Debate’s National Championships: Where do we go from here?

There is ongoing discussion of protests at TOC 2014 on this thread here, but for now, let’s separate the incident from the broader question of what to do going forward. How can LD’s national championship system be improved? Should the TOC be reformed from within (and how)? Should it be replaced by an alternative (and run by whom)? What makes for a good national championship, and what elements should be changed from current ones?

Please do not get overtly political on this thread; it is separate from the flamewar, and the point is to foster a productive conversation. The best time to discuss these issues is now, while people are still interested, but we can only make that happen if the conversation remains civil.

– Steven

  • Jasper Primack

    Something struck me earlier today: the TOC is still the best tournament for a qualification national tournament, but the bid system and entry caps need changing.

    Assuming the TOC can work out rules changes/clarifications to avoid things like the student protest, the primary issue with the TOC is a lack of geographic representation, which pretty much everyone agrees upon. The problem here is that the bid system works like a zero-sum game: because the TOC has entry limits, only a certain number of bids are available at once; bids are concentrated across centralized and established tournaments that have been running for some time, and when one such tournament loses a bid level, another gains one.

    Rather than replacing the bid system with ELO, the best solution would probably be to aggressively seed the Western US and some portions of the Midwest and South with quarter/octo bid tournaments without removing bids from other regions. Two problems.

    1) Entry limits – the TOC presumably does this to prevent all the space at the tournament from being taken up. I’ve never been to the TOC, so I really don’t know if the TOC can get more rooms and space, but I think it’s possible.

    2) Actual implementation of tournaments – setting up a large tournament and having it draw a large geographic crowd is probably incredibly hard, but I’d guess that it could be done with the support of experienced coaches who’ve worked large tournaments in the past.

    • mcgin029

      Running a large tournament is an incredibly heavy lift. It requires months of planning and an almost complete dedication in the month or so leading up to the event. It requires huge pools of volunteers and a core of experienced, competent directors. It requires a relationship between the directors and the administrative level in a school district to manage things like custodial, facilities management, insurance, & etc.

      One of the reasons that TOC bids are not perfectly distributed is that not every event can (or wants to) run an event that meets the loose standards that the TOC sets. A school or district that wants to host a tournament first has to decide to dedicate the time and resources necessary to a successful event. No one can come in from outside and decide that a tournament will occur at a given place.

      Finally, TOC entry limits aren’t in place because of room limits. The TOC is designed to be an exclusive, elite national championship. Merit based exclusivity is kind of the point of competition.

  • Harvey Birdman, Esq.

    Traditional LD/PF coach here. I wanted to float something and see what you circuit debaters thought. What if traditional and progressive LD were formally separated into two events at NFL/NSDA and elsewhere? Let’s just assume for the moment this is something NSDA (and/or major circuit tournaments) would actually do. This would potentially allow debaters of both schools to have meaningful national championships at NFL, as well as allowing traditional debaters a chance at prestigious tournaments like Harvard. Again, assume feasibility. Would you be interested in that approach to a national championship?

    • Anon

      You judge more traditional circuits, so you might not know that there is a big variety of national circuit styles, just as there is no clear definition of what is a lay tournament. Take speed for example. I asssume a “progressive” ruleset would be the one where its permitted, but how do you define it? At what point am I no longer just speaking quick and instead am breaking the rules? In addition, this means that, as a judge, I need to arbitrary ignore certain arguments if I have to judge the traditional ruleset. In the end, the only difference between national circuit debate and more traditional debate is that traditional is supposed to appeal to wider audience.

      Lets say that there is two rulesets and I owe my former coach a favor so I agree to judge NFL quals. I am likely going to put in both pools. In a progressive pool, I just judge how I normally judge. However, when put into the traditional pool, there is no possible way I can be objective because, while I want to be tabula rasa, I need to avoid breaking the rules and accidentally extending theory or prestandards or whatever the traditional ruleset would ban. Banning arguments is never good because the judge has to make the call as to whether the argument broke the rules.

      I don’t think this really has anything to do with hte topic at hand but debaters need to just learn to adapt and not think they are entitled to the style of debating that they want, on both ends of the spectrum.

      The issue isn’t the point system or judging style or whatever, the problem is that the TOC sucks and nobody knows the rules.

      • Harvey Birdman, Esq.

        To clarify, I judge circuit debate 3-4 times per year. That’s why I sometimes read this site. So I am aware of the variety, but I think there is a clear line. Certainly, line-drawing poses a challenge, but that’s inherent to any competitive activity. What is “too funny” to be a DI and therefore should be entered in HI? I don’t know exactly, but we manage to make it work.
        In your case, I would recommend telling your former coach that you’ve become so immersed in circuit style that you would prefer not being placed in the traditional pool. Just like you might tell him not to put you in the PF pool. You do raise a valid point, however–namely, that tournament administrators would have to work on ensuring that judges were not inadvertently placed in a pool where they were not comfortable.
        To your larger point, I submit there is no such thing as true tabula rasa judging. I had written a lengthy screed on why this is so, and about how the illusion of tab judging on the circuit is really just a pretext for excluding outsiders who lack the money to learn the language and culture. But I realize that’s not going to get me anywhere on this site, so hopefully we can just agree that circuit judges bring their preferences and knowledge to the table in every round. For example, they ascribe meaning to letters like “RVI” without requiring a lengthy explanation and justification. If they did not bring these idiosyncratic preferences, why would we need thousands of written paradigms on judge wiki websites? In short, all forms of debate “ban” arguments simply by virtue of the fact that all judges–in every round– are willing to infer some unspoken points and not others. And the more esoteric and arcane the preferences, the less reasonable it is to demand that people simply “adapt.” Certainly, the circuit’s fondness for mutual preference judging seems to indicate that it is not all that interested in adaptation.
        Anyway, I realize this has strayed from the question of what to do about the TOC, but it raises another useful question: other than sheer self-interest on both sides–or the fear that you might accidentally be put in the wrong pool–why not carry the idea behind mutual pref to its logical conclusion and let traditional and circuit debaters be free from what they dislike about each other’s practices? Why not formally recognize the practical reality that they are two separate events?

        • Jonathan Horowitz

          You should read Jim Menick’s arguments about MJP and why it’s a good thing for traditional as well as circuit debaters.


          To summarize: They say that mutual means mutual. If you want a traditional judge in the back than MJP will get you that judge, if you want a circuit judge in the back, MJP will get you that judge. If you get a “clash of cultures” then some weird middle ground judge will judge that debate. This is better than any alternatives.

          • Harvey Birdman, Esq.

            Good suggestion. I actually read it several months ago. Two problems. First, it doesn’t work in practice. My traditional debaters already have to go 5-1 to break at large tournaments, so even one round of circuit judging is a virtual guarantee that won’t happen. As a matter of empirical reality, it’s more likely that they see 3 judges who may call themselves moderate, but end up being just fine with a prioris, speed, etc.
            Second, and the reason for the preceding empirical point, is what economists call a collective action problem. You only get enough traditional judges if traditional teams attend and bring their judges. Traditional teams don’t attend because circuit programs have done their best to put up barriers to entry, or at least that’s the strong perception. If I could get 50 traditional teams to agree that we’ll all attend Harvard and bring a full slate of judges, then MJP might offer some hope. But that’s where the “problem” in “collective action” comes in. It’s practically impossible to do that.
            In short, as Menick suggests, if you’re a traditional team going to a circuit tournament then by all means submit your prefs. It’s your least bad option and you’d be stupid not to do it. But to argue that it provides real balance is sort of like saying, “Hey liberals, I know you don’t like Republican politics, but if you would just start attending Republican state conventions, you could elect more liberal officials and then you’d like the Republican Party better.”
            My suggestion is that it’s just better to just acknowledge that there are two parties with fundamental differences. When you’re spending thousands to attend these tournaments, predictability is your friend.

          • Charles Schletzbaum

            I think more of the tournaments should actually follow the real MJP like the article, but MOST Bid tournament directors I know immediately break MJP and will default to 1-2 pref before EVER going to 3-3, which completely sabotages the system. Until the prominent tab people at these tournaments agree that 4-4 round is more fair than a 1-3 round, any reconciliation is doomed. I am up front with my prefs, and everyone knows I backlash on plans and spread, but many good circuit debaters have already successfully adapted to my style, for example, one of the best rounds I have ever seen was Salim v Ariel at Berkeley. Both adapted to my traditional style with much reservation at first, but I have never been in a round where I REALLY wanted to pick up both debaters as much as that round. Summary: Tab directors please start using REAL MJP (1:1, 2:2, 3:3, 4:4 then 1:2) instead of 1:1, 2:2, 1:2, etc, which exacerbates the schism in the LD community

          • Alex Kramer

            The main issue with “real MJP” in the sense of assigning a 4:4 judge before a 1:2 judge is that MJP isn’t actually mutual. The most mutual algorithm would require each debater to order each judge in the pool (from 1 to n, where n is the number of non-struck / non-conflicted judges) and then minimize rankings and minimize deviations in rankings for a given judge assignment. MJP attempts to approximate this system by imposing categories of rankings that are assumed to both meaningfully group and differentiate judges. That is, the difference between any judge ranked 1 and any judge ranked 2 is significantly greater than the difference between any two judges ranked 1 or any two judges ranked 2 (and so on, for each ranking category). If this assumption holds, then the minimal deviation between preferences is obtained only in the case where assignments are from the same category. That’s the basic argument for assigning a 4:4 before a 1:2; a 1:2 judge assignment would be significantly skewed if ranking categories are significantly meaningful.

            The problem is that this assumption doesn’t generally hold in actual tournaments. First, adjacent ranking categories aren’t often meaningfully differentiated and some adjacent ranking categories tend to be much more meaningfully differentiated than others. For instance, for most debaters at most tournaments, I think the difference between a 1 judge and a 2 judge is much smaller than the difference between a 2 judge and a 3 judge, which is itself much smaller than the difference between a 3 judge and a 4 judge. Second, ranking categories don’t often meaningfully group judges. While the difference between any two 1 judges tends to be very small, and the difference between any two 2 judges still tends to remain fairly limited, the difference especially between any two 3 judges at most tournaments (at least in my personal experience) can be huge. This is the reason why most debaters have a really easy time finding judges to rank a 1, a relatively easy time finding judges to rank a 2, and a much harder time finding judges to rank a 3.

            At the point where the MJP category system doesn’t actually meaningfully group and differentiate judges, striving for perfect mutuality and assigning a 4-4 judge before a 1-2 judge usually leads to worse judges making more arbitrary decisions, which runs counter to the whole point of MJP. Assigning a 1-2 judge is, as a general rule, a much, much better option than assigning a 4-4 judge. As a general rule, I also think assigning a 1-2 judge still remains a better option than assigning a 3-3 judge, although this is less clear-cut. For what it’s worth, I do agree that a 4-4 judge is usually much more fair than a 1-3 judge, since while existing ranking categories may not meaningfully group or differentiate judges in comparison to adjacent categories, they are good at differentiating between non-adjacent categories. In pretty much any actual judging pool, there’s almost certainly a significant difference between a 1 and a 3 judge that’s larger than the difference between any two 4 judges. Of course, for instance, it could be the case that you have a judge pool with enough similar good judges to fill the 1 through 3 categories and then the rest of the pool is all equally terrible, but I think that situation is pretty unlikely to occur.

          • Charles Schletzbaum

            The problem is, incompetent lay judges brought by certain schools have nearly the same ranking in most pref lists turned in as traditional judges with decades of experience. Again it leads to further separation of the two major styles of LD. Maybe we should train our kids to MJP a different way that recognizes credible experience in different styles contrasting with inexperienced/incompetent judges.

          • Alex Kramer

            But MJP allows for many different really problematic judge assignments. For instance, it could be the case that debaters decide to arbitrarily pref judges who belong to minority groups (in terms of race, class, sexuality, etc.) significantly lower than non-minority judges, so that judges who belong to minority groups tend not to be both highly and mutually preferred, and hence don’t judge many rounds. Or, as you point out, it may often be the case that judges with a lot of experience but preferences deviating from circuit norms don’t get preffed highly, so they don’t judge many rounds as a result. Are all of those results problematic? Yes, but MJP is an exclusive system based on subjective preferences, and trying to assign both highly preferred and mutually preferred judges means judge assignments may end up reinforcing potentially problematic norms.

            One solution to this is to require enforcing judging variety. Using current ranking categories, assigning 4-4 judges before 1-2 judges would probably accomplish this. My issue was with claiming this assignment scheme preserves mutuality, since the most common distributions of ranking categories that we use don’t really seem to meaningfully represent the actual subjective preferences of debaters. Really, to do MJP correctly, we’d need to know not only how debaters subjectively group judges into any number of categories, but also how debaters subjectively differentiate betwen those categories, and how to meaningfully compare between two different completely subjective rankings and categorizations of judges by different debaters. I doubt this type of perfect MJP is really feasible, but even if it were, it still wouldn’t solve the issue that MJP can wrongly exclude certain classes of judges when popular preferences deviate from moral preferences. That result is just built into the assumptions of MJP. Maybe it just means that any sort of MJP scheme is ultimately the wrong way to assign judges. I’m not really sure at this point, but it’s definitely a discussion worth having.

  • Salim Damerdji

    It’s easy to get lost in the minutia over bids vs elo vs ndca points, but this prolly misses the point. We’ve had a protest and flamewar because, structurally, the TOC is not accountable or transparent. Arguing about how to determine entries isn’t nearly as pressing or permanent as the original concern over how to decentralize political power in debate.

    We can ask NDCA whether they’re willing to restructure their whole organization to be completely transparent and accountable. But if they’re unwilling, who cares if they had a cool points system.

    Regarding the elo/bids/ndca points debate, we could use a bid system, but determine at-larges mostly by ELO ratings. (It seems modeling these ratings after college parli captures the advantages of NDCA points by ranking tournament quality.) Plus, at-large announcements wouldn’t be marred with conspiracies over politics. Also, ELO ratings generally help people unable to compete as frequently.

    • ipgunn

      I think part of the reason why the qualification process was brought up is because, when considering whether to reform TOC or to move to an alternative national championship, these are more difficult structural issues to solve.

      The problem that created the flamewar to begin with is actually very easy to solve – this is precisely the point. It was so easy to solve that many people in the activity are baffled why tab room didn’t solve it, and outraged that such an easy and logical solution wasn’t implemented. This is not primarily about whether some people have too much power or influence, though that may be true. It is about the inconsistent application of unpromulgated rules. Had tab received the complaint, determined that no TOC rule was violated, determined that community norms indicate the judge is responsible for evaluating in-round evidence abuse, and decided that it would therefore not overturn the round, no protest would have occurred. Alternatively, if TOC rules known to all competitors prior to the tournament were in place forbidding the evidence practice in question and awarding a loss to the debater who violated the rule, and tab received the complaint, determined the practice violated the rule, and decided exactly the same as it did here, no protest would have occurred.

      Going forward, the TOC could simply promulgate a rules document addressing various in-round issues it wants to regulate. That rules document could also state that any in-round rules violations regarding evidence not covered by enumerated rules will be adjudicated by the judge. Any protests filed with tab will be evaluated by tab to see if they violate any enforceable TOC rules. If not, the judge’s decision stands. In the event tab determines a judge’s ruling should be overturned, the debater should be granted an appeal process to an odd number of people more than one in which the debater and/or coach can appeal a tab decision, with the ability to rely on the judge’s testimony about why he decided the round appropriately. You could even include more specific language specifying who would hear the appeal (e.g. tab staff, independent members of the community, a panel of three with 1 person selected by each debater and 1 person selected by tab, etc.) A stipulation could also be helpful that tab will not rely on any rules not announced to be in force by the TOC prior to the tournament.

      In any case, that is not so difficult to solve. It merely takes presenting workable proposal and having the advisory committee approve it. Questions such as how to allocate a finite number of bids fairly, while also rewarding quality tournaments and not compromising the quality of competitors are much less clear cut and present fewer obvious palatable solutions.

      • Rebar Niemi

        There needs to be def some discussion as to the content of that document (and it also needs to contain a few more rules).

        Overall though I totally agree – printed rules.

    • Rebar Niemi

      I applaud Salim for not only tying this discussion to the previous discussion in a evenhanded way, but also suggesting an intriguing hybrid model with ELO at large. This still requires the work for an ELO system, but could be used even for preseeding purposes or round robin invites (a very intriguing modification allowing RR directors to know with better accuracy the best debaters regardless of circuit visibility). And if the bid system has merit (I kinda lean yes right now but am open to persuasion) then it preserves that.

  • PlazaMexico

    I am just worried that other tournaments don’t offer the same opportunity that the TOC does through the Auto-Qual…

  • Rebar Niemi

    Personally my preference is a reformed and improved TOC. This would allow us to hold onto the history (not to mention a great name) while still having a National Circuit championship. The bid system can be modified, but I think all point based systems have a crucial flaw that actually makes them comparatively less inclusive especially over time at the hs level:

    The TOC has a determinate standard for entry. If you adopt a points system in such an unequal resource environment, you seem to get one of two outcomes.

    Either it rewards continually competing because you have no guarantee your point position will stay the same relative to all applicants. So that directly privileges teams that can travel more. Sure you could say that only your best tourneys count but people with more resources can buy opportunities to better their top five or whatever, while people without can’t.

    Or, you set a point threshold low enough that the relative advantage of more tournaments doesn’t matter buy that means you can’t limit the pool and then you betray the notion that this is a National Championship for the best pool.

    I think JW Patterson’s dream of a tourney where every competitor is good enough to break in theory is a powerful one.

    Also, the tourney rankings for point systems are totally parasitical on the existing TOC bid system because bids drive size and diversity of competition. This isn’t to say NDCA is fundamentally flawed, but instead that the transition requires fundamental alteration of the debate landscape.

    • Jonathan Horowitz

      I’m going to respond to both your (Rebar’s) and Emily’s questions here.

      I agree that we should keep the TOC, if possible. I really like KY (actually) and I do really like the history that the LD community has established there. If you look at my post closely, after the initial mention of the NDCA I do not mention either the TOC or NDCA, except when talking about AL, merely the point or bid system. The TOC could adopt a point system and solve all the issues. There is no reason, other than institutional inertia, that it couldn’t.

      So, both you and Emily make the same argument, essentially, against the point system which is that qualifying becomes significantly less clear. A point system could make it just as clear. First, we could have a threshold for how many points are necessary. This would still create the same amount of excitement and avoid the going to every tournament ever problem. If it takes, for example, 1200 points to qualify and somebody is at 900 that will be just as interesting for an onlooker as somebody who has 1 bid and needs to get 2. Moreover, in terms of excitement I think it’s inevitable. Large national tournaments will create the same amount of excitement if they are considered the best regardless of how people qualify. People get just as excited over NDT despite having neither a bid, in the TOC sense, or point system for qualification.

      Rebar, however, you go further in saying that the point system creates a double bind either a. it rewards people who spend every weekend debating/have the money to do so or b. it creates a too low a threshold for qualifiers.

      A. is already solved by the point above. Put a guaranteed point threshold in place and if you reach it, you will qualify. B. is more tricky. I agree with you in that everybody should hypothetically be able to break at this tournament. I am sure that we can find a point threshold that is both challenging and reachable (i.e. the point version of two bids). We (as a community) can definitely experiment on different point totals of qualification etc. that create the amount we are looking for.

      I also don’t think a point system will solve all the institutional problems, I do however think it will mitigate them. If important regional tournaments count then those who can only go to those tournaments will have the opportunity to compete in a national championship. Right now that is denied to them, unless they are in certain lucky regions such as Minnesota or Northern California. Unless we get rid of capitalism, we cannot get rid of the wealth disparities in debate but we can mitigate them and I think the point system does a better job of that than the bid system.

      Finally, I agree that right now the point system is parasitical on the bid system. But, it doesn’t matter at all. If the bid system and TOC were to collapse tomorrow I don’t think the national circuit would go away, it would change but the big tournaments would stay the same. People would still go to Harvard, Bronx, Glenbrooks, etc. That was the argument I made in my initial post. People go to large national tournaments not just for bids but also for competition. I know that the competition at Harvard will be better than the one at the local tournament that weekend, therefore my debaters will learn more from Harvard. With or without bids that instinct is not going away and so the point system will be fine with or without a bid system simultaneously in place.

  • alex smith

    Someone has to figure out a way to do Elo rankings * for debate. As far as I can tell, the main difficulty is a technical one (creating a centralized system that could aggregate all the data – and it’s an enormous amount of data – and updating it quickly enough to be useful), but I can’t think of a principled reason not to switch over to some sort of head-to-head ranking system.


    • Evan O’Donnell

      Are you saying that an Elo-like system should be used to qualify for the national championship? Or just that it should exist?

    • Anon

      An elo system would be difficult to implement in a decentralized activity like debate. The bid system works because its as simple as “these people broke at this tournement and got bids”. It works in chess because results are sent to the chess federation via the organizer. It works in online games because obviously those are already automated.

      Unlike debate, League and Chess have objective winners and objective losers. In those games, its as simple as “you lost against guy x with y elo, lets run it through the algorthm.” Now in debate, if a top tier national circuit debater decides to go to a local for the hell of it and loses to a first time debater because some mom didn’t like his tie, the elo result is going to huge. To implement an elo system you would either have to accept that a kid that wins every single lay tournement in his area is at the same level as somebody who consistently wins on the national circuit (which is already implemented through NFL points), or you would have to have to have somebody decide which tournaments are “legit” and actually affect your elo. At that point, the elo system would be no better than TOC bids.

      An elo system that takes into account the tournaments we usually consider “legit” would be a cool programming project, but at that point you just start rewarding those who can attend big tournaments as we already do. Personally, I think an elo system COULD work in theory if it took into account tournaments with MJP, but it still would have fairness problems.

      • alex smith

        The issues of what tournaments should be counted under an Elo model is obviously an important one. NPTE/NPDA parliamentary debate has a pretty good answer to this – they maintain a yearlong, point-based ranking system (not Elo, but a ranking system that weights both prelim and elim wins) that requires that tournaments meet certain criteria (number of prelims, number of elims, number of debaters/teams in the field) to qualify for points. You could limit it to tournaments that use some form of preferences or strikes if you wanted. It would be pretty easy to do the same for debate, and to have tournament organizers send in results in the same way that tournament organizers do in NPTE/NPDA or in chess.

        The key point is that those criteria are objective – they don’t depend on the judgment of the TOC committee about what tournaments should be at what bid level. Setting criteria of this nature would have the effect of limiting the number of tournaments that would count, and would probably screen out a lot of small, 1-day tournaments with primarily lay judging, and would include medium-large regional tournaments that don’t have bids (including tournaments like CSU Long Beach, Pennsbury, etc.). You get a lot of the benefits of Elo (in particular, the ability to have dynamic rankings that actually take into account the strength of your draw and to reward you for beating top debaters) without punishing folks for going to their local tournaments.

    • Josh You

      There was a site that did that until about two years ago.

      • Anon

        There were like 15, and they were never consistent or up to date, and the actual math was messed up.

    • Debate1

      Debate Rankings sort of does this, and I would say it is at least adequately accurate.

  • Jonathan Horowitz

    The best part of the NDCA and the reason why it would make a great alternative is precisely because there is no bid system. There is a point system based on a number of factors (I think it’s number of attendees, number of states, record at tournament, a few other things) that a person enters their 5 best results into and that creates the total point score for whether they qualify or not.

    The bid system is biased in a number of ways.

    First, it privileges certain regions over others (Upper midwest, New York City, over the Rockies CO, UT, ID and the South etc.) Since there can only be a limited number of bids that means that kids from the regions with more bids will always be more likely to qualify to TOC. Alabama used to dominate TOC and had a lot of bids, I think Jack Patton was the first debater to qualify since Hamilton Bloom/the Lius in 2011 because AL has lost so many bids. Those AL debaters are probably just as good as they were in the 90s but they don’t have the opportunities and therefore don’t get to go to the TOC.

    Second, it creates a do or die system wherein somebody who is first speaker and loses in doubles did just as well at a tournament as someone who went 0-6. Neither of them got a bid, so in the eyes of a bid system they both did just as well at a tournament. This is absurd for obvious reasons.

    Third, it creates arbitrary distinctions between tournaments with and without bids as well as those with different bid levels. Is Emory really a worse tournament because it is now a quarters bid? Berkeley? More importantly, is a tournament like Pennsbury which has between 80-100 LDers every year really that much worse than Columbia which has a bid? We say yes, but there is no reason why a. that is the case and b. that should be the case.

    The point system solves all these problems. A tournament that is attended by a lot of debaters in any region of the country can be an important tournament. Therefore, the Denver East tournament (random tourney, don’t know if it exists) can be just as important as Glenbrooks if it gets 200 debaters from however many different states. And even if it doesn’t, it can still be an important tourney because it could still give a lot of points for either number of debaters or the amount of regional diversity. That solves for problems one and three. Pennsbury and Columbia are both equally good under this system.

    It solves for the second problem because doing better at tournament, obviously, gains one more points. So getting to doubles gets somebody more points than going 0-6. (I don’t know if the NDCA does anything about speaker awards but I don’t think so).

    Moreover, the point system creates at least one unique advantage, in that it helps small school debaters. A lot of small school debaters can only get to limited amount of bid tournaments every year and it turns into what Andrew called a “do or die” proposition. These debaters are probably dominant on their local circuits and could use those wins as means to advance their cause to qualify under a point system. Furthermore, many of these debaters are only able to get to early outrounds due to their structural disadvantages in terms of resources, prep, coaching etc. (I don’t have to explain how certain debaters are more privileged than others). Those appearances don’t matter under a bid system but they do matter under a point system. Getting to doubles at Harvard is an incredible accomplishment, and not simply a time to say “well you didn’t get a bid.”

    Finally, I know the objection, that it’s easier to have a set schedule and an understanding of what tournaments are considered “good” by some external factor for administrators we can still have that system. Certain tournaments are still going to be considered better than others. Glenbrooks or Greenhill or Bronx Science are still going to be important tournaments with national draws (at least in the near term). Nobody is going to confuse Bronx Science with the NYCFL two weeks later.

    Also, I don’t know how important the pre-determined system of distribution is towards having a national circuit. For example, speech still has a national circuit despite not having any tournament like TOC (namely, a tournament that rewards regular season success and whose qualification is not based only on performance for one or two weekends like NFL or NCFL). And we would still have a season ending “national circuit” championship, it would just be points based, not bid based.

    In conclusion, points not bids.

    • Andrew Wixson

      I completely agree. Also, ironically, the Denver East is the most prestigious tournament in Colorado and has a bid in PF. I think that this system would be better, because it would reward tournaments for their tangible merits rather than the TOC committee drawing arbitrary lines based on traditional prestige and fostering personal relationships with coaches and colleges. A perfect example of the problem with the bid system is that Stanford had a quarters bid this year and had more debaters than anyone was expecting, creating the first year of the 4-2 screw, and broke to full triples.

      • ipgunn

        Not siding with any position on this point, but this is not uncommon. UT Austin frequently has more debaters than quarters bid tournaments and often as many debaters as octas bid tournaments, but still remains a semis bid. And this is not the first year of 4-2’s not breaking at Stanford either.

    • Emily Massey

      One thing that the bid system does well is generate excitement for the TOC, since it’s very clear when people have qualified or are close to qualifying. This would be important especially if we did create an alternative to the TOC (though for right now I favor reforming the TOC if possible, since it’s a great tradition that would be sad to lose). Any ideas for how to get that effect with a point system?

  • Amyn Kassam

    Please just put it anywhere but Kentucky.

    • Dhruv Walia

      ^Agreed. For me to attend TOC I was expected to pay 2000 to cover my and my coaches cost

  • Andrew Wixson

    I know this has nothing to do with the major problems with the TOC expressed in the protests, but while we’re having this discussion, I think a great reform would be to do something to make the national tournament, whatever it may be, more inclusive of smaller debate states, namely Colorado. With the current TOC system, the closest bid opportunity to Denver is Alta and it makes it a pain for high quality debate schools like Kent Denver, George Washington, and Denver East, to name a few, to make a run at the TOC. I personally believe that this is the product of the TOC being overly inclusive and focusing bids on more traditionally dominant areas like Cali and Texas. To have a true national championship, it’s key to involve everyone as the NFL does. As proven with Sam Mathews, Matt Zavislan, and Alex Wissman, the issue is not that Colorado kids can’t debate, it’s that we don’t have the opportunities to use bid tournaments as a forum to try things out – it’s an expensive trip that’s do or die. I know that the education that national circuit debate offers is fantastic and can change lives and I would hope that the TOC board considers expanding to underserved debate areas like Colorado.

    • ipgunn

      I second this point. While I don’t advocate an NFL-style system for a variety of reasons, it has become increasingly more difficult (and more expensive) to earn bids in the South. We should strive to maintain a qualification system that rewards the debaters who succeed against high quality circuit competition at high quality tournaments in front of high quality circuit judges. But we should also try to make sure that the opportunities to qualify in this system are available to students around the country.

      I know this is a concern for many – those from lower-income families, rural schools, non-power schools, or schools in regions of the country where there just aren’t many bids available.

  • Richard Dunn

    I just wanted to share some thoughts to see what people may think.

    First of all, I don’t think anyone would disagree that NFL Nationals provides an adequate championship for the lay circuit. It seems that this discussion should center on championship tournaments for National Circuit LD, given that NFL Nationals works just fine as a championship for local/regional lay debate.

    With that being said, it should be remembered that ultimately, the Tournament of Champions is an invitational debate tournament hosted by the University of Kentucky. While there are TOC advisory committees for the different events, from what I understand, these committees do not actually have any real, concrete authority to make decisions. Rather, they are encouraged to influence and make recommendations about the tournament to the University of Kentucky debate program. The TOC ultimately derives its status as the premier national championship tournament for high school LD based on the attendance of the participants themselves. No one can argue that the level of competition at the TOC has made it the highest level tournament in Lincoln-Douglas debate.

    The NDCA has been mentioned as a possible alternative to the TOC. But why must we have an “alternative?” Why can’t the NDCA and TOC both exist as high-quality national championship tournaments? To a certain extent, I would liken the coexistence of the TOC/NDCA to the two national championships of college policy debate, NDT and CEDA. Of course, the NDCA appears as though it could still be strengthened in the future. If I am correct, however, it is easier to qualify to the NDCA than it is to qualify to the TOC (not entirely sure about that, but that’s just my understanding), which is beneficial in that it opens up a high-quality national circuit championship tournament to a high number of skilled debaters around the country. Both tournaments could serve a unique purpose; the TOC has existed for over 40 years, and has decades of history and prestige behind it. It is difficult to qualify for, and could be an “NDT-like” tournament, where people still aspire to go every year because of its tradition, reputation, and premier competition. The NDCA could be more of a “people’s tournament;” one still would have to qualify of course, but it might be more accessible to more people, and would provide another quality national championship tournament to attend.

    I also believe that no matter what tournament we are talking about, it is important to have a clear, delineated set of rules that is freely and openly available to all parties involved. This won’t be the last time a conflict comes up at the TOC, and one will inevitably arise at the NDCA in future years. There need to be procedures in place for when an incident arises at a national championship tournament.

    This post ended up being really long- but to conclude, I just think that more debate access is better than less debate access. Instead of having an either-or between the TOC or NDCA, why not work to improve the status of NDCA, and have the option for 2 quality national circuit championship tournaments.

    • Evan O’Donnell

      I get what you’re saying but I think that the prestige of one final tournament is a good thing. I think that we like to crown a “winner of debate” every year. Unless the same person wins both tournaments under your system, that becomes ambiguous.

  • Shrey Desai

    as of now, NDCA could be a good alternative considering a lot of great debaters attend. the tournament could adopt a bid-system as the TOC does and also a code of regulations/rules should be established to prevent bypassing like what happened at the TOC

    • TaylorAmey

      Not that I disagree with your suggestion, but do we give the TOC one more chance to establish set rules before the NDCA takes action, or do we try to aim for the NDCA to be the alternative for probably 2016?

      • Jack Ave

        I agree with Taylor. TOC is just a production of the exclusion of debaters and I’m the first to admit that. But at the same time, we shouldn’t jump ship. I think that TOC should be open to changing it’s policies in order to prevent the hierarchical structure we saw this year and years prior. I think the worst thing we can do is pit NDCA and TOC against each other. They should co-exist as long as TOC shows it’s a tournament worth attending for all.