The Future of the NDCA Tournament: A Letter from Chris Palmer


Dear debate coaches,

I have two announcements.  The first is the new leadership of the LD side of
the NDCA championship tournament; the second is a discussion about the LD topic
at said tournament.

1. LD tournament direction

The NDCA decided to appoint an LD tournament director, dividing the job of
running the NDCA championships.  Tim Mahoney did an excellent job of working
to understand and meet the needs of the LD side of the tournament, but as he
is the first to admit, he isn’t part of the LD community and thus can’t
anticipate needs and concerns; he can only react to feedback he is given.  So
that made his job harder.

Thus the NDCA decided to appoint yours truly to be the new LD tournament
director.  I’m usually inclined to be suitably modest and decorous on my own
behalf, but I think it probably would be unseemly for a new tournament
director to open with reasons why he’s a bad choice…

The fact is, I do bring quite a bit of tab and tournament experience to the
table; I’ve run dozens of tournaments and nearly everyone goes home happy from
them.  I hope I can bring that experience to bear and build on Tim’s work to
make the NDCA tournament into the top-flight culminating national debate event
in LD that it deserves to be.

2. Topic

As you know, the recent announcement of the January/February topic for LD has
generated some concern among educators.  The topic is:

Resolved: It is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a
deliberate response to repeated domestic violence.

A fair number of coaches, myself included, have deep concerns about the
suitability of this subject matter for minors in a competitive debate setting.
Many students and coaches are likely to have personal stories and experience
with domestic violence, and may not be able to fairly engage in switch-side
debate on this particular topic.  Domestic violence rates are high enough that
there is little chance large numbers of debaters aren’t affected by it; and
its unique emotional nature, according to experts on the matter, means that
victims should be able to choose when, and whether, they present their story.

Forcing those stories out for the sake of a debate round, therefore, can be
dangerous indeed, both for the students who may be affected by it, by judges
who are victims themselves, or coaches who are mandatory reporters of abuse
faced with deciding whether a too-real narrative aff constitutes reasonable

I would attempt to express the other side of the issue but I honestly cannot
do so effectively; however, I can refer you to the extensive discussion
happening on various LD-centric websites, such as and

The NDCA has traditionally used the Jan/Feb topic despite being in April; for
various reasons the LD community views the Jan/Feb topic as the “national
circuit” topic.  However, dislike of this topic (by my subjective opinion,
anyway) seems largely rooted in the national circuit.

Right now I’m soliciting the LD community’s feedback about what action, if
any, the NDCA should take.   The NDCA could elect to stay with the promised
tradition and debate this topic.  It could also reasonably and defensibly
elect to use the upcoming March/April topic, which will be announced on
February 1st.  Or it could go an as yet unnamed third route.

I myself have been rather vocal on this topic and I realize in advance that I
may not be seen as a fair moderator of this discussion.  I’m happy to recieve
myself any feedback people have, but the point person on this discussion is
Greg Achten (, who is on the Board himself and can
address concerns directly to them.

Thank you,

Chris Palmer