Somebody Has to Say It
I do remember how to write. The end of the year and participating in the NDT has led to a critical mass of thoughts that the internet has to hear. Note while I am obligated to say what I am saying (see title), you are not obligated to click or read beyond this point. Kick rocks if you got beef with the opinions below.
1. Hybrid Tournaments
They are not the future. They are bad. In person tournaments are good. Online tournaments are fine. Hybrid tournaments are stupid. Hybrid scheduling (a season long schedule that mixes in person and online) is good. Debate inertia is a hell of a drug. For the love of all that is holy please don’t run your tournament hybrid because the tournament before you did.
In a time where debate is declining it seems cruel/detrimental to create barriers to entry (not allowing people to compete online at a tournament they cannot go to in person). I can picture this narrative making the rounds, but in my opinion, it is a cure that is worse than the disease. It is masking. Letting one more team compete at the cost of the entire enterprise being mind numbingly annoying for the entire field is no good.
The NDT is a case in point. People treated the decision to go to Harrisonburg but debate online as remarkable. I did not think that. It seemed like an inevitable result of giving people the choice in a hybrid format. Next year the reason won’t be “I don’t want to debate in a mask” but it will be something else that makes the tournament devolve. Just eliminate the discretion. Find another way to accomodate people, cuz this ain’t it.
2. People don’t debate enough
Top 5 teams this year averaged 75 debates. In 2012 they averaged 96 debates. After 8 NDT prelims a host of teams managed to get into the 30s for total rounds. No good. I debated 98 times my junior year, went 4-4 at the NDT and was still really bad. A big part of this was the shift from 8 to 6 prelims. Got to debate more or settle in for mediocrity.
3. Antitrust topic is good
It’s good to explore new lit bases (economics). If you didn’t like going for the cap K that’s on you, it’s good. If you didn’t know how to answer the cap K that’s on you. If you couldn’t conceptualize how to bolster an affirmative to make antitrust key seem better against CP’s that was on you. But mainly forcing people to read shit they have no idea about is good and the debates were manageable enough. Dare I say good when two try hards debated one another.
4. Debate needs more content and hype
In-person debate tournaments should be bigger deals. More schools. More events even. Tournament hosts have to prioritize media. Video and photos. When a tournament happens a lot of video of rounds should come out of that tournament. The weekdays after tournaments should have recap content. Debate can’t say it is a worthwhile activity to be doing on the one hand and then on the other everyone wishes no one outside a tournament watches any of the rounds. Debate badly needs hype content creators.
Also if we can get some Twitter presence besides the whole fucking KU team, it couldn’t hurt.
5. Not enough new affirmatives at the NDT
Wtf are we doing
6. NDT wiki practices
I bitch about this every year, but the fact that the wiki from the NDT is the worst major of the year is so shitty. Tournament-sponsored scouting efforts are insufficient, but cannibalize the will for people to do what they normally doeven though the normal stuff is better! Automatic email chains are cool, but unnecessary if people don’t update the wiki, and actively harmful if it results in less rounds making it onto DebateDocs. Twitter account thing, cool in spirit, but irrelevant in execution. Invest the resources in doing something else to make the NDT cool (*cough* media *cough*).
The community really needs to rethink T vs. policy AFFs. This issue is something that a lot of folks smarter than me have touched on in years past (see: Seth Gannon), but now bears repeating.
I’ll start by saying I’m not opposed to topicality – obviously – nor am I opposed to voting NEG on T vs. a policy AFF. I have gone for it as a debater, I’ve coached debaters to do it, and have voted for it. Topicality is good. If the topic is, say, antitrust, and the AFF stands up and says “the USFG should enact a carbon tax”, they should lose.
I also want to make it clear that I’m talking about policy debates, not clash debates. When the AFF has a prescription for the federal government to take a specific policy action and that policy relates to the topic, there is a significant amount of NEG ground baked in that would not be otherwise.
When NEG teams go for T against policy AFFs, they do so by appealing to the importance of limits and clash around specific topic nuances. They wax poetic about the importance of depth on a small number of key issues. They decry the AFF’s horrific avoidance of substantive clash, and frantically point to the many thousands of new AFFs that judges would surely invite if they didn’t break their keyboard alt+tab’ing over to Tabroom and vote NEG as quickly as humanely possible.
Unfortunately, by going for T in a policy debate, you are avoiding that substantive clash entirely. You are sacrificing an opportunity for specific, topic-oriented debate on an important issue, and instead making everyone spend 2 and a half hours talking about generalized debate theory. Worse, when NEG teams realize they can win debates on T instead of having to deal with the much more challenging approach of saying something substantive, they will have a perverse incentive to do that whenever possible. Going for a DA and case is hard. Your 2nr needs to be able to decisively frame your impact as more pertinent than the AFF’s, predict exactly which 1ar DA arguments the AFF will hone in on in the 2ar, and answer all the advantages the AFF extended into the 1ar – despite the fact that the 2ar will likely only go for one. The 2ar gets to speak last and will have more time to talk about everything. So what should 2ns do? Really, there’s only two options – they can either work hard, practice, and perfect their craft, writing smart and innovative DAs/CPs and practicing on them and beating teams that can’t match their pace of research – OR, they can take the easy way out and go for T. It’s pretty easy to go for T. The 1ar has very little time to talk about everything else in the debate, and T is just one of the many things they have to spend their precious seconds covering. When you can talk for 6 whole minutes of the 2nr vs. maybe 1:30 of the 1ar, and you can tell the judges everything that’s coming is new, and when judges just need the NEG to have an interpretation that is a little bit more limiting than the AFF’s… why not go for T?
This brings me to another issue: competing interpretations. They are bad. A scary large amount of “good” judges in high-level policy debates would vote NEG in the following scenario: the NEG goes for T and has an interpretation that limits AFFs to 5 areas. The AFF counter-interpretation says it should actually be 6 areas. The NEG spends a lot of time talking about limits are a linear impact, must be maximized, blah blah blah. Even though the AFF only adds a tiny sliver to the NEG research burden, people will vote NEG because the NEG’s interpretation is better. That’s silly. Now let’s say the same two teams debate each other at the next tournament, and the AFF team has a whole new affirmative case – maybe now they’re within the old NEG “5 areas” interpretation. But then they’d read this new AFF, and all the neg would have to do is read an interpretation that limited it to 4 areas – and yet again, the NEG wins, because competing interpretations. As long as judges vote for the competing interps model, the NEG will always move the goalposts to generate an interpretation marginally more limiting. This same line of reasoning makes me skeptical of the “must have offense” paradigm for T. Does anybody believe that AFF teams can’t beat bad DAs with terminal defense alone? Does anybody believe that NEG teams can’t make silly advantages completely go away with some good re-highlighting, smart analytics, and recent evidence saying the AFF’s internal links are wrong? Offense is not required to make the risk of DAs or AFF advantages zero – so why isn’t the same thing true for T? Because if it’s not – if AFF teams must win offense against the NEG’s interpretation to ever have a chance of winning the debate – we’re going to see a lot more NEG teams going for T in debates where they could have gone for substance, a lot more judges voting NEG and saying some buzzwords like “only a risk” AROUND(10) “limits”, and creativity in the AFF-writing process completely snuffed out.
The last thing I’ll say is that in most debates where the NEG goes for T, they are not actually without a substantive option. They likely have some generic topic DAs that apply, a counterplan that could capture a lot of the case, or even just the politics DA and “your AFF is wrong”. All of those are infinitely better than a pedantic T debate – even if the NEG doesn’t have hyper-specific link evidence about the AFF. I would greatly prefer the NEG to read more general DA link cards and then explain, through smart analytics, why they apply to the AFF’s specific mechanism than jettison the opportunity to debate substance entirely. Unfortunately, I think most teams that go for T do it because it’s easy and because debating the substance is hard. And as a lifelong 2n, I can say this: if you frequently find yourself without any credible NEG options, it’s not because the AFFs are too tricky – you just need to cut more cards.
So, what should be done? Again, I’m obviously not for completely doing away with T in policy debates. It is important and unfortunately it’s often necessary – but I think that judges should seriously raise their threshold for voting on it. Specifically, I propose that judges treat voting NEG on T like they treat voting AFF on conditionality bad. Nobody wants to do the latter – it’s widely regarded as a cheap shot that should only justify an AFF ballot in the most egregious of circumstances. That said, if the “competing interpretations” model was applied to conditionality like it was applied to T, I promise you that judges would hear a lot less 2ars about the topic and a lot more 2ars about the pain of strategy skew. Within the few times in recent years that 2ars in notable debates have been about conditionality, many judges have included something like this in their decision: “yeah I mean… you were probably ahead on a lot… but you’re asking me to decide the result of the debate over it, and I just don’t think what the NEG did was that bad”. And that’s good! But there really isn’t a compelling reason why you can judge a conditionality debate that way and not do the same thing when the AFF says “we’re reasonable” and “they had ground” and “our AFF isn’t that hard to prepare against”. Those arguments – reasonability, substance crowd-out bad, and appeals to automatic NEG ground/functional limits – should be enough unless the AFF is totally out of bounds.
When you ask me to vote NEG on T, you’re saying that the AFF is so heinously untopical that they should lose a debate over it. Sometimes that’s the case – but I think most of the time in policy debates, it’s not. I think that if judges collectively raised their threshold for voting on T, we’d consequently see more and better substantive debates across the board.
8. People reading the same aff all year
Ass. Zero. Grow up.
Two observations. First, conditionality has seemed to ebb and flow in popularity over the last several years. We appear to be on the upswing, with several important elim and round robin debates decided on conditionality this year, as AFFs decided the antitrust NEG box was too scary. Second, Emory won a debate on conditionality when breaking a new AFF, and people seemed shocked – it was supposed to be unwinnable when breaking new!
Both of these are ass. Neither the moral panics nor the arbitrary immunity from theoretical objections for NEG vs new AFF teams are grounded in any principled justification. The best NEG arguments for conditionality, such as logic, are not affected by an undisclosed new AFF. Arguments like ground might change slightly. However, if you think new AFFs hurt NEG ground enough to justify NEG terrorism, you just think new undisclosed AFFs are bad. If, on the other hand, you think NEGs should prep for new AFF scenarios and that solves abuse from nondisclosure, your evaluation of conditionality shouldn’t be impacted by non-disclosure either.
I asked someone for a hot take and they just started yelling all caps “FUCK THUMPERS.” The argument being (which I find a lot more in high school, but maybe it has spilled up to college) is that affirmatives are very poor at answering DA’s because they rely on link uniqueness for everything. It definitely trades off with affirmative specific answers to things and the affirmative pursuing offensive strategies against DA’s. I wasn’t locked in enough this year to comment on how rampant this was, but it has to be said to 2A’s – there are better arguments out there then link uniqueness.
11. Textual Competition
It reared its ugly head once again at this NDT and caught some people off guard. Let’s recap some of its issues.
Competition is supposed to help the judge figure out if the NEG has negated. Standards like ‘textual competition’ or ‘functional competition’ are tools that we can use to help answer that question. When these tools are producing answers clearly at odds with our intuition about whether the NEG has negated, that is a good sign that the tools might be due for a reexamination.
Imagine the AFF proposes restricting pollution of a lake in Minnesota, and the NEG responds by saying water consumption in Florida should be unlimited. Clearly the NEG has not negated the proposal – there is no link to the DA. This remains the case when the NEG adds a uniqueness CP to abolish restrictions on water consumption in Florida – doing both clearly solves any advantage to the CP – and even when the NEG adds a plank to ‘ban the plan’ – the AFF can simply permute the other planks.
But all of a sudden, the NEG has a clever idea, and abolishes ALL water protection. Perm do both no longer works – the plan and CP are mutually exclusive. However, we are meant to believe that “perm – do the plan and abolish water protection in Florida” ALSO fails, because neither the plan nor CP contains an abolition whose bounds are specified, and neither the CP nor plan includes the word Florida. This despite the ‘DA’ component of the strategy remaining totally unchanged, and continuing to obviously not link to the plan. This despite the ‘CP’ only differing from the above ‘ban the plan’ example by banning the plan in one clause, instead of two. Clearly, none of this changes whether the NEG has negated. It is an irrelevant language game.
Luckily, there is a simple solution for the AFF – replace “increase protection of Minnesota lakes from overuse” with “increase restrictions barring overusing of Minnesota lakes.” That opens the door for “perm – abolish water protection, barring restricting overuse of MN lakes.” Oh, you don’t like that the word “barring” changed meaning between the sentences? Too bad – you brought this on yourself by claiming ‘abolish in Florida’ is not a subset of ‘abolish everywhere.’ Welcome to textual competition clown land.
The intent was good – people had an intuition that seemingly functionally competitive strategies, such as the consult CP, were winning debates, despite intuitively not negating the plan. Textual competition was a poor solution then, and it’s a poor solution now, as it is deployed for the exact opposite purpose – the equivalent of running back the world government CP that bit the dust to a Roger Solt article in the 1980s.
12. Darty heg
If only we allowed widespread betting on the NDT we could have seen what the price on the Darty repeat was. Gotta say pretty medium sized underdogs given the fact the first final they made was the NDT itself!
For those that don’t know:
James Q. Wilson & Holt Spicer – Redlands -50’s
William Welsh & Richard Kirshberg – Northwestern – 50’s
Sean McCaffity & Jody Terry – Northwestern -94/95
Michael Gottlieb & Ryan Sparacino – Northwestern – 98/99
Tristan Morales – Northwestern – 2003/2005
Andrew Arsht & Andrew Markoff – Georgetown – 2012/2014
Tyler Vergho – Dartmouth – 2021/2022
That is the list of people who won the NDT more than once I believe. No one has won the NDT three times (yet…).
Tyler is also the first to win the NDT two years in a row with two different partners. This year, he repeated his accomplishment while having COVID. In doing so they surpassed Harvard’s total win count, with 8 lifetime wins to Harvard’s 7.
None of this is to obscure Turner’s well-deserved coach of the year award.
Incredible. I am ready and willing to embrace the new Darty overlords.
But we should stop and think what Turner is going to do for an encore. Win the NDT only cutting 10 cards? Win on the coercion DA? Win with two novices? Hard to say what a man so drunk with power and accomplishment is willing to do.
13. Honorable Mentions
I was not particularly dialed into the season, but wanted to give some shout outs. The qualifications for being on this list were doing something cool that I or someone else who brought something to my attention noticed. People probably did cool stuff that I did not notice. This does not mean it was less cool, only that it didn’t get on my radar.
In no particular order:
Good job persevering another year. Less persevering and more thriving in 2022-2023.
I am Lincoln, retired debate coach . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.