In Defense of Entourage Rules by Katherine Fennell

In Defense of Entourage Rules

It is a significant and obvious problem that at tournaments, many of the most preferred judges are on site to coach students but are not in the judge pool. Many of these coaches are heavily involved in debate, work at camps, and keep up with the ‘meta.’ The absence of these judges from the judge pool harms every student, even the students who benefit from their coaches remaining out of the judge pool. Because of this, I propose that all TOC tournaments adopt an entourage rule, similar to the one implemented by the Tournament of Champions.[1]

Judging is the foundation of debate tournaments, and judge pools filled with high quality judges are a collective good. Every coach wants their student to have a judge in the back of the room who will put thought into the decision, and who is familiar with and up to date on debate practices. We see the work our kids put into debate, and we want them to have the best opportunity to see the results of that work. Because of this, every person in debate has an interest in rectifying the shortage of highly qualified judges at tournaments, and everyone is hurt when coaches attend tournaments without being in the judge pool.

Still, the schools and squads who contribute to this problem have no incentive to take individual action to remedy it. The problem is a collective one, and the collective solution is an entourage rule. The rule would stipulate that all people involved on site at a tournament need to be obligated for a certain number of rounds. It would impose a punishment on schools found in violation of this rule. This punishment could take the form of both a monetary fine and the loss of judge preferences. The loss of judge preferences is a necessary component of the punishment because a monetary fine alone might not be sufficient to deter students (who are likely paying a hefty fee for their coach anyway).

An entourage rule would drastically improve the quality of judging at any tournament that implemented it. Everyone who has filled out a preference sheet knows that this is true. Think of all the times you have strained to meet your preference sheet quotas while knowing that many of your typical “1” and “2” ranked judges will be at the tournament but are not in the judge pool. The increase in the quality of the judge pool will also have a significant impact on elimination round panels. With every coach in the judge pool and taking on the normal obligation for judging elimination rounds, panels in those elimination rounds would be much better. Everyone knows that this is true, as well. Think of all the times you have feared what an early elimination round panel will look like, knowing that judging will be stretched thin. Think also of the times you have seen the quality of judging in later elimination rounds decrease because most judges are no longer obligated and many of the coaches of students still debating are not in the judge pool.

Tournament directors should love the entourage rule. It would instantly improve the quality of judging at their tournament – a major draw for schools and students. It would also ameliorate the judge shortages and mutual preference jams that plague tab rooms, produce a steady stream of coach and student complaints about judge placements, and lead to tournament delays. Moreover, there is little downside: it is unlikely that an entourage rule would discourage any student from attending a tournament – because the rule would dramatically increase the quality of judging, teams would have a large incentive to attend tournaments that implement it.

It is no mystery why well-resourced individuals, schools, and squads opt to bring coaches to tournaments without entering them in the judge pool. Judging is hard work, not always pleasant, and tiring. If a coach has the option to attend a tournament without being in the judge pool, it is no surprise that they would be eager to exercise that option. Moreover, those coaches know that it advantages their students for them to spend all of their time coaching and none of their time judging.

While those motivations are understandable, they do reveal that there are important equity reasons for implementing an entourage rule. I hope schools in favorable positions will embrace those equity considerations as important, even if those considerations do not speak to their immediate self-interest. Entourage rules provide a way for schools with more resources to contribute to the common good of the debate community. The only way debate is able to function is if schools with more resources contribute to the collective. Tournaments exist for the benefit of all those who compete. No one believes that a debater’s opportunity for success should be determined by their financial status, and this is an instance where schools with more resources can contribute to making tournaments better and more educational for everyone involved.

The schools who would be affected by an entourage rule might argue that they already provide good judges, and shouldn’t be forced to provide a disproportionate number of them. But, this is not always true. Without an entourage rule, schools with a lot of resources have a high incentive to enter parents or old alums who are out of debate to the judge pool to keep the argument coaches from needing to judge. Even when it is true, schools with more resources also draw disproportionately on the resources of good judges at any given tournament, since they are disproportionately represented in the top tier of prelim rounds and in all stages of elimination rounds. It makes sense that these schools would have to sacrifice a little more for the benefit of the tournament at large.

Schools with more resources and squads are the ones who can afford to have coaches present who aren’t judging. These schools and squads are able to bring one or multiple coaches whose sole job is to cut prep, write case negs, and prep their students for rounds. Most schools and students cannot afford to travel to a tournament, hire a judge, get hotel rooms, and then also hire additional coaches. As a result, schools with more resources and squads are at a huge advantage. Because these schools and squads are at an advantage in debate anyway (because their students are much more likely to access resources necessary to succeed, like camp, high quality coaching during the year, back files, coaches to cut prep, the ability to attend many tournaments, etc.), entourage rules are one way to mitigate the financial divides at tournaments.

We can all recognize the enormous impact debate can have on the lives of our students. We all have the shared interest in making tournaments good experiences for everyone involved. I hope we can recognize that tournaments are collective goods, and an entourage rule is one way that schools can contribute to that collective good. [2]

Katherine Fennell debated for Stuyvesant High School for four years and qualified to the Tournament of Champions her senior year. She has worked at NSD, NSD Philadelphia, and the Texas Debate Collective since 2017. She coaches students across the country. This year, her students have reached deep elimination rounds at the New York City Invitational, the Voices tournament, the Voices Round Robin, Greenhill, Scarsdale, and the University of Texas Longhorn Invitational, and have received top speaker awards at the New York City Invitational and St. Marks. They have amassed a total of 11 bids to the Tournament of Champions.


[1] The 2019 Tournament of Champions Entourage Rule: “For Public Forum and Lincoln-Douglas anyone attending the tournament that contributes to the competitive debate effort for a school must be entered into the judge pool for a minimum of two rounds. […] Parents (who are not also coaches) and chaperones do not need to be in the pool. Any school found violating this rule will be issued a $500 fine.”

[2] Thank you to Tom Evnen, Cameron McConway, Dino De La O, and Janet Mariadoss for their contributions to this article.

Grant Brown