Established in 2006, The David P. Baker Award for Season Long Excellence is presented at the National Debate Coaches’ Association Championship to the high school policy debate team with the highest point total using the tournament’s qualification system.
Modeled to some extent after college debate’s Copeland Award, the Baker is calculated based on a mathematical formula rather than on a poll of coaches or voters. This basic statistical approach to evaluating a debate team’s performance over the course of a season has been criticized by some participants and coaches who have advanced several critiques of the formula.
This article is an attempt to first explain the way that the Baker Award is calculated and then to highlight the major complaints that have been levied against it.
How The Baker Award Is Calculated
The Baker Award is calculated based on the same formula that determines admission into the NDCA Championship Tournament. Points are calculated for each tournament that a team attends during the regular season; the five highest point values count toward the team’s overall total.
The formula for the Baker Award is unique in that it does not subjectively assess the quality of a given tournament (in the way that the Tournament of Champions does by awarding bid levels based on expected tournament quality). Instead, the formula includes only four basic variables:
The number of entries at the tournament. This number can be no greater than 100 (so tournaments with 100 entries or 300 entries count the same for this variable).
The Diversity of Tournament Multiplier (DTM). This number reflects the number of states that are represented at the tournament. The number of entries at the tournament is multiplied by the DTM on the following scale: 1-2 states = 1, 3-5 = 1.2, 6-8 = 1.4, 9-12 = 1.6, 13-15 = 1.8, and 16+ = 2.0.
The team’s preliminary round winning percentage. If a team’s record is 5-0, 6-0, or 7-0, their total is 1.0; if their record is 4-2, it is .667 (and so on).
The Elimination Success Multiplier (ESM). The team’s winning percentage in the preliminary rounds is multiplied by the ESM on the following scale: didn’t clear = 1, clear but don’t win an elim debate = 1.1, octafinals = 1.2, quarterfinals = 1.4, semifinals = 1.6, finals = 1.8, and winning finals = 2.3.
The four numbers are multiplied together to establish a point total for a given tournament. For example, Glenbrook South’s victory at the Barkley Forum earned Richard Day and Will Thibeau the maximum point total available under the system: 460 points (100 (teams) x 2.0 (16+ states) x 1.0 (6-0 prelims) x 2.3 (winning finals) = 460).
A team that accumulates five maximum-value tournaments would finish with 2,300 total points (last year’s winner from Westminster finished with 1,956.7 points).
Criticisms Of The Baker Award Formula
Individuals have levied several criticisms of the formula used to determine the Baker Award. I will attempt to outline a few of the most common criticisms in hopes of spurring a discussion of the system and ways to improve it.
Criticism #1: It Undervalues Tough Tournaments
The formula determines the quality of competition at a given tournament only indirectly by multiplying the number of teams (no greater than 100) by the DTM (to account for tournaments attended by schools from multiple states). In reality, however, the size of the tournament and the number of states that are represented does not by itself determine the quality of the competition.
This criticism is probably best noted as The MBA Critique—the Southern Bell Forum, because it caps its entries at around 70 teams, counts for far less points than a tournament like Wake Forest or the University of Michigan. In reality, the competition at MBA is much more intense and reaching the elimination rounds (much less the late elimination rounds) at MBA is far more impressive than reaching the equivalent round at Wake or Michigan.
Criticism #2: It Overvalues Preliminary Round Records
The formula includes a multiplier for preliminary round winning percentage, severely penalizing teams that lose prelim debates even if they eventually go on to win the tournament.
For example, if Glenbrook South had accumulated a 4-2 record in the prelims of the Barkley Forum (instead of the 6-0 record they racked up in reality), their total points for the tournament would have fallen from 460 to 307. Westminster’s total—400 (6-0 record and losing in finals)—would have actually been greater than Glenbrook South’s even though GBS emerged with the championship.
Criticism #3: It Doesn’t Include Round Robins
The formula was created to encourage the creation and maintenance of strong regional and local circuits. As a result, it was explicitly designed not to include teams’ performances at round robins. Some have argued that it is impossible to fairly judge the relative records of the country’s best teams without factoring in all of their debates against one another—many of which occur at round robins.
Criticism #4: It Removes The Human Element
The formula is statistical: it establishes a system to value certain aspects of debate performance and then objectively calculates the results. The formula itself, however, is not “objective”—it is value-laden in its construction. Many have argued that a superior system would replace this statistical formula with a subjective one that polls coaches or is determined by a committee of voters (as is done with college debate’s Copeland Award).
What are your thoughts about the Baker Award and the formula that is used to determine it? Is the system a good one? Can it be improved? Should it be replaced? Please share your thoughts by posting a comment.