Category Archives: Columns

Disclosure Discussion: What Constitutes A "New Aff"?

At post-season tournaments, the frequency with which teams break new affirmatives increases exponentially. Unfortunately, this can be a recipe for pre-round misunderstandings and even confrontations—especially when combined with the heightened level of stress that generally accompanies debates at these tournaments. Like baseball, debate is full of unwritten rules—norms that the community generally agrees upon but which are not codified or universally understood. When an individual feels that a peer has violated one of these rules, they are often deeply offended. But what are the unwritten rules regarding disclosure of new affirmatives? And perhaps as importantly, what should they be? This post is an invitation for coaches and debaters to discuss “new aff” norms in advance of this year’s post-season tournaments. Some starting points for the discussion—including hypothetical scenarios—are below the fold.

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So You Want To Qualify For The NDT? An Analysis of the High School Experience of the 2010 NDT Field

This year’s National Debate Tournament will be hosted later this month by the University of California-Berkeley. Seventy-eight teams from forty-four colleges and universities have qualified to be part of the field either through district qualifying tournaments or through the first- and second-round bid process. Considered by most to be the pinnacle of interscholastic policy debate, the NDT brings together the most successful debaters in the country for an extended weekend of intense competition in order to crown the national championship team.

For high school debaters with aspirations of competing in college, qualifying for the NDT is a frequent goal. But is it realistic? The popular perception is that debaters who qualify for the NDT are largely products of strong high school debate programs and expensive summer institutes that are afforded the opportunity to compete regularly at national circuit tournaments. But is that really the case?

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Bad Cards #3: The "Harrison '05/'06" Legal Debate Blog Cards

While the previous two installments of the “Bad Cards” series highlighted popular but low-quality impact cards, this is not the only way that awful evidence is used in high school debates. In the third edition of the series, the issue is not the credibility of the evidence’s author or the veracity of its content so much as the context in which it was written—a blog about a high school debate topic written by a part-time coach and former debater whose goal was to improve the quality of debates about the legal system, not produce evidence to be cited in contest rounds. Debaters should discontinue their use of this evidence—the “Harrison ‘05/’06” cards—on the grounds of both fairness and education.

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Bad Cards #2: The "Corsi '5" Terrorism Impact

Many of the pieces of evidence that students frequently read in debates are unquestionably terrible. Often, the desire to bolster an impact’s magnitude and raise it to extinction-level leads debaters to rely on evidence with a host of problems including but not limited to:

  • evidence used to advance arguments outside its intended context;
  • evidence citing unqualified, (functionally) anonymous, or even nefarious authors;
  • evidence culled from (typically internet or tabloid) sources that are at best unedited and at worst contemptible;
  • evidence advancing hyperbolic arguments supported by vitriolic and/or over-the-top language;
  • evidence so old that it no longer makes sense given subsequent events or changes in the topic it discusses; and
  • evidence which must be liberally interpreted in order for it to be used to support the desired conclusion.

The “Bad Cards” series is an attempt to highlight some of the most egregious examples of poor-quality evidence that is nonetheless commonplace in high school policy debates. It is not the author’s intention to “scold” or “shame” those who have read these pieces of evidence in the past or who will do so in the future. Instead, it is an attempt to influence the way that evidence is selected for inclusion in debate arguments by arming opposing students with the tools they need to defeat bad cards.


A common terminal impact to terrorism advantages and disadvantages, the Corsi ‘5 card is used to support the claim that terrorism is an existential threat to humanity. There are many problems with this so-called “evidence,” but the bottom line is this: it outlines a fictional account of a specific sequence of events dreamed up by a discredited and indeed contemptible author that—even if true—is not relevant in the vast majority of debates in which it is deployed.

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Reps Throwdown- The Response

Some notes

1. Cards aren’t underlined- a few people whined to be about this. If you are so lazy that not only do you not cut your own cards, but you are complaining that the cards on 3NR aren’t spoon fed enough to you then you prob. suck and should join the band.

2. I couldn’t really decide how to approach this- obviously there is a lot of argumentative overlap between many of these positions, and if you had to give a 2NC to answer all of them it would be a nightmare/probably overrun by theory. So many of the “blocks” below are quite short, and would need to be elaborated upon if the aff chose to go for that argument in the 1AR.

3. Evidence over me talking- many of the better arguments I chose not to belabor and instead provided a card that explains them- I could go either way on whether it is better to have a card or your own explanation, but since I think a lot of people may just cut and paste out of here prob. better they have a card. Let me repeat that for those of you reading this who want to be really good at debate- the cards here contain every argument you need to crush on the neg for the reps K- if you read them carefully, repeatedly, and master then you will be much better off than if you cut and paste a bunch of theory blocks together.

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Topic For Discussion: The NDCA Baker Award

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.

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The Case For Judges Providing Written Comments On Their Ballots

Contention One: Inherency

In the status quo, the vast majority of high school policy debate judges (at least those at “national circuit” tournaments) do not provide written comments on their ballots. A very small subset of judges—approximately ten percent based on an unscientific assessment of the publicly-posted ballots from the St. Mark’s and Blake tournaments—provide any written content at all. Of that subset, an even smaller group of judges provides “substantial” written commentary (defined as more than a short, one or two sentence reason for decision). Some tournaments have responded to this norm by eliminating ballots entirely—The Glenbrooks, for example, only provides small judge cards that are not copied or scanned for the competitors.

Thus The Plan:

High school policy debate judges should provide written comments on their ballots. This commentary should supplement—not replace—post-round oral disclosure and discussion of the debate.

Contention Two: The Advantage

The plan is superior to the status quo for all three relevant constituencies: debaters, coaches, and judges.

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Logical Decision-Making: In Defense of Harrigan's "Judge Choice" Theory

[T]o say that representations matter—insofar as [they] determine/influence policy outcomes—says little or nothing about which justifications should be used for policymaking. The representations presented by the 1AC that are justifications for action, instead of outcomes of the plan are neither mandatory nor inevitable outcomes of voting Aff.

Thus, the judge, at the end of the debate, should be able to choose (for themselves) why to vote Aff or Neg. Logically, one can choose the best arguments from the set of available reasons presented in the debate. Not every 1AC justification needs to be part of the final “package” of voting Aff. If one or more representations for voting for the plan is undesirable, they should not be used. If, at the end of the debate, positive/beneficial justifications for acting remain, the plan is desirable and the Aff should win.

With that, University of Georgia Debate Coach Casey Harrigan has levied a fundamental challenge to the theoretical viability of representational critique as currently conceptualized in academic policy debate. This article will defend Harrigan’s “judge choice” theory against the attacks of its critics and thereby contribute to the developing theoretical literature about representational critique.

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Judging Methodologies: How Do Judges Reach Their Decisions?

Paul Strait of the University of Southern California recently authored an interesting post on the CEDA forum about the time it takes judges to make their decisions. As discussed in a previous column, this is a hot topic in the college community because the average length of decisions at that level is forcing tournaments to consider reductions in the number of preliminary rounds offered in order to prevent marathon tournament schedules. Paul’s contention is that we need to foreground consideration of judging methodologies in order to determine what contributes to lengthy decisions and what effect this has on the quality of decisions.

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