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.
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.