when gathered as a debate community, all of us know the sacrifice it takes to show up that final weekend. The constellation of choices that advance people onto that stage are an incomparable set of missed professional and social opportunities, sleepless nights, and hard feelings. To the people who made the sacrifices and will never see the arena, we owe you our deepest respect and our gratitude. To the class of 2020, I hope not to distract from how you feel but to honor it.
Over the course of the past few days since the original announcement that the NDT might be canceled, I have had dozens of conversations with students and coaches and spent countless hours stewing in the implications of an alternative NDT or an NDT that does not happen. I have also tried to think deeply and open-mindedly about the range of opinions community members have about what should happen next.
To the people who think that cancelation is an outrage, that every risk is an acceptable one in order to have the NDT, and that the committee is fear-mongering: I hear you. The people who believe that it’s all inconsequential in comparison to the very real pandemic we are living through and the obligations we have to our institutions: I hear you too. Part of the difficulty in trying to make sense of this situation is that there is truth – emotional and factual – on both ends of the spectrum and in all the positions held in between. There is no good answer, and the stakes are high no matter how you slice it.
In the face of all of this, I come with a basket empty of takes about what the right thing to do is. Is a digital NDT preferable to a cancelation? What best preserves the sense of dignity and honors the depth of recognition this year’s debaters deserve? Does a digital NDT cheapen the thing altogether? Is it worth the logistics trouble? Is the daunting asterisk next to whatever makeshift NDT comes next so disheartening that we should sidestep it entirely? For the people in the final leg of the long race of a college debate career, is there anything we owe them more than just one last chance to debate and for us to stand there in whatever form we can at the finish line?
I don’t have good answers to any of these questions. And with the intimate knowledge I absorbed from my own last debate that control over the fates of people whom you hold dear is a burden not a privilege, in moments like this I am relieved to be a young coach, unburdened by the pain of calling the shots.
However, as a recent competitor with my own wounds from a debate career that was ended in the gnarly jaws of circumstance, I do have a particularly fine-tuned sense of empathy for all parties. It is hard to control the fates of others, but it is also hard to stand there helpless and uncertain while watching the levers of your future being pulled at. It is a very small crawl space between a gargantuan rock and a diamond-hard place. I have never stood in this specific space, but the contours of the situation have given rise to a set of familiarly shaped feelings that I’ve tried to spend the last three years processing about what it means for a debate career to end unexpectedly. As the people I love, value, and most belong to navigate this together, I want to share some of those feelings and what I have learned from wading through them.
First, it was never just about winning – even for the people who won the most. Were it just about the opportunity to put your name on the side of the trophy, we would all be jumping at any semblance of an NDT, no matter how haphazardly thrown together. However, our community’s collective agitation over the inconvenience of a digital competition reveals more than just a shared distaste for technology. In truth, the NDT probably could be held online. It would be distressing to execute and annoying to participate in, but it could be done. But for the seniors who do not want their last debate to happen online, we owe it to them to not simply interpret that hesitation as a prideful desire for an audience and a fully credentialed championship. Those are not the stakes despite our awkwardness in articulating vulnerably what else is on the table.
Second, whether we’re willing to admit it or not, the truth is that most of us end our debate careers feeling like the victims of chance rather than the victors of our long-waged campaign. You are welcome to believe that there is some unique cosmic injustice in losing a debate because of a lagging video stream or the lackluster acoustics of a university basement. But as I’ve learned through several years of sleep lost to hypotheticals that move an Emory team a 0.3 speaker point jump into a different place in the bracket, in reality many of us are subject to forces beyond our control in those final hours of our debate careers.
Some of us lose because of the panel, some of us lose because of the flip, some of us lose because of the case neg that our teammate was too busy with midterms to finish, and some of us lose because we never had the shot that someone with more time, more money, and more opportunity had. The coaching advice I offer every student at every chance I’m given is to always prepare in a way they are proud of at all costs. At the end of the day, it will not be about the loss – it ends up being the things you would have, could have, and should have done differently to control the variables and the time you spend wishing that you had. And if you had the great foresight and discipline to do all those things right, you just might encounter the uncomfortable truth that it was never just those things for any of us.
It is the seeding, the quality of sleep, the stomach pain we had in the octas, and temperature of the air, and in simpler words – chance. The nature of our activity is that we are all the victims of a million uncontrollables just hoping that if we sacrifice enough, we don’t have to be. Whether because of the coronavirus or the coin flip, every team except for one has to endure a conclusion to their career that they neither wanted nor foresaw. It is not the victory or the inability to guarantee it that is at stake. Because that is never what it was about either.
Third, I accordingly want to suggest to the class of 2020, that it is also not about your last debate. If the NDT is in fact canceled, you will have to deal with the painful realization that that moment is now behind you. That realization is also one that I know to be crushing. Regardless of when it happened, who was there, and what happened in the debate, we all deserve a final round where someone stands and claps for us. There are many people amongst you in this community, myself included, who know what the open wound of a silent conclusion feels like. There are also many of us who know what it feels like to have a last debate without knowing it and to have to look back and add grandeur to a situation that in its original happening possessed none. The journey of superimposing a conclusion onto a moment you didn’t know was one is tough and requires a great degree of revisionist creativity, but it is entirely possible, and many have done it. What you might find in the process is that it was never that single debate that mattered either. And whatever your last debate may be, know that it matters as much as the one that it could have been.
Finally, to the community in our larger parts, I want to suggest that with the knowledge that it was not a singular debate or chance at victory that was most painfully lost in this disaster, what we owe this year’s debaters is not just one last stab at victory.
After losing my final debate on a 3-0 to the bracket, here is what mattered: holding my best friend and beloved teammate when he lost his last debate the morning after. Sitting drunkenly and tiredly with the people who know me best and watching debates we had the audacity to boozily criticize even though we weren’t good enough to be in them. Laughing with people I didn’t know all that well who wanted to buy me a drink. Not paying for a single thing I drank that entire Monday. My last team dinner at an only OK Mexican restaurant in Kansas with the freshmen who came to that NDT with us to scout and the coaches I had come to cherish and depend on. Being hugged, over and over again by people I’d never hugged before. The emails that I re-read when I feel lost from many people saying “what you did mattered to me.” The tears I cried on behalf of fellow competitors who I wanted more for. And more than anything, the chance to sit in a hotel room that smelled painstakingly of boys at three in the morning with many of the students in my class. That moment gave us the opportunity to say goodbye to each other, and in doing so, recognize that each sacrifice we made was validation that no matter how it ended, we were all really, really lucky to have each other and to have something that we were capable of loving that terribly much.
Amidst all the competitive vim and the pomp of the affair, I believe this is what the NDT is about – not your last debate, but the moments after it. Moments in which people who know what you’ve lost remind you that you have not lost your place amongst them. It is the collection of those first few hours of being a “former debater,” that makes the NDT special because you are surrounded only by people who already know or will someday come to know that very unique ache. It is the place in debate where I believe we best care for each other, see each other, and feel belonging – the thing that I am inclined to postulate is what most of us are really after in the first place.
So to the debate community writ-large, I want to suggest that we owe this class above all else is not just an NDT, but vulnerability, compassion, recognition, belonging, and a ceremonious inauguration into our imperfect society of former debaters. What debaters choose to do is rare and it is special. It takes great courage, discipline, humility, and honesty. Those qualities and virtues do not dissipate when you cross the threshold, and if this year’s class cannot be invited into their next stage in this community in all of the glory and raucousness of a Monday night at the NDT, they deserve everything we can give them in its stead.
We owe them a venmo-ed drink or two on us, a verbal outpouring of recognition, and a nice email in lieu of a firm hug at the very least, but we desperately also owe them the maturity and thoughtfulness to acknowledge that it was never about the tournament, the last debate, or the win. It’s about knowing in those first seconds when your debater career is now behind you, that the place you belong in the debate community is not.
To all of the students who will or will not debate at this year’s NDT, what you’ve already done cannot be minimized by what otherwise might have been possible. It’s all chance, all luck, all fate if that’s what you believe in. The only thing that’s not is the people who are standing there to clap for you when it ends.
Loudly and with joy from our separate corners of this country, we will all still be here -- applauding you all the way home.
Ah yes – talking through a highly stressful, public health issue that imperils end of the year tournaments, just what this blog was created for.
Let’s hash it out.
First, I love the NDT. It is my favorite tournament of the year. I assuredly would not be a debate lifer without it. One cannot underestimate the shock the thought of not having one in person is to seniors in the activity or coaches who have been to every NDT for decades.
Second, the coronavirus situation is not going to peak between now and the NDT; it is going to escalate. This is the consensus of public health experts. This makes an in-person NDT exceedingly unlikely.
One social media reaction has been “this is panic driven” or “it is beyond comprehension or unconscionable to deprive seniors a last NDT.”
This take does not hold up to scrutiny. First, no one wants to deprive seniors of anything. Students who reach the end of their careers after putting so much work into the activity deserve the world. Second, no one wants to cancel the NDT, but their hand will mostly likely be forced by universities and/or governments. Third, many events bigger than the NDT have been cancelled already. Arguments for how important it is are not going to weigh heavily on decision-makers. Fourth, debate tournaments are not a place where people go to get healthy, but mostly the opposite. It clearly would be a disaster for a coronavirus-related controversy to befall a debate tournament.
So, the thinking about alternatives now is not about buying into panic or undervaluing seniors. Things have to be set in motion now or else there will be no time to implement them.
Another frequent take is postponement. A few issues. Postpone until when? Does anyone know when COVID-19 will peak in the US? Could be exam time, or after graduation or after people’s contracts expire or a lot of seniors have to start jobs or debate camps or eventually have to move on to next year’s academic calendar.
Could you throw together a debate tournament in two weeks if money was no object and that was the #1 priority for everyone? Maybe, although I would not feel great about it (as a guy who does the tournament hosting thing from time to time). But you couldn’t do it with an NDT, in any meaningful sense.
I say all that because debate is doing what debate does. Social media takes, endless back channels, can’t pry yourself away from the computer. I believe the above to be a fairly accurate reflection of the known information and how it interacts with hosting a tournament the magnitude of the NDT.
We can work through this; we can do it together and we can put on an event that does the most to honor seniors with the options available.
That option involves hosting the NDT online.
People’s first reaction to this has mostly been “fuck that” or “ugh.” I get it. The stages of grief. I am hoping I can help alleviate some of that angst by talking about these issues out loud.
A core part of the NDT experience is the community. Pre-tournament awards, the team pictures, the Sunday banquet recognizing every team, the larger audiences for NDT elims, etc. Duplicating all that will be impossible. But the alternative isn’t nothing; more on that later.
Another core part of the NDT is the argumentative experience. People love and care about the NDT because it’s finally time to unload the box. Breaking new arguments is so fun. Breaking new arguments in response to new arguments is even better. Showing off all your hours of intense research is the best.
We can do this online. Everyone knows the cards are at a higher premium at the NDT given how seriously judges treat it and the longer decision times. We don’t have to pretend that isn’t true. The cards will read the same in an online format. You either have shit to say against the new Aff or you don’t.
Don’t get me wrong – debating online is different than in person. I am not minimizing what changes when you can look at the person you are talking to, read their nonverbals, etc. I am also not minimizing the importance of the setting (being at a new location compared to a room at your university). But the fact that it is different and will feel different doesn’t mean the competition has no ability to determine who the best team was on that weekend.
Another common reaction is cheating. I was there at first. But when you think about it, it could be a rampant phenomenon at real tournaments. There are probably less hoops with online debating, but a determined team could be doing it right now. We don’t worry about the integrity of tournament results on the basis of gchats, google docs, or broadcasting the debate to a coach in another room who is helping.
We’ll have to see if any safeguards can be taken. But here are the outcomes in order of likelihood:
1. nobody really cheats
2. they cheat like they cheat now, but they are so good at it/it doesn’t defy our expectations of what should happen, nobody notices or cares.
3. people try to cheat, get caught and get shunned.
4. a team cheats in a way that meaningfully improves their odds of winning and doesn’t get caught.
Assuming the in-person NDT cedes to an online NDT for this year, we will need to work together on two fronts. First, we need to be increasingly vigilant on getting our technology and expertise up to par. We need to get the necessary technology (and help those that can’t afford it), we need to test it, we need to get familiar with the platforms, we need to follow the best practices.
When we transitioned from paper to paperless, the first school to do it was Whitman, coached by Aaron Hardy. He was very good at detailing what needed to be done to not make it suck and ensure equity. The first couple years every paperless team was very vigilant with procedure and making sure the judge wouldn’t get mad at them for tech failures. That attitude relaxed as more and more people transitioned. We are living in that relaxed paperless world. We will need the opposite to make an online NDT not suck.
Smart and dedicated debate coaches are working on guidance at this moment that will help outline what is required to pull this off.
The second front where we need to work together is making sure the online NDT does what is required to recognize everyone’s hard work and the many community members for which the NDT is deeply meaningful, but for different reasons.
I created a section of this website for seniors last year. I had mixed feelings about continuing it this year. I didn’t know if people liked it.
But what I think we need now is someone thinking about how to best honor and recognize seniors if we can’t all gather in-person and do what is typical at the NDT.
So, I ask that people fill out the following form if there is a senior you want to say something about:
The end product of this will not necessarily just be putting them on this site (although I probably will do that too), but something bigger and better to honor seniors. But I would like to gather folks’ sentiments.
I hope this can be a good distraction from grief if you are not quite back to returning to NDT prep.
It will be different, it won’t be the NDT people are use to, but we can work together to make it the best it can possibly be.
I am Lincoln, retired debate coach . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.