[eDebate] Small schools and their ability to be competitive in policy debate
Wed Apr 12 02:21:34 CDT 2006
Since there has been some discussion of how small schools can compete in
debate, I thought that I'd chime in. I guess that I coach at a small
school, and there are a ton of things that the University of Denver has done
to be competitive in policy debate. I'd like to share some of those things
to help other directors out.
The way that I see it, there are two main disadvantages small schools face.
Lack of monetary resources and lack of coaching. I'd also like to talk
about program attrition and the move of small teams to parli.
The lack of monetary resources is a huge problem, but there are things that
can be done to make tournaments cheaper. After my first year at DU, I
reviewed our budget and found that fully 1/3 of our funds were spent on
office supplies. This is how pathetic our budget is, not a reflection of my
inability to copy cheaply. So, at the end of last year, we had a team
meeting and I told the debaters that if we were going to continue to travel
to national level tournaments, we had to get rid of our tubs. Contrary to
some people's belief, that does not mean that we went critical or that we
abandoned evidence. I worked with a law firm a couple of years ago that was
going paperless, and decided that's what we needed to do. We switched to a
completely digital debate team. I bought a solid scanner with an automatic
document feeder and scanned in all our backfiles. Every book that we cut
was scanned in and ran through an OCR program. All of our cards, and we cut
just as many cards as anyone, are on my debaters laptops and stored on a
microsoft sharepoint site. We now read all of our evidence off of our
laptops. We do all of our flowing on laptops. This saved tons of money on
paper, ink cartridges, trips to kinko's, replacing lost or borrowed files
and all of the paper, pens, expando's and tubs that we no longer needed. I
know this stuff is expensive. JP was asking about this a couple of weeks
ago, and someone from Vandy was asking about this today. The cheapest thing
that you can do is rid yourself off all that stuff.
Going digital and using laptops saves in other ways too. Any teams out
there have to pay extra for their teams to travel with 7 or 8 tubs? Hell
no, carry all your tubs on the plane with you by going digital. Have
trouble getting teams into a 12 passenger van or mini van b/c you you have
to pack 4 tubs per team? F*%# that. Bring another team to the tournament
by going digital. I can now travel 3 teams to a tournament in a minivan.
Mini vans get better gas mileage and are cheaper to rent than 15 or 12
Now, people may have issues with laptops for a variety of reasons. I've
heard them all. My debaters have heard them all, in rounds. If someone
wants to discuss the pros and cons of using laptops in debate, we can start
that discussion. But, I don't want to get into that in this post.
If anyone is interested in going digital, I can recommend scanners, OCR
programs and flowing templates. Also, I have great ideas and ways of
getting around the issue of not being able to afford a laptop. Ask if you
The bottom line is going digital is the wave of the future. Plus, you can
literally save thousands of dollars per year.
There are also other ways to save money.
- Never stay at the tournament hotel, it is always more expensive than
nearby alternatives. Obvious, but true.
- Drive. Sure, I'm crazy. We drove to Georgia State, Kentucky, Wake, Wyo,
CC, USC/Fullerton, GSL, Districts, UT Austin, and CEDA Nats. We paid to fly
to the NDT, and that was it. Jim, the man with a master plan, paid for us
to fly to NW CEDA Champs. I'll talk more about Jim's genius in a minute. We
saved tons, and made a habit out of watching Monday night football in St.
Louis or KC. It was damn fun. Plus, you can rent a minivan from Avis for
$249 a week, with unlimited mileage. $249, plus gas, to get 3 teams to a
tournament is very cheap. Plus, we got to know our Avis dude so well he was
giving us free upgrades to vans w/ DVD players. I can now tell you that I
absolutely hate Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
- Sleep on someone's floor. In the last two years we have slept on more
floors than I can count. If you ask, there is someone at almost every
tournament that will be willing to house you. It may suck, but we are here
to debate, not stay in some lame ass Westin. Unless you are old. Then,
maybe a big, soft bed sounds good. But, we at small schools can't afford
such luxuries. We are hard core. Play the underdog role. It works for us.
- Ask people to cover rounds for you. They will do it. By the way, I need
to send a shout out to Stannard, Odekirk, Phil Samuels, Louie Petit, Kelley
Winfrey and especially glue boy for covering shit tons of rounds for us
either for free or at a reduced cost for us over the past couple of years.
- Ask for reduced entry fees. Most tournament directors are sympathetic and
will help you out.
- If you stay in a hotel room, or can't stand staying at some dirty debaters
house, crowd into a hotel room. You can fit 6 people in a room if you
really need to. And we really need to sometimes.
- Ask other schools to let your debaters stay in their hotel rooms. This
really works well when you are a male coach and you have female debaters.
Thanks so very much Omar, who has helped us out with this in the past as
- And, the most draconian policy possible, the one that I'm the least proud
of, is cutting meal money out. I would like to publicly thank all of my
debaters over the last two years for foregoing meal money. This was not a
top-down decision, but a team decision that has allowed us to travel to all
of the big, far away national tournaments. We decided to do this because we
wanted to compete with the best of the best - and this year we qualified to
the NDT and cleared at CEDA Nats.
- It may be crazy, but most of my debaters actually hold jobs during the
school year/debate season. I have a second job too.
- Ask people to coach for you for free. Again, you may think that I'm
crazy, but it never hurts to ask for help. This year I had 3 assistant
coaches who worked for free all year long. A HUGE shout out to some very
dedicated folks - Brian Schrader, Jared Ellis and Breena Meng all coached at
DU this year for the love of the game. Not a dime, not a bit of
recognition. They even traveled when possible and covered rounds for DU for
free. Cash money is what I call all three of them.
- If you can't find someone to cut cards like a dog for you for free, trade
evidence with another team. We'd be willing to do that for someone else out
there who has next to no budget.
- It's already been said, but get camp ev. All 4 college camps (ADI, WDI,
GDI, Wyo) is a solid place to start. Stannard is right, the WDI coopt is
- If you cannot cut cards, and don't want to go the K route, don't feel left
out. Topicality is a wonderful straight up argument. Go for theory. Go
for the cheap shot. And for those of you out there who hate that shit,
don't even talk to me about it. When you drive to GSU, Wake, Kentucky and
the Cal Swing all in one semester without a single cent of meal money only
to crowd into some shitty hotel room, I might think about listening to your
elitist bullshit about "respectable" arguments. Then, I'll tell you about
heart, dedication and desire and wipe the floor with your ass.
- Cut more books. There is much better ev in books and too many teams rely
on electronic sources for their evidence. Obvious, but true.
- Stay unpredictable. This can neutralize larger schools coaching staffs.
We mixed in a good bit of crazy over the last two years just to keep people
on their toes. It will also allow you to expand your prefs.
- Spend more time on your prefs. This can have immense benefits for your
team and is extraneous to cutting cards etc. There is an art to maximizing
- Get to know more about the people in the debate community. Not only are
personal connections what debate is really all about, but you need to get to
know your judges personally. Judging philosophies never get it done and you
will be disappointed if you rely on them.
- Figure out who the reppy judges are and strike them like the plague.
Small schools need judges with guts. For me, guts are enough. We'll adapt
to your preferred style if need be.
- Last but not least, have fun. Much of the "outside of debate" fun has
been sapped up. Do things that are fun on debate trips. Whatever fun is to
you, figure it out and incorporate it into your trip.
Now, the aforementioned things are tactics to reduce your budget in the
status quo. Unfortunately, not many people are willing to go to the lengths
that we go to to stay competitive at the highest levels of policy debate,
and this community needs to figure this out fast. There has been lots of
talk recently about the new NDT rules restricting coaching at the NDT. I'm
not going to comment on the rules themselves, others have already done this.
But, two things need to be said that have not been said yet. First, the
new rules reflect a belief that those currently in charge recognize the
current inequities in college policy debate, and their attempts, right or
wrong, need to be commended. Second, while the rule may suck, may not work,
may be overboard, overbroad or may be beyond the scope of the NDT committees
power, I'd like to say thanks. It was almost like they were saying hey,
Zach, you and your entire squad have to work twice as hard with WAY less and
we'd like to say that we see that, we're not blind. We are going to try
SOMETHING. Workability aside, it is the thought that counts, at least to
me. The rest of you can fight out a "better" way of achieving these desired
Now, on to someone who does see these monetary issues in debate and is doing
real things to make policy debate better. Jim Hanson is the man. This year
he paid for a number of teams to come to NW CEDA Champs for free. He flew
us there, transported us, made it free to enter the tournament, and fed us
like no other tournament could dream of doing. The whole trip literally
cost us nothing. NOTHING. If the world was full of Jim Hanson's, more
small schools could could debate and would want to do policy debate. What
other tournament directors need to learn from Jim:
1.) Policy debate sucks to a lot of people because the schedules are
inhumane. Jim's tournament started at 10 am everyday. We actually got to
sleep in and were not exhausted, hating life and dreading having to judge
2.) There was only 6 rounds. Very, very nice. Works at Fullerton too.
See, parli tournaments may have 8 rounds, but the rounds are half as long.
Parli tournaments tend to start later too (at least in my limited
3.) There was food between every single solitary round. Not snacks, not
shitty coffee and terrible donuts, real food. Cereal. Milk. Fried
chicken. Chinese food. Mexican food. GOOD food. This really helps,
especially when your team doesn't get meal money.
4.) Innovation - there was backrubs b/w rounds. Yes, backrubs. I'm not
sure how Jim got those sorority girls to donate their time, but that was
sweet. Way to think outside the box.
5.) Live singing by some archipelago group or something. Never seen it. I
thought it was hilarious. Plus, they could actually sing.
6.) There was a student party, hosted by the Whitman debaters. All of my
debaters loved it. We actually got to know some people and hang out with
Whitman, Gonzaga, Emporia, Florida and all the other northwest teams. This
is how it used to be back in the day. Not staying up all night cutting
cards, but making friends having a good time.
7.) Parli debaters have more fun at tournaments and get to socialize more.
We need to have more fun and foster personal connections in policy debate
more if we want to see attrition stop. Plain and simple. Jim's tournament
was damn fun. Everyone should go.
8.) The northwest especially needs the communities support in these trying
times, so think about supporting some of the good folks up there.
I know this is long, but I've got a lot to say tonight. I still have more
thoughts on why we see the move to parli debate.
There isn't much we can do about parli being "easier" b/c it is. You don't
really need to cut cards, the rounds are shorter, and there is still a very
real form over content element to parli.
So, if this can't be changed, what can we do?
- We can stress the educational benefits of policy. I guarantee you learn
way more in policy debate than parli. In fact, it's not even close.
- We need to make it easier to travel to tournaments. Many of the big,
national level tournaments in policy debate are really too far for those in
the NW and Rocky Mountain region. We need to spread the suffering that
travel creates. I'm not interested in keeping up this ridiculous schedule
for the rest of my life.
- I have an idea on how we can do this, and I'm sure that it has been raised
before by other people. If this is your idea and credit is not given, I'm
sorry. We need to make 9 national tournaments the designated tournaments
for qualifying for a first round. One tournament per district. Only those
9 tournament results will count toward first round at large bids. Maybe
require that teams who wish to apply for a first round need to go to at
least 8 of these tournaments. Who knows, this is just an idea. This makes
travel equitable, and every district gets to hold a major, forcing teams to
debate in districts they normally don't debate in. For example, district 9
had 4 viable policy debate tournaments this year, Wyo, CC, GSL, and ASU.
ASU had to cancel their policy division, and not a single out of district
team came to Wyo. Pepperdine sent a few novice teams to CC, and GSL, and a
couple of NW teams came to the GSL as well. It's pitiful that my district
gets no respect. It never used to be that way. The GSL used to be huge.
Where is the support? I can see why Rochester or Vermont didn't come to any
of these tournaments, but D3? Come on.
The other effect this has is that as ISU and Wyo have become much more
competitive, they quit sending their top teams to district tournaments. I
totally understand why - they have nothing to gain and only something to
lose, especially if they are going for a first round. But the unintended
consequence is that my teams never get to debate the top teams in our
district. How are we supposed to get better if we don't get to compete
against the good teams? I know that this is not necessarily a problem is
other districts where there are tons of competitive teams and a quality
judging pool. But, it's a problem in D9. Thus, designating the results at
those 9 national tournaments as the only consideration for first rounds
would help places like my district by encouraging the top teams to travel in
district. Regional tournaments would still be key to novice/jv growth and
would still count toward ndt/ceda points.
I'm sure that there may be resistance to this idea, but something has to be
done about the travel inequity that exists for those of us in the Rocky
Mountain and North West region. In fact, where do you see most of the
attrition? In these two areas. I'm glad that the NDT is concerned with
equity, but table space, bandwidth and coaching restrictions all PALE in
comparison to travel inequity.
Just my thoughts, and a hearty congratulations to all of you who read all
Director of Debate
University of Denver
More information about the Mailman