Should Octas-Bids Be Held to a Higher Standard?: Barkley Forum and the Decision to Lag Pair

There has been much discussion about standards for octas-bids in the community lately. Daniel Imas complained that VBT had very poor judging and trophies given its $100 entry fees and $300 hired judge fees. Daniel Moerner chipped in that the tournament’s lack of food for judges was something that should not happen at an octas-bid, and that lagged behind the hospitality at tournaments like Greenhill and Bronx. Now, the discussion of standards for octas-bids has come to the Barkley Forum at Emory.

Below is a prominent coach’s take on the tournament’s decision to “lag pair,” an unusual decision at tournaments that some presume to be standards-bearers for the community. Should having an octas-bid entail a certain responsibility to the community? If so, what responsibilities do those tournaments need to follow through on? Should be there an enforcement mechanism for these responsibilities? How can people hold these tournaments accountable and make sure that they serve the community well?

Here is the prominent coach’s take on the decision:
The Emory Barkley Forum for High School Students has decided to lag power round four off of rounds one and two.

For those unfamiliar with lag powering, a brief explanation:

Normally, a tournament will randomly pair the first two debates (pre-sets). Starting in round 3, tournaments typically “power” each debate by putting debaters against other debaters with the same record. So, in round 3, 2-0 debaters hit other 2-0 debaters, 1-1’s hit 1-1’s, etc. Each debate is paired only after the preceeding debate has been tabulated. So in round 4, every effort is made to ensure that 3-0’s hit other 3-0’s, 2-1’s hit 2-1’s, etc.

When a tournament lag powers, they base the pairings of multiple rounds off just the pre-sets. This year, rather than waiting to pair round 4 after all round 3 ballots are tabulated, Emory is lag-powering round 4 off of rounds 1 and 2.


This is a big deal because lag-powering skews the powering system. A debater who wins their first two rounds and then loses round three should generally hit a 2-0 debater in round 3 and a 2-1 debater in round 4, barring pull-ups. But with lag-powering, a 2-0 pre-set debater is going to hit someone who won their presets in both rounds 3 and 4. Given the possibility of pull-ups, then, it is highly likely in a lag-powering system that round 4 will feature far more single-bracket pull-ups than is usual, and potentially some double-bracket pull-ups (ie, a 1-2 hitting a 3-0) — something which almost never happens before round 5 or 6.


Tournaments typically lag power if they are pressed for time, or if they aren’t confident that they can get the ballots tabbed and the round paired in a timely manner. TOC-bidded tournaments, particularly octos-bidded tournaments, rarely lag power because they strive to maximize the protective validity of the powering system.

Emory did not announce their intention to lag power round 4 prior to the beginning of the tournament.

– David McGinnis