“TOC Changes Rule on First-Year-Out Judges” by Emily Massey

TOC Changes Rule on First-Year-Out Judges

The TOC abruptly changed the rules regarding first-year-out judges in its invitation on Friday several weeks after it had originally released the invitation. The tournament released its first 2015 invitation, entitled “TOC Invitation Final_0,” in mid-February. On Friday, March 6 a new invitation called “TOC Invitational Final_1 (4)” quietly appeared on the TOC’s website. The invitation on Tabroom, meanwhile, is called “TOCInvitation2015Final” and is consistent with the original 2015 invitation.

The change in title may be subtle, but the new invitation contains a substantial change in rules. The original invitation and the invitation on Tabroom imply that first-year-out judges may fulfill judge obligations up to seven rounds. According to the new invitation, they may count towards obligations only up to two rounds. The new invitation states:

“In Lincoln Douglas. First year out judges will constitute “free strikes”. First year judges may count for up to two rounds of judging for their school. A school may have no more than one first year out judge covering their obligation. A first year out may not cover rounds for multiple schools.”

This rule change appeared without any public announcement.  The first-year-out issue had been discussed at a meeting of the LD Advisory Committee in April 2014. The initial version of the invitation reflected an apparent decision to treat first-year-outs like other judges at future TOCs.  In fact, this is the rule still reflected in the version of the invitation on Tabroom.

Previously, the TOC has stood alone on the national circuit in barring first-year-outs from fulfilling judging obligations and in treating first-year-outs as free strikes. This policy ensured that few first-year-outs came to the tournament, except for a few brought by teams that could afford to bring coaches who would not contribute to judging obligations.

But the data (which were presented to the Advisory Committee in April 2014) show that the community at large prefers first-year-outs to other judges:

Number Judging Doubles* as Percentage of Total Entered in Pool (2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons)
Greenhill Valley Bronx St. Mark’s Apple Valley Glenbrooks VBT Harvard
FYOs 2012-13 100% 67% 69% n/a 91% 58% 86% 50%
Non-FYOs 2012-13 47% 44% 28% n/a 51% 31% 39% 10%
FYOs 2013-14 n/a 86% n/a 88% 91% 100% 92% 62%
Non-FYOs 2013-14 n/a 65% n/a 49% 64% 43% 44% 10%
*All judges are obligated for doubles, so it’s the best measure of how highly judges are preferred.

fyo chart

At every tournament surveyed, more first-year-outs judged double-octafinals as a percentage of first-year-outs in the pool than did non-first-year-outs as a percentage of non-first-year-outs in the pool. This suggests that the community as a whole ranked first-year-outs more highly than it ranked non-first-year-outs. While some may believe that first-year-outs are bad judges, any policy that limits the obligations first-year-outs may fulfill or makes them free strikes is clearly inconsistent with what the broader community wants.

The March 6 change effectively takes the TOC back to the old state of affairs with regard to first-year-outs. A two-round contribution towards a judging obligation will hardly be enough to justify plane tickets for teams that weren’t going to bring their first-year-out coaches under the old system. However, there is one change: now, those teams that can afford to bring their first-year-out coaches will gain a two-round credit towards their judging obligations (their first-year-out coaches have to judge two rounds anyway under the Entourage Rule). This will reduce the judging obligations of older coaches on those teams, freeing them up for more scouting and coaching.

The TOC appears indifferent to the consequences its first-year-out policies have for attendees. According to Ben Koh, who coached Nathan Cha as a first-year-out last year, “the rule that FYOs couldn’t cover obligations put us in a really bad spot; the choice seemed to be between [Nathan’s] having a coach there versus being able to cover the judging obligation.” Though Ben “emailed the TOC listing the number of tournaments I had judged at, how highly I was preffed, and the situation we were in,” the tournament refused to allow him to cover Nathan’s obligation. Ben had judged over 150 rounds at TOC qualifiers and round robins that year and had been the most highly preferred of the 205 judges at Harvard.

This year, the TOC’s late change in rules has caused attendees to incur unnecessary costs simply by following the rules posted by the tournament. The tournament is unsympathetic. Before the tournament posted its modified invitation, at least one team, Hunter College, had already booked nonrefundable plane tickets for Danny Li, a first-year-out. On Friday, Danny requested permission from the tournament to cover a full obligation since Hunter had booked his tickets based on the original invitation; the team would not have booked them had they known of the new rule. The tournament refused to make an exception. Instead, Danny was told that Hunter could spend more money to hire additional rounds through the tournament.

Other schools could easily have ended up in the same predicament. Mission San Jose had requested tickets for its first-year-out coach from its administration, which was going to book the tickets Friday. Others, such as Byram Hills, were planning shortly to book tickets for first-year-out judges. When would the tournament have alerted these teams to the rule change? Was it expecting them to notice that a new invitation had been posted on the TOC’s website under a slightly different name even though the invitation on Tabroom remained the same?

The TOC’s bizarre late change in rules, its failure to announce this change to the public, and the apparent contradiction between the tournament’s rule and community norms and preferences, may remind many of the procedural debacle at the 2014 TOC: http://nsdupdate.com/2014/04/26/nsd-update-coverage-toc-2014/

See also: http://nsdupdate.com/2014/04/29/debates-national-championships-where-do-we-go-from-here/

  • Ben Koh

    Something I’ve been noticing is that there are a couple hired judges (at least on tabroom) for the LD TOC. From what I can figure, it looks like one is a current parli debater with a LD background (first year out), while the other person debates college policy. At least as of now, she doesn’t have a paradigm. Does anybody know if the TOC has made any statements or has any explanation online of the criteria/ who they would hire for the TOC? I’m also confused as Emily is about why a first year out is hired given how first year outs are not allowed to cover more than 2 rounds of an obligation . I’m more interested to know who/ how one could appeal the TOC to make certain hires. I know there are a lot of good LD judges who have judged/coached nationally in Chicago for instance.

    At the very least, the TOC should hire highly preferred judges to cover more rounds than they are obligated. It probably saves money than paying for people’s travel/ board, and more importantly it ensures greater mutuality throughout the tournament. I’m not speaking to whether or not they are good judges/ debaters- I’m just confused given that these names are not names I have/ would commonly see on pref sheets let alone as hires at the normal TOC bid tournaments.

  • Emily Massey

    Two updates:

    First, Danny informs me that Dave McGinnis has provided two rounds from Valley judges to cover Hunter’s obligation. How great of Dave and the Valley team.

    Second, in a farcical turn of events, the TOC has listed a single hired judge on Tabroom who is–you guessed it–a first-year-out! Paradigm and judging record can be accessed by clicking on his name: https://www.tabroom.com/index/paradigm.mhtml?judge_account_id=14248

  • Salim Damerdji

    Whatever you think of the FYO rule, reversing the rule this late was fairly irresponsible.

    The rule changed literally twelve hours before Mission would have paid $550 for a plane ticket in my name. Emily’s FB message that morning is the ONLY reason we’re not in the same mess Hunter College is in.

    I don’t blame any TOC committee member in particular for this flub, but all members need to address the institutional failings. The only thing transparent about the TOC committee is a lack of transparency. Minimally, y’all need to own up to the procedural mistake, grant an exception for Hunter, and bar changing any future rules after the TOC invitation is released.

  • Sam Azbel

    Thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention Emily. The only argument that can be made for why FYO should not count towards the judging obligation is because of lack of experience. This could have been true back in ’04 when hutts ruled the activity, but I think any reasonable person competing on the LD circuit can tell you that many FYO’s are good judges because they are fresh out of the activity and understand many nuances that other hutts may not understand (Don’t mean to talk smack about the veteran judges in LD; you guys are awesome too!). But lets all cut the B.S. and get to the real point of this. Aside from the TOC, other entities in LD have great interest in this rule. Some programs recognize that FYO judges are too “Tab” for them and want the opportunity to have free strikes. If it were the case that the majority of the bid committee shared this sentiment, then they would have initially voted to reject the rule. So why screw up everyone’s travel plans and make things unfair? Because some want a competitive advantage that they do not deserve to have.

    • Martin Sigalow

      I would like to commend your spelling and grammar. College is doing you well.

      • Sam Azbel


  • Hunter Seitz

    Coming from a small school with ZERO non-first year out judges qualified to judge TOC-level rounds, this is really problematic. Our school has one entry going and her coach is a FYO. This makes judging really problematic because our school coach is extremely lay and thus not qualified to judge at the TOC level.

    But the bigger issue is that the TOC changed its policy WITHOUT letting teams know other than a small change on the TOC’s page, while the invitation on tabroom remained unchanged. My team mate who is attending didn’t even know about this change until i notified her today. This is problematic in that she was planning on buying tickets TODAY for both her and her coach to attend the TOC, and would have ended up needing to hire additional judging because the rule change was unknown to her.

  • Sean Fahey

    As an independent whose coach is a FYO but my father (parent chaperone) isn’t qualfied to judge TOC rounds, this is fairly problematic. For a tournament that’s supposed to embody the highest level of competition, a concept independent of where students come from, policies like this seem awfully exclusive. Any debater that either a) doesn’t come from an establish circuit team that can produce seasoned coaches/judges, or b) has independently hired a FYO coach (which there’s absolutely nothing bad with), should be incredibly concerned by this. Futhermore, anyone who cares about maximizing inclusion and further ideological evolution in debate should be concerned about this.

  • dmoerner

    Thanks for bringing this to the community’s attention, Emily.

    It’s important to recognize that this is not an isolated incident. The TOC has a long history of attempting to manipulate the judging pool to reflect the beliefs of those who run tab, rather than the interests of the community. It’s also clear that one of their main priorities is to make money, not serve the community. Three examples:

    1. In 2008, Aaron Timmons attempted to convince the TOC advisory committee to remove all MJP from all four MVLA debaters attending the TOC in response to one MVLA judge claiming conflicts with “too many debaters”. This was a backroom deal, executed without any consulation with us or our judge, which was only averted thanks to the heroism of Mr. Dave McGinnis.

    2. In 2009, the TOC forgot to buy trophies. No awards were given to any outround competitor or top speaker except certificates. The TOC did not offer to provide awards; it instead pocketed the entry fees and forced competitors to settle with certificates.

    3. The TOC has, year-after-year, failed to produce adequate final round panels. The old system of a pre-set panel consistently failed to meet MJP and was often populated by older coaches with certain ideological axes to grind about the nature of debate. I am glad that the TOC now uses MJP in the final panels. But I am disturbed by the fact that the TOC seems to show little to no commitment to keeping around enough judges to produce a strongly-preferred panel in finals, and that sometimes tab introduces extra constraints beyond searching for mutual ones. E.g., the attempt to “agree” on a panel by consulting with the coaches of the two finalists; we all know that this favors more abrasive and established coaches (cf. 2012 finals).

    The TOC claims to be under new management. But I suspect they are just reshuffling the public appearance while the same core group of committee members runs the show. The TOC should be the culmination of debaters’ competitive careers, an event for debaters to showcase their best. When the same old crop of people are inevitably revealed as directors, heads of tab, etc., it should be clear that a replacement is needed.

    • Emily Massey

      Ah, memories.

      The TOC is an important tournament. Over the years, it has had to make many consequential decisions, including:

      How should committee members be chosen?
      Should committee decisions be binding?
      Should committee members have terms or be appointed indefinitely?
      Should committee meetings be public or minutes be published?
      Who should tab the tournament?
      Should a debater need at least one bid to apply for an at-large?
      Who should get at-larges?
      Which tournaments should get bids?
      How should the final round panel be set?
      How can it be ensured that there are enough good judges for late outrounds panels?
      Which judges, if any, should the tournament hire?
      Who counts as a conflict and how should the conflict rules be enforced?
      Should the tournament allow independent entries, etc?
      Which judges are qualified to fulfill obligations, and which judges are free strikes?
      Which judges from other events are qualified to join the LD pool?
      How should the tournament treat evidence challenges?
      Should the tournament overturn judges’ decisions?

      Whatever you think about the tournament’s decisions on these issues, the important question is: are those decisions made in a way that, on the whole, represents you? Do you trust the tournament’s decisions to reflect the community’s norms and preferences?

      If the answer is “no,” that’s a problem. Don’t you want better from your national circuit championship?

      Daniel’s right–it’s time for an alternative.

      • nikhiln17

        That’s something we say every year, though. Only once former debaters/debate societies at prestigious universities somehow convey to admissions offices that “the TOC” isn’t as prestigious as “[insert alternative tournament name here],” will there actually be real traction.

        • sjadler

          I don’t think it’s anything to really do with admissions offices; it’s that the community in general treats the TOC as a cut above the other national championships.

          There was a time when NDCA was *really, really* competitive (’10, my junior year), but that’s largely been squandered since. I wonder how much of that is because of its rotating site/inconsistent quality stemming from that. It certainly didn’t help that one year we were at Georgetown (a pretty cool location), and the next year we were out in Scranton, PA.

  • Fritz Pielstick

    Is Dolores Umbridge in charge of the TOC these days?

  • Jacob Nails

    Does the non-FYO data include parents or other lay judges? That would seem to skew the results in a way that doesn’t apply to the TOC, given that lay and parent judges will not be present.

    How do FYOs stack up against the non-FYOs with substantial debate and coaching experience who will be in attendance at TOC?

    • Emily Massey

      Good question. I don’t have that data, but it would be great if someone could put it together. I strongly suspect that FYOs would still be more preferred.

      Just to be clear, though I do disagree strongly with the TOC’s first-year-out policy, I think the more important point is that there is something procedurally wrong with what the TOC did here. You shouldn’t change a rule late in the game, apparently without reason, without alerting people to it and trying to accommodate those harmed by your change.

      • Jacob Nails

        I agree. I support letting FYOs cover obligations.

  • mcgin029

    I’m definitely sympathetic to the issue overall but I have a question about Hunter:

    Who is their “adult in charge” – ? Can that person cover a judging obligation?

    I don’t know how many debaters from Hunter are qualified so maybe there are too many to be covered by their adult chaperone, or perhaps their adult chaperone is not a debate coach or judge. But if there aren’t too many debaters, and if their chaperone is a debate coach or judge, wouldn’t that solve their problem?

    • Danny Li

      Thanks for the suggestion Dave; the problem would definitely be mitigated if an adult chaperone could cover the obligation. Unfortunately our adult chaperone is the parent of one of our PF debaters going.

      • mcgin029

        Gotcha. Thanks.

  • BenjaminKoh

    The TOC’s changing the rule on FYOs last summer was an excellent step towards two things- inclusiveness and progression. To say that the trends and style of LD change from year to year would be a massive understatement. The type of debate I graduated from is greatly different than the one I had to learn how to coach. It’s why (and fortunately) Byram is able to have Ben Ulene (a FYO) work with us this year. In truth, I’ve learned indispensable knowledge from him- I’m already feeling admittedly old as a 2nd year out. There are things I won’t see, and that’s why first year outs are so important. It’s not that first year outs are the only ones with value, but they’re the ones who defined the previous years form of debate, and will invariably be the ones who form the trends for next year’s LD debate. If the TOC wants people to stay in the activity after they graduate and coach, a hand of respect to that commitment with something as simple as valuing their opinions as judges is key.

    Don’t like what they think? That’s fine. That’s why MJP exists.

    But more to the point, the basic question of what the TOC should represent comes into question. If this is to be the the tournament that is to sum up and collect the most competitive debaters in the country and compete, then there is no good reason to add such a distinction to this one versus the others. The data Emily provides is so important. A national circuit tournament with no first year outs judging is no tournament at all. It ceases to exist. I am sympathetic to the claim that the TOC wnats to ensure unexperienced judges are excluded from the pool. At the very least an application process as proof of judging experience would be fantastic.

    To be clear, I am attached to the TOC. I’m the same way as I was as a sophomore and still think of it as one of if not the most important tournament of the year. I make these comments not to disgrace it, but hoping that some change could come of it.

    What’s ultimately most problematic about this is that I had zero idea this change was made until Emily messaged me on facebook about it. I was a day away from telling my students to confirm their judges and buy plane tickets. That was what I was going to get done this weekend, and that would’ve been hundreds of dollars down the drain. For debaters or teams with limited financial resources, this could’ve been a disaster. This updated invitation is truly not a change, it makes it financially unfeasible and unreasonable to fly out first year outs in most cases if covering the obligation is a concern. It was not as if this change was made in say January, still in the middle of the TOC bid tournament season. This was days ago.

    Being younger does not make you judge better. Being older does not make you judge better. I have admittedly found myself needing to warm back up into judging before I started feeling more confident in my decisions again earlier in the year. What makes a judge a good one and one that I want in the back of the room for my own debaters is a judge who has been judging throughout the year. I want the same judges on outround panels in the regular season as I do the judges at TOC.

    Between first or second or third or fourth or fifth year outs, etc.- they’re all judges who have a unique background and important educational view to add to a judging pool. A judge is a judge is a judge. If debate wants people to come back and stay involved, which is surely a good thing, first year outs should be given the same respect as other judges.

  • Danny Li

    I’m grateful to Emily for pointing out this huge problem. My plane ticket was purchased with the understanding that I would fulfill the entire judging obligation. Altering these plans will almost certainly involve further costs to my debaters.
    Yes, the TOC should allow first year outs to cover judge obligations. But even more ridiculous is the lack of transparency and poor timing. If the TOC changes its rules regarding judge obligations, they should 1) make sure the entire debate community or at least potential participants are notified immediately and 2) do so many months in advance so that the rule change does not affect existing plans debaters have made.