On Achieving Real Change in Debate

Online discussions in the debate community have had only mild success in recent years, often fizzling out only to be rehashed a few months later. Discussions do not necessarily have to end this way, however: there is nothing inherent about a conversation that makes it fizzle out, and it is our hope that a more deliberate approach to these discussions could make them more effective at creating change when change is appropriate. To that end, what are some ways that online discussions could be made more effective in really influencing people’s behavior? Should coaches encourage their students to participate more (as opposed to the current norm, where many teams ban their students’ participation)? Should institutions hold individuals accountable somehow for the discussions that happen online? Regardless of one’s thoughts on disclosure, LD Leaks, gender disparity, or whatever hot-button issue, making the discussions surrounding those issues better is a goal that everyone can support.

Below, Quinn Olivarez presents his point of view on how debaters can achieve true change. These views are entirely the author’s own and do not reflect the endorsement of NSD Update.

On Achieving Real Change in Debate
Article by Quinn Olivarez

Recently, I was reading an opinion piece on a New York Times blog titled ‘The Stone’ (a very interesting philosophy blog on the NY Times for those of you interested in the subject). In Bernard Harcourt’s piece, entitled “Occupy Wall Street’s ‘Political Disobedience,’” he suggests that the Occupy Wall Street movement is exemplar of the Foucauldian conception of critique: a refusal to be governed in accordance with current practices, a kind of “voluntary insubordination, a reflected intractability.”

Reading this piece turned my mind toward debate. In the last several years, there has been a myriad of controversies that have found ways of replicating themselves despite criticism and backlash (a phenomenon not too far off from the current state of American politics). Some years back, a student with no bids received an at-large to the TOC ahead of students who had earned a bid. This same thing happened last year. Some tournaments have imposed a mandatory disclosure policy, to the chagrin of much of the community. This policy continues to exist. The new practice in question (though, to be fair, it is somewhat old news) is the LD Leaks site that posts, against their will, the case content and rebuttal strategies of competitors. While these instances of controversy are loosely interrelated, they all share one commonality: the criticism of these acts happened largely on the Internet and it had no effect. In my mind, the current forum for, and method of, criticism are the problem. The OWS movement appropriately advances the same general claim: the rules of engagement are just as broken as the structure of government itself.

So long as discussion remains on the Internet, where uproar is sparked every few years over the same issue, change will not happen. Change can only be had when meaningful stakes (other than the number of ‘likes’ a comment receives) are attached to actions. Those who defend disclosure understand this, and disclosure theory subsequently emerged as a tenable strategy in debate rounds. Wins, for better or worse, are meaningful stakes to most parties involved in competitive national circuit debate.

Now, I was asked to suggest some means in which students could produce real change in the realm of national circuit debate. This is where things get dicey, and where the Internet becomes a seductive forum for criticism because of the possibility of anonymity. Speaking out against practices you see as unfit requires your face, your thoughts and your refusal to concede when you are right. Two ideas popped into my head.

I. Theory

Just as teams run theory arguments that demand debaters lose for a failure to disclose prior to the round, debaters should begin to make theory arguments that frame disclosure theory as an RVI. To take things even further, I would think students who find the LD Leaks site deplorable ought run theory that calls for losses for the students who are coached by proponents and administrators of that site. Like I said before, wins matter, and if debaters who are otherwise consistently successful begin to turn in poor performances, it could be chalked up to an inability to answer those arguments.

Now, the immediate response I imagine will pop in the comments is either, ‘well, they can still win the theory debate,’ or, ‘students shouldn’t lose for what their coaches do.’ As to the first, I think that depends on how you frame the theory argument: if it appeals to fairness or some other common metric for evaluating theory arguments, then yes, that’s certainly true. But if the theory argument is framed differently (and believe me, there are multiple avenues you can choose), then I think that sort of problem is avoidable. As to the second criticism, I think this only holds weight in regard to the leaks site, and not disclosure since students actively run disclosure theory. Frankly, I am not going to contest the merit of such a claim, but like I said earlier, wins matter, and if kids are passionate about seeing a practice go away in debate, then I think ‘by any means necessary’ becomes the new standard for action so long as it doesn’t lead to violence.

II. Tournament Boycotts

Just like wins matter, money and prestige matter, too. If a large bid tournament were to lose a sizable number of competitors because of an ideological disconnect with the community at-large, then two things happen: the money a tournament brings in for its team shrinks, and the bid-status of the tournament comes in to question. I imagine most kids will object to having to put their opportunity to earn a bid on the line in order to prove a point, and in a vacuum, I’d agree: if there is a noticeable amount of people speaking out against what you do, and you have been afforded the lucrative opportunity to host a bid tournament, you should put some principles aside for the sake of making your customers happy. But the world doesn’t work like that. You have to put things you value on the line in hopes of having it produce change.

Now, all of these ideas are easy to talk about (especially on the internet), but change will only occur through activity. Debaters, I think, are often sheepish about their beliefs because winning matters to them (this is exemplified by the anonymous post authored by students about the LD Leaks site), but the reality of the situation is that only by installing a permanent fear of losing in the opposition will change be had. This is the same fear the proponents of disclosure theory and the Leaks site (or whatever future controversy comes up) have bred in you; their method of critique is both subversive and produces real change. Why not take a page from their playbook and re-write the rules of the engagement, as OWS strives to do?

  • Anonymous

    Hey everybody,

    This is slightly off-topic, but it’s important so I don’t want it to be buried below.

    I have uploaded a series of notes from my debate camp experiences here: http://goo.gl/eRdBf ; they are available for free download. I believe there are notes from 70 or so lectures and skill sessions in all. I cannot say that all of them will be helpful on the most recent trends, but it’s my hope that they will serve as a good start for at least some debaters. (I apologize for the poor denotation of what is from which summer–hopefully the numbering and file dates give some indication.)

    It would be awesome if everybody circulated this link to debaters who might appreciate it (plenty of regional debaters who might benefit from camp don’t use this website). It would also be awesome if people joined me in posting theirs as well.


  • How about instead of reading really dense philosophical literature, we just all started carding philosophybro? So it’s more accessible and SO much more entertaining.

  • Quinn Olivarez


  • I think it’s perfectly fine for people to run “LD Leaks Bad” theory against some of the Greenhill debaters, but only because those students have posted on the site. I think having me as a coach would not be a sufficient violation unless I made my students post on the site (which I don’t). But if you are going to run the argument, please come to the debate with evidence that the particular debater has contributed to LD Leaks. 

    Also, a word of advice: even the most thoughtful people I have spoken to about LD Leaks have not come up with a good interpretation for how much and what kind of information people should be allowed to share privately with other teams. If you’re going to run this argument, please have a rule to propose for the permissible level of information sharing along with some evidence that you have not exceeded that level — a letter from your coach or someone else who can vouch for you on this claim should suffice. 

    I have always advocated the debate round as a forum for change in debate (as long as it’s relevant — i.e., there must be a violation), and this is no exception. 

  • Anonymous

    I’ve tried really hard not to say anything this whole discussion cause it’s a fairly emotional discussion for me but this conversation is seems skewed. The people who run this website run a MASSIVE debate camp. You coach at powerful schools. You have power. Some of you are on the TOC committee and have a ton of influence at debate camps. Stop saying “something has to change” when you guys have an actual ability to change. Post lecture videos from your camps online, volunteer to coach kids who don’t have them, give kids free entries to tournaments and wave judge fees (I know for a fact that someone i travelled with payed 300 dollars for one entry at minniapple. Like wtf?), stop this rhetoric that there’s some mystical group that can change things cause newsflash: you are that group. Give kids from smaller schools or schools that have never been to the TOC the at-large instead of Harvard Westlake’s D debater (just using as an example don’t take this literally) who got a ghost bid but has a bunch of friends on the advisory committee. All of these things WILL make more kids involved.

    We talk about hiring more girls for camps but what about hiring kids who were underprivileged. We need to show kids it’s possible to succeed and that you don’t need money you just need effort. Why not hire people who lived and debated through that struggle and can teach kids how to best give a fuck you to big schools and beat them at their own game. Just a thought. 

    I’m sick of listening to people rip greenhill like they alone have destroyed small schools. I’ve talked to Farhan, Rebecca, and Brian and some of their coaches a lot and they’re really nice. In fact, one of their coaches and debaters have messaged me support (hope that doesn’t reveal too much). It’s a community that speaks in dollar signs and rep that excludes kids not people who think we should post cites on the internet. 

    Tl;dr You all have power. Stop posting like there’s nothing you can do and that bitching online is all you can do. you run the programs and camps and tournaments that can bring kids into the community. Use that power to include not exclude.

    P.s i’m sorry this is a rant and cussed probably too much but i still think the suggestions would help.
    Edit: This wasn’t meant to be just about NSD, I know my sentence structure made it seem that way. My bad but refer to the other suggestions about other things we can do.

    • Anonymous

      Everything else can be explained by the following:

    • Anonymous


      I understand why this is so emotional, and I think you’re right on some level to be upset. I’m currently talking with another NSD staffer about ways we could potentially work changes into the camp this summer to make things better for kids, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what we’ve discussed thus far (message me your phone number and I can forward them or something to that effect).

      In terms of lectures, I think there are a few from NSD posted here (

      videos ) beneath the dodgeball videos, and I hope to get some more up this summer. I don’t think taking personal action and calling for changes from others are exclusive of one another, but I do agree it’s important to take more personal responsibility nonetheless. Hopefully this will be a step in that direction.

      EDIT: I don’t think it’s fair to classify this entire conversation as ‘bullshit.’ You’re right that people involved in this site have the power to change camp policies, but they can’t change the norms of X Team. I still think it’s valuable to discuss how to implement those micro changes, rather than just macro camp-level ones.

      • Anonymous

        Alright will do. And yes, that was probably poor word choice. I’ll edit the initial post. 

    • Fife for prez

    • Your criticism of NSD is completely unfounded. Do you seriously think Larry, me, Steven, John Scoggin, or Eric Palmer have *any* influence or effect on what the TOC does, on who it admits on its at-large process, or on “destroying small schools”?

      The only people here on the TOC committee are Dave and Ari. Dave has hardly been one of the ideologues you accuse of “saying ‘something has to change'” so I don’t think your criticism really applies there. Ari has been very vocal and proactive in defending small schools, and Whitman has adopted lone wolf debaters into their program. Ari runs a non-profit dodgeball tournament at the Glenbrooks on their behalf. All the money from the dodgeball tournament goes to the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues and the Voices Foundation. Eric makes a generous donation to Voices every year, and NSD has posted lots of free lecture videos and demo debates online. Anyone can email or IM most everyone on the NSD staff and I’m sure they’d be willing to answer your debate-related questions.

      NO ONE affiliated with NSD is posting as if there’s nothing to done for change in debate. The NSDUpdate editor-in-chief is not an NSD employee. The author of the anonymous LDLeaks article is not an NSD employee. And Quinn Olivarez is not an NSD employee. This website is a free service to the community, and not everything on here implies that “there’s nothing [we] can do and that bitching online is all you can do.”

      • Anonymous

        Sorry it took awhile to respond, Calculus was beating me. 
        Let me be clear: my arguments aren’t just about NSD so while parts of the criticism don’t apply, it was directed at the attitude and actions of debate in general. Although, I do stand by that some does apply to NSD. To directly answer your initial question: yes. Shockingly, I do think that 2 advisory board members and super prominent judges and coaches with well-established reps have influence… Although i never said NSD nor the individuals mentioned were destroying small schools so No to that part of your question. I don’t think your arguments address my criticism. I agree with you that Ari and Eric do a lot for charity programs established to help smaller schools. Honestly I don’t know them on the personal level you do to contest that. My arguments about things we can do MORE than we already where I think it’s clear that individual donations and charities are falling short. This isn’t to say that those charities are bad or should be stopped but that they are insufficient to the goals of including other people. 

        Also, there are 4 videos posted, one of which is “why we debate” and a demo round so the idea that there are videos of lectures posted to me seems silly. Also, the videos that are posted both deal with theory and advanced theoretical issues which seem insufficient to help a lone-wolf be introduced and taught circuit debate as a whole. My advocacy is that whenver you or steven or whoever else teaches a lecture you put that lecture online. It’s very easy, doesn’t take a lot of time (upload the video while you’re sleeping or something), and is free. Also, emailing is great and i’m sure you guys would be willing to help but the idea that emailing someone a quick question is the same as coaching seems silly to me.

        Let me clear things up: I agree that you as individuals aren’t destroying debate nor talking as if there’s nothing to do. That part applies to other people and the community at large. I’m sorry i didn’t make that clear. 

        • Anonymous

          For anybody interested, here are outlines of two lectures I taught at camp:

          Nuanced Objections to Plans: Redefining Procedural Fairness: http://goo.gl/yNa86

          Upper-Middle Level Theory Lecture: http://goo.gl/VlkIU

          I also have a ton of notes from my camp experiences at VBI that I’m happy to send on to people (for free obviously). Email me at sjadler2004 AT gmail DOT com if interested.

          Quick note on the videos front:

          The account I linked to is a secondary one that has not been used since this summer–that is why there aren’t a ton of videos there. Here is the main hub, which has roughly 100 complete debate rounds for you to watch: http://vimeo.com/lddebate/videos

          I did not work at NSD last summer. I likely will be this summer. During that time, there will be more filming of lectures and things to increase access.

        • I definitely agree with Jeff on issue about NSD staff and their political power, or lack thereof. I would never believe that Larry or Jeff (and most of NSD staff and staff of other camps as well) have any say about who gets at-larges and who doesn’t, etc. Lots of the time when I’m skyping Larry with Charles, Larry just sits there and complains about a topic, complains about an at-large decision, a debate norm, etc(while simultaneously causing Charles and I to lose a 3v3). This definitely doesn’t reflect Larry as a whiney kid by any means, but it shows how Larry (and staff members like him) have almost no power to change anything on the large scale, even though some would definitely like to.

          Now on the issue of the character of “powerful schools” with big names and what not. As someone who has received insurmountable amounts of help from people like Ari Parker and Charles Chy, I can honestly say these big and powerful people try their hardest to help anyone who takes initiatives to ask for it. No one wants to see anyone else fail. Debating from a noname school in Washington, with a noname coach (unofficially paid to babysit), no school funding etc, my circuit debate opportunities seemed very grim. This year alone, the Walt Whitman Debate Staff have helped me with taxi costs, registration waivers, logistics, plane ticketing, reduced entry at their tournament, housing, and finding judges for me at tournaments like Greenhill. In my 2 years of circuit debate, I’ve been able to compete at around 7 octasbids, a few quarters bids, and some semis bid tournys(not counting the 2 bid tournaments I attended in Washington). Ari and Chy are definitely not alone on philanthropic endeavors to help small schools be successful at debate. 

          I feel if the lone-wolf debater you talk about really wants to be successful on some degree, they need to reach out. I’ve had 4 private coaches before I found one that stuck. Most coaches are very understanding of financial disparities and shortcomings in small school students’ abilities to pay for debate etc. If they’re not, well don’t e-mail or harass them and just find someone else.  Charles has been really understanding of my financial situation and has never had an issue with receiving a late pay check etc. You will even see Charles on many discussions go around trying to answer questions, help people out with their arguments etc(along with trolling of course). Sure, sometimes you’ll get turned down, come across some nasty e-mails from coaches etc, but that’s just the nature of being a lone-wolf. The onus is on you as someone who has started from a lower platform to find a way to reach the top. I’m not going to say it was easy to get help by any means, but if you’re really serious about trying to do well on the national circuit and avoid small-school-syndrome, you really just have to avoid being mean, insincere, ask nicely and work your ass off. Its really easy to find help as long as you ask specific questions instead of shit like “what are good aff args on this topic”(as that question is so broad that answering it would definitely seem to count as actual coaching). I mean, Steven Adler, started from a similar position and he got the most bids last year of any individual. I won’t speak for him but I’m sure he’d agree that many people are fond to the idea of giving help to less fortunate debaters and are willing to do as much as they reasonably see fit.

          • Anonymous

            Listen I totally agree. I’ve made connections and gotten to a fair share of bid tournaments and due to my location in DFW i have 4 in my back yard. The point is to change how difficult it is to make that leap into being actually competitive. I know a lot of awesome debaters (Quinn’s kid Brian being one of them or Ty Joplin from cy woods) who have over come obstacles and had to work extra hard. Why wouldn’t we want to strive to make a community of less obstacles that are easier to overcome. 

            Also, your post doesn’t speak to kids who don’t even have the chance that you talk about. For example, kids who can’t pay for the coaching or camps. Emailing people is great but is pretty pointless if you don’t even know where to begin. 

          • I agree with Fife’s post. As Ty’s coach, I can guarantee you that he would not have been able to “reach out” on his own. Ty lives under the poverty line and was only able to attend camp twice. He attended UTNIF, which isn’t exactly a powerhouse debate camp. Camp is where people make these connections. Unless you have the privilege of going to a camp like NSD or VBI, it’s unlikely you’ll ever have the opportunity to “reach out” to prominent members of the community. It has to be the other way around. Prominent members of the community have to reach out to underprivileged debaters in your region. I can guarantee that no matter what part of the country you’re in, there’s a small program dying to break out nationally, but doesn’t have enough resources or reputation to get the kickstart they need.

      • Lkj

        can we have these email addresses of NSD staff? You guys are some pretty chill dudes and imo much better than VBI when it comes to not being excluding/corrupt.

        Also, I take it that NSD will be offering scholarships to impoverished debaters?

        • Anonymous

          Here is a list of last summer’s faculty: http://nsdebate.org/faculty/ Almost all have Facebooks and can be contacted either through there, or through their email addresses available on their profiles. (Jeff and I obviously can’t speak for every staffer’s willingness to help–the point was just that most people will be happy to answer a few questions.)

          NSD does offer scholarships. There are also organizations like Voices to which you can apply for financial aid. Here is their website: http://www.voicesfoundation.org/

      • Jeff,

        While I agree that the characterization of NSD in Travis’ post is problematic, I agree that prominent coaches members of camp staff are not doing enough to resolve this issue. While this is less of an issue for older members of the community, first, second, and third year outs are so concerned with maintaining a reputation that they turn down offers from smaller schools or smaller camps so that they can say they are affiliated with big name programs. Providing donations to charities is great, but guaranteeing that underprivileged debaters have access to quality coaches and camp resources is what is necessary and is not being done. The responsibility falls on the reputable members of the community (many of which work at NSD, VBI, NDF, etc.) to resolve this issue and until those members are willing to put their ego behind them there will, unfortunately, always be debaters who don’t have the same educational or enjoyable experience that privileged members of the community take for granted.

        EDIT: I’m not calling out anyone specifically — I am well aware that there are staff members at prominent camps who coach underprivileged debaters. I am merely saying that this seems to be, in my opinion, a widespread problem in the community.

    • Quinn Olivarez

      Travis, I hope what I wrote isn’t interpreted as a Greenhill flame; that wasn’t the intention at all. I’ve discussed this with some people, and was afraid it would come across like that. I’m actually pro-disclosure (though I disagree with Greenhill’s criteria for what constitutes sufficient disclosure, and I am opposed to the leaks site).

      My argument is simply for debaters to do what it takes to shape the debate world in the way they see fit. It seems like you and I are on the same page, but I’m not sure.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah i totally got that. If you look at the other comments going on they seem to single out greenhill and if you look at big school v. small school in general people pretty much go after just greenhill. And yeah, while i we may disagree with some specifics, i think we agree in general. 

    • Erik Baker

      I don’t think that there’s much value to the use of rhetoric that suggests that the circuit is controlled by some kind of shady cabal that manipulates things to suit its own ends. The simple fact of the matter is that no matter what these powerful people you’re talking about do, schools with lots of debaters and lots of rep and lots of funding will always do better on balance. I really don’t think that casting it as some kind of morality play is very helpful. It’s just the way it is.

      As for your suggestions about what the circuit Godfathers can do:

      “Post lecture videos from your camps online”

      I know a bunch of lectures from NSD last summer were filmed, and I think a few were posted. In any event, clearly NSD-affiliated staff have done a ton in terms of making video material available with the filmed rounds.

      “volunteer to coach kids who
      don’t have them”

      This has been done, as pointed out below. Maybe you don’t think it’s been done enough, but it’s hard to both run a huge program and take on a ton of lone-wolf students too.

      “give kids free entries to tournaments and wave judge

      I can only speak for myself but Ari Parker agreed to do this for me at the Beltway tournament this year, even though I ended up not attending for non-debate related reasons.

      “Give kids from smaller schools or schools that have never
      been to the TOC the at-large”

      I’m pretty sure they gave an at-large to one particular underprivileged kid last year. If I remember correctly, some people were kind of unhappy about it. I don’t think that activism should come at the expense of penalizing highly qualified kids whose only crime is attending a big school.

      Believe it or not, a lot of the people you’re talking about really do care. I think that you should probably know people personally before you judge them personally.

    • Alec Kerrigan

      Emotional discussion sells

  • Dave McGinnis

    “But despite all that, Schools X and Y continue to do Behaviors A and B that people seem outraged about. And what’s worse–plenty of these schools don’t even participate in these discussions and explain their behavior. At least give Jake some credit for always being upfront about the norms he promotes. But I can think of quite a few program heads who, when accusations or discussions of appropriateness came around, failed to even put in a word. They just ignored the controversy and changed nothing. And that’s frankly unacceptable.”

    Has it ever occurred to you that some of those folks might be too busy teaching classes, coaching debaters, and/or having lives to respond to your web postings?

    The self-important tenor of this is really startling. 

    The fact that a bunch of debaters go on-line to complain about something does not, necessarily, a “controversy” make. 

    And coaches the country broad are not ethically required to post comments on every online controversy that comes down the pike. 

    • Anonymous

      Yes, Dave, that has occurred to me.

      I agree that sometimes these expectations might be a bit much, but I still hold that there are plenty of egregious examples of people squashing discussion of important issues by not contributing.

      I don’t feel comfortable naming names on this forum, but here’s a real example:

      Coach of Team A (not Greenhill) publicly advocates for disclosure to check evidence ethics, insists that debaters who are not upfront about their citations should be held publicly accountable

      Team A reads suspicious, potentially miscut evidence as part of position

      Team A posts all cites for the position except the piece of evidence that people have suspicions about

      Coach B emails Coach A and asks for the citation–no response

      Coach B posts on forum about the lack of a citation–lots of people ask for cite, but no response

      Coach A continues to publicly clamor for accountability and disclosure on evidence ethics

      Seems like Coach A should probably have the time to reply to a cite request given that s/he makes a huge deal about evidence accountability. And that’s just one example.

      Yes, people are busy and cannot reply to everything. But do you seriously think there are zero problems with how controversies are handled in the status quo? I don’t think I’m being self-important by saying people should participate in these conversations when possible.

      • It’s really because old people don’t know how to use the internet. 

        • Dave McGinnis


  • Anonymous

    I understand Fritz’s outrage and share some of his concerns about running ad hom theory in response, but I’m not sure what people would suggest as a more constructive alternative. I don’t know if I wholly agree with Quinn, but it’s clear to me that the status quo is not working. 

    Quinn is just right on some level that the other methods of change don’t work: Paras Kumar correctly predicted that the resource disparity conversation would die out by February 10th with little concrete change; Catherine and Jake discussed LD Leaks for hours in-person at the Glenbrooks; tons and tons of threads on different websites have focused upon disclosure. 

    But despite all that, Schools X and Y continue to do Behaviors A and B that people seem outraged about. And what’s worse–plenty of these schools don’t even participate in these discussions and explain their behavior. At least give Jake some credit for always being upfront about the norms he promotes. But I can think of quite a few program heads who, when accusations or discussions of appropriateness came around, failed to even put in a word. They just ignored the controversy and changed nothing. And that’s frankly unacceptable.

    I’d love to be able to resolve important debate issues online, but I just don’t think it’s possible, at least not wholly so. I’m not sure if Quinn offers the right solution, but SOMETHING has to change.

    • Lkj

      nothing will change. This is why colleges weigh Siemens >>>>>> TOC and similar tournaments on the $ircuit. It seems annoying if you’re a small school debater, but honestly, the amount of time and money you have to put into the activity to be a competitive debater on your own is NOT WORTH IT. Pissed off? Don’t worry, do something else. Find a partner, do policy. Space exploration trumps any of the shitty topics seen this year. But seriously, spreading, coming up with arguments quickly, cutting cards, are all decent skills, but pretty worthless imo. You’ll meet much smarter kids than you in college that might be a bit slower when it comes to JSTOR and stuff like that, but it’s not like debate makes you some sort of superhuman, for the most part you’re just competing with overprivileged rich kids with time and money to burn while 99% of the smart people do something else in high school. Lay debate >>> circuit debate in terms of utility. Just do your best, develop good research skills, improve your word economy, and do your best with integrity. Resource disparities will be overcome in college and when you get a job, and you will be vastly ahead of the debaters with resources with coaches, as they won’t have any.

      tldr, national circuit for all the importance it has is really nbd for colleges and life in general. Have fun, don’t try to reform a shitty corrupt system, and learn. Move forward. Most of the debaters with 5 coaches that fly to all bid tournaments have shitty GPA’s and will be served pretty hard in college. Do policy debate, or enter science fairs/programming competitions. Now that is something worth doing.

      coaches have a little power in this activity, but in all honestly, suck. They desperately cling to debate because on the circuit and judging they actually mean something, but really, are pretty insignificant ants. The real coaches don’t judge rounds and flow your case to prep out for their kids, that’s crap. Real coaches offer a helping hand but don’t cut cards for their kids. Real coaches don’t falsify evidence for you to win at the TOC, (but even those coaches will be around to take the fall) good coaches keep their students headed in the right direction and help with the finer aspects when students are hitting brick walls. they instill a passion and love for high school forensics, and NEVER write cases for students. honk

      latte induced caffein spree. lmao.

      kids striking judges at toc or bid tournaments but getting those biased judges voting against them during bid rounds or the bubble. lulz

      running theory against kids from greenhill = lulz

      wimpy heads at big schools never participating in discussion = expected

      I have a bid(but I’m done with circuit tournaments) but I probably have less chance to at large than kids with negative bids.

      coaches being expected to be unbiased in forming matchups or speaks or ballots or topic wording = bullshit.

      • Anonymous

        I get that there are other valuable activities, but I wish that for kids who decide to value circuit debate there were something to tell them other than to give up. It’s just really unfortunate that a lot of the recommendations that float around are along the lines of “Don’t like the topic? Do a different event”; “Can’t afford camp? Do a different event”; etc. (not to be calling you out or anything–it’s just a trend I’ve noticed). 

        Wouldn’t it be better to reform the community to make it better for those parties than to tell those parties to simply move on?

        • Lkj

          I was in a pretty bad mood when I wrote that, and you can probably tell, Steven. You are a pretty chill dude and your videos have been very helpful. A lot of what you do is awesome for LD, and does help small school debaters out. Hope I didn’t offend you. Also, really sorry to Cherian, I’m sorry what what I implied.

          Suggesting another event actually works. Policy does not suffer what LD has to go through, it’s miles above LD ever will be, and though it kills me to say it, after watching Harker vs Ridge in the PF Challenge, actually, fuck I’m not going to mention pufo in this post.

          Circuit Debate is dead. I shouldn’t have to give up my life and GPA to compete at the same level as big school debaters. I’m sick of cutting cards for hours of every day to have said cards ignored by some shitty theory arguments or dense philosophically coated bullshit. Why do people even bother with it? I wanted more substantial discussion and philosophy in my debate rounds, and was tired of beating kids with my blocks and the same stocky but persuasive arguments locally. I’d say only a small fraction of outrounds are actually achieving what circuit debate has to offer, very few debaters can actually spread quickly and be fucking responsive. The vast majority of other rounds have little to no clash and leave me frustrated, wondering why I bothered to waste the time when people aren’t going to respond to my arguments or hide behind some esoteric advocacy impossible to argue against. Winning is EVERYTHING. There is no time for losers. To make it on the circuit on your own you have to be a genius with loads of time to kill and money to burn. No camp, no chance. I’d much rather intern somewhere.

          To answer your question… Yes. Nice schools allow savvy, well-liked debaters with decent amounts of cash to join them and use their resources. This argument is offered everywhere, help is given to those who ask for it. But not everyone can network. Most can’t, most are never included. Going alone to a tournament and being excluded from every conversation is a regular thing for many small school debaters. Most I’d say go to two tournaments, tops before stopping. This sucks. It won’t change. Money money money money money. Kudos to the debater who mowed lawns for a year to afford VBI. Why the fuck was he/she not given a scholarship? Tournaments too.

          Then coaches that are judges. Fuck judges. I’m fortunate enough for this to never have happened to me, but I’ve personally seen  Big school debater A: “Hi coach of big school B, I’m coached by Coach A, he says hi” Big School B Judge: *Blush, you can have my ballot, this is the 2-3 bracket anyways* Opponent C: What in the actual fuck? Being ignored/excluded/eating alone and paying 300$ to boot is unbelievable.

          “Wouldn’t it be better to reform the community to make it better for
          those parties than to tell those parties to simply move on? ”

          This sounds pretty on paper. But you’ve got to actually do things about it. This Travis Fife chap has some neat ideas. I’m too pissed off to post coherently on any circuit LD site. Reform the community by getting coaches out of positions where they aren’t coaches. Be willing to have practice rounds with other debaters, even if they’re not from other schools. Work with kids from other schools and let them travel and hang out with you, make them a part of your team. It’s SO tough to approach the coach from another school. If someone joins your team like this, welcome them, don’t treat them like some pitiful little thing, then they’ll never feel like they’re a part of the team and be excluded even further. Scholarships, subsidization, stop making tournaments places for profit only, help out people that can’t afford it. Judges are WAY too expensive.
           tip to poor debaters: just send in your mother who can’t flow and write up some fancy judge philosophy and say shit like “I have a very high threshold for theory, bad philosophical arguments and prefer nuanced methodological discussions” tournament officials are fucktarded and won’t realize your judge isn’t qualified until it’s too late, and it’s being run by corrupt people in a corrupt system so no harm no foul, LOL.

          Honestly, there is no way this can be resolved. The unique cases I spend hundreds of hours putting together are common knowledge and disclosed online and to other pricks from big schools within hours and I feel like disclosure vs no disclosure is bad for small schools, either way.

          BTW: Am I the only one that finds it fucking HILARIOUS that small school debaters bitch and moan about being a small school debater but immediately switch over to the dark side and coach big schools upon graduation?


          • Anonymous

            I don’t think we disagree on too much. Here’s how I think our posts (my initial one, and yours now) interact:

            You say we need to incentivize certain people (like coaches) to behave in a certain way (like leaving debating to debaters). I think implicating the ballot could be a viable way to incentivize those certain behaviors (because it affects the winning and money that they care about).

            A lot of your post is about why circuit debate isn’t worth it. I grant that circuit debate isn’t always worth it, although I’d like to think that at least some is. I think that in the cases where a person has chosen to value circuit debate (instead of interning somewhere, as you suggested) we should do what’s within our power to allow them an equitable shot at their goals. I think implicating the ballot might be a means of doing that.

  • Reading ad hom theory against debaters who are coached by proponents of mandatory disclosure, LD leaks etc., is a goddamn terrible idea. I think that LD Leaks is probably bad for debate, and I think that mandatory disclosure is also probably bad for debate. I used to debate for a small school back in the day, and since then I’ve coached several small school debaters. I know which side of the “Big school/Small school” us/them dichotomy I am on. But, if real change is to be affected in this activity, then the first step is to refrain from being bigger jerks than the people who are out there shoving disclosure down everyone’s throats. It is understandable to be outraged at the state of national circuit LD, but if we are going to change things, then we need to channel our outrage in a more constructive fashion. There may be some cathartic release in reading (and possibly winning rounds on) ad hom theory against Greenhill debaters (and let’s not sugar coat things–you’re obviously talking about Greenhill, here), but I think that debaters who feel that the power structures of debate are working against them should attempt to take the moral high ground. On almost all things debate-related, I really don’t see eye-to-eye with most of the proponents of mandatory disclosure, but I would never encourage my students to read ad hom theory against the students that they coach, nor would I ever deliberately vote against those students. What a dick move! I really like to think that even if my kids don’t have the most resources, the most prep, the most rep, or the best coaching, that they at least debate with some integrity. If you’re sick of politics having such a vile influence over debate, then stop playing politics with the ballot. Proponents of disclosure theory believe that debaters should be penalized for things that they do out of round. Why would we want to sink to their level?

    Look, I am pissed off about the lack of financial regulation in this country, and the fact that the wealthiest Americans don’t pay enough taxes. I am similarly pissed off about the fact that debates are often won by debaters with the most money and resources, who often use their coaching resources and political connections to force their norms about debate down people’s throats. But, to be realistic, those two problems are not going to be solved by pitching a tent in a park, and reading ad hom theory against Greenhill, respectively.

    • “Reading ad hom theory against debaters who are coached by proponents of mandatory disclosure, LD leaks etc., is a goddamn terrible idea.” 


    • Quinn Olivarez

      Like I said in an earlier reply, my views are not an attack of Greenhill – the controversy of this year just happens to be tied to one of their coaches. 

      Your argument is that more constructive means are necessary, but what are those means? All talk no solutions, I’m just throwing ideas out there. I would never tell my kids to run ad hom theory, but I wouldn’t tell them not to, either; debate is their activity, not mine, and aside from stuff that’s racist / misogynistic / anti-semitic, they can do what they please. They’ll figure out what works.

      Also, one of the potential benefits of floating ad hom theory as a possible strategy (or disclosure theory RVIs), and having those args appeal to something besides fairness / education, could create a cold war of sorts where debaters stop doing whatever practice they see as unfit in order to not deal with these kind of arguments. Sinking to their level evens the playing field.

      • “Your argument is that more constructive means are necessary, but what are those means?”

        Your two arguments that you are not talking about Greenhill and that I should propose some alternate solution are both red herrings. 

        You may not be talking about Greenhill directly, but you are still talking about Greenhill. If you think it is a good idea for people to read ad hom theory against proponents of LD Leaks and mandatory disclosure, then you are advocating that those arguments be read against Greenhill. 

        And, even if you aren’t talking about Greenhill, then who are you talking about? I remember that Ryan Lawrence expressed some mild support for LD Leaks a while back. Does that give everyone the green light to read ad hom theory against anyone of the literally hundreds of Lynbrook debaters? 

        Your argument that I don’t provide an alternate solution to getting rid of these arguments is also misleading. I don’t understand why “refrain from making inflammatory and stupid responses to disclosure theory” is not an alternate solution. I can’t speak for other coaches and students out there, but the means that my students will (ostensibly) use is to make good responses to them. There are lots of arguments that my students and I don’t like. Usually, we beat our brains for a while and work out some good responses to them. If you don’t like the argument and want it to go away, then beat the argument. You don’t need to do that by reading ad hom theory against the people who are reading it. That just makes you a bigger tool than they are.

        • Quinn Olivarez

          but i don’t think they’re tools – they’re doing something about what they perceive as a problem. 

  • My thoughts on this are not criticisms of your attempt to find a way to incite change but rather I think there are a few problems that need to at least be acknowledged.

    I think the issue with the theory idea is more than just whether or not we hold debaters or coaches culpable/whether it’s fair (which is certainly an issue in and of itself that you’ve acknowledged). I think the problem is with how we expect such an argument to function in round, aside from calling for the ballot. You said it would have to be structured a certain way (not in terms of fairness, etc.). Does that mean this is just an argument debaters can run to win against those schools? How is the judge supposed to be invested in this? Do they exert their own views, or are they supposed to leave it up to technical determinations on the flow which will moot any real change it will have in terms of the round and debate? I also just think many judges will be extremely wary of these arguments, fearing repercussions in the community and from their coaches.

    Also, I do think it’s an issue to hold students culpable for what their coaches do. Maybe it might make sense to run it against a debater that actively posts on LDLeakes, but to run it against a Greenhill kid (let’s say a novice just for example’s sake) because Nebel independently runs the site is absurd. Sure it may sound somewhat ok if you have objections to the site, but what allows you to ground those. Hypotheical: If someone did that to a kid I was coaching next year and said they should loss since LimitlessDebate.org is bad for whatever reason, I wouldn’t be too happy. Not because I think it’s a hard defense or whatever, but my kid hired my to make them a better debater, not to assume responsibility for what I do.

    Independently, I think it’s a good idea (idk if this has been suggested before) to go for an RVI on disclosure theory: If you win disclosure is bad, the way the enforce it, or at least attempting to enforce it in round is bad, then they should lose. Checks it back as a no risk issue and is pretty consistent with the arguments about argumentative agency.

    The Boycotts idea was brought up before after the first time Greenhill implemented mandatory disclosure (unfortunately that discussion is locked up in LDDebate.org at the moment, so I can’t attest to what ideas were actually floated). It isn’t a new idea, and the reason I think nobody really acted on it is because it is only effective if large numbers of people (and even better, prominent debaters and coaches) participate in such an effort. I think the issue is more than just the individual hesitation to not go to a tournament which you accurately describe, but the fear that debaters will be singled out/their movement will fail in numbers. I’m more curious as to how you think such a boycott could be motivated and organized (an online petition? Do we expect people to commit to it?) so that the people who decided to boycott the tournament would not simply be ignored and their filled in by people on the waiting list (and subsequently their views might be absent from de facto discussions at tournaments). I don’t think it’s a bad idea altogether, but it does have some inherent limitations (ie, if my team is going, do I make the individual decision to not go? will coaches feel ok forcing debaters to not go or should they just leave it up to them? what if that makes the trip not affordable? I think these are the small things that add up to make people think it’s not worth it.) And as a side note, some kind of prominent online explanation would be needed by debaters/coaches who expect to not attend (such as posting on LimitlessDebate, NSDUpdate, and their Facebooks, or maybe whatever boycott site is created) to raise awareness about the action they took.

    *edited for formatting

    • Just another note: I think the structural problems of boycotting I talked about would be exacerbated for small programs, which might be the ones with the strongest reason to protest.

    • Another thought: what if LDLeaks went down and someone just started it anonymously. Who are you to hold accountable now? I think that’s highly unlikely but it highlights a problem with victimizing people who attach their names to something (which is what people have complained about an why they wish to post anonymously.

    • Anonymous

      I’m with Amyn so far as debaters can’t simply run this theory on kids by nature of their being from a school with a coach who has engaged in harmful activities. Talk about “means to an end”. I also think that’s prone to start a blood feud which would never truly die down. That would probably just further the big/small school gap, given their broad ideological differences.

      But I think that theory against practices your opponents have THEMSELVES engaged can be just as legitimate as any other shell. After all, the point of theory (at least, under competing interps and “reject the debater”) is to deter unfair practices and change the community. My problem conceptually (and this is one that I have on all theory) is how would the interpretation be phrased? “Debaters who have posted on LDLeaks/have run disclosure theory should lose”? How do you verify the violation?

      The next issue is how you win on the (traditionally) extremely technical nature of theory. Such a movement would backfire if you lost every round when running the shell, since now it’s an INCENTIVE to engage in what you thought was a harmful activity. This is an instance where the better theory debater being more likely to win defeats the project.

      Perhaps the solution is with judges: What if all judges who criticized the harmful activity explicit said in their paradigm that they will vote ON FACE for anti-disclosure/anti-LDLeaks theory? That alleviates the technical aspect. “But that’s not fair; give me a chance!” MJP’s provide the opportunity for schools who engage in the activity to strike judges who are speaking out against the practice. “We don’t have enough strikes!” Perhaps this is the point! It is now an incentive for coaches who engage in harmful activities (and debaters as well) to stop doing it, since a) they’re wasting strikes, and b) if enough people are speaking out against it that it outnumbers the amount of strikes available, they’re losing rounds. And for that many people to be behind one purpose, the cause may be well-founded.

      Moreover, I don’t think the judge should just vote on face against anyone who they think is doing the activity; that’s why I think it should be that they will vote for anyone who RUNS theory against their opponent for doing it – this gives the opponent a reasonable chance to defend themselves from the accusation (by making “I Meet”s), but isn’t as fallible to the line-by-line problem since it’s usually relatively clear-cut if they’ve done it or not.

      This may not be the case in the instance Amyn’s worry comes true (mass anonymity). Couple of things:

      1. Judge can make a gut-call at that point.
      2. I think with enough digging, you could find out the truth about a fair number of posters.
      3. This could mean that the originator has an even larger incentive to quit, since people who unjustly lose are now pissed that this problem exists in the first place. They may confront those who they believe are posting to get them to stop, and may spread the message to ALL people that the activity is causing a backfire. My apprehension here is that it’s still unfair to those people who lose.

      Obviously, judges would have to find a way to band together in putting this in their paradigm – otherwise you’re just “that guy” and it could backfire. But with enough pull, I think it could work.

      I haven’t thought a ton on this idea; it’s still just… an idea.

      • Does anyone else think it’s a very bad idea for judges to agree in advance to vote for an argument even if it is defeated in the debate?

        • Anonymous

          Yes. Absolutely.

      • Thank you for reminding me to add the “ad hom theory/you should lose for posting on LDLeaks/anti-disclosure theory” arguments to my list of “arguments I unconditionally will not listen to” in my paradigm. Much appreciated. 

  • Rebar Niemi