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.
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.