[eDebate] 7 rounds, outrounds in hotel, etc.

NEIL BERCH berchnorto
Tue Mar 7 22:16:10 CST 2006

First, I thank Jimbo for his frank comments and his commitment.  To start by answering the question, we're in a grey area.  This is a proposal; if "the community" would rather go somewhere else, that's cool (as I said in response to Andy).  On the other hand, it's a commitment.  We will do this, if the community wants it.  Since CEDA has no hosting process for JV/Novice Nats, there is no formal body to accept or reject our proposal, or to choose between competing proposals (and it is my understanding, from Jimbo's post, as well as Andy's and some backchannels, that Towson is interested in hosting again--with a different tab room set-up).

Let me get to some of the specifics that Jimbo brought up.  I agree with much of it.  Vegetarian options are limited in Morgantown late at night.  I would agree that our campus is more challenging than some when it comes to topography.  It may be that it is better suited to tournaments of fewer than 70 teams (then we can just use the buildings we used for outrounds).  And there are certainly things we could have done better.  I believe our proposal/commitment for next year addresses some of those issues, but some of them (the topography issue, the urban-ness issue, for instance) cannot be changed.  And if our hosting presents problems for a large segment of the community, we do not want to host.

I disagree on a couple of points.  True, it's a longer trek from Poughkeepsie to Morgantown than it is from Poughkeepsie to Baltimore.  The drive across Pennsylvania is indeed a long one.  It is also one that Kansas State, Oklahoma, Western Illinois, and a couple of others did not have to make, precisely because of that fact.  I believe it can be argued that Morgantown is more conducive to a national tournament than are places on the East Coast.  And several schools flew into Pittsburgh with little trouble (and the 75 minutes from Pittsburgh to Morgantown is not much longer than it takes to get to Towson from BWI in bad traffic).

Indeed, 116 teams competed at WVU this weekend.  That's 2 more than last year at Georgetown, and more than 20 more than each of the last two years at Towson.  There were 7 schools that went to Georgetown that did not attend this year, but there were more than that who attended this year but not last year (most from NDT districts 3 and 5).  

We are willing to do this.  If people would rather go somewhere else, we will not be hurt, feel slighted, or miffed.  We'll just go, compete, and enjoy the hospitality.  In many respects, it would be easier for us.  We'd also be willing to be part of a two or three school rotation for JV/Novice Nats, which might be an even better idea for all.  So, I'm open to ideas, thoughts, counter-proposals.  In the end, though, I do need to wrap up a decision fairly soon, both for administrative purposes and especially if we're going to use the only real meeting facility in a hotel in Morgantown.  So, bring on the feedback, but please bring it fairly quickly!--Neil 
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Jim Maritato<mailto:james.maritato at gmail.com> 
  To: NEIL BERCH<mailto:berchnorto at msn.com> ; edebate at ndtceda.com<mailto:edebate at ndtceda.com> 
  Sent: Tuesday, March 07, 2006 10:12 PM
  Subject: Re: [eDebate] 7 rounds, outrounds in hotel, etc.

  I was under the impression that we were still discussing location as opposed to laying claim to it, so I'm a bit confused as to whether or not Neil's email serves as a proposal to the community or a set-in-stone commitment.  Nevertheless, I have a few comments I'd like to make about this weekend's tournament, the outstanding effort and organization put in by the WVU debaters, and some issues I feel are important to address. 

  First, kudos are definitely in order for the WVU squad and Neil for running a well organized and well attended tournament.  One of the things I found to be excellent this weekend was the level of communication between ballot runners, hospitality staff and the tab room.  Nearly every person I talked to had answers to questions, was well aware of when and where debates would be and were eager and willing to help in any way possible.  This level of communication between staff and tab should be modeled.  Staff often gave accurate estimates of when pairings would be out, when events would take place, etc.  Meals were served promptly and in centralized and logical locations.  Most of all, the WVU squad seemed eager to please and happy to host.  Many rounds of applause and pats on the back should be conveyed upon you all :-) . The final perk of an entry cost of $0.00 was also quite nice and served to make it feasible for many squads to attend. 

  The concerns outlined below are not a reflection of a lack of effort, well intentioned thinking or community appreciation and respect on the part of our generous and 
  gracious hosts this past weekend.  However, I think that if we are to continue to think of this tournament as a national tournament and not a regional tournament there are a few issues that should be considered to best achieve those goals. 

  I think it is a fair assumption that those of us in the community who are committed to novice and JV debate seek to increase number of attending squads at the national JV and novice tournament.  Having a convenient, affordable, and well located tournament can enhance our ability to increase the attendance of not only the squads that currently attend, but the squads on the opposite poles of the have/have not binary often addressed in our discussion of resource distribution.  Squads with abundant resources traditionally focused on national varsity competition may find it reasonable to promote the development of a few walk-on teams to compete in the national novice tournament.  Simultaneously, those squads that are resource challenged and that make strategic decisions on which national tournament(s) to attend (and in some cases, if ANY national tournaments), are more likely to attend JV/Novice Nats if it is affordable to travel to, attend, and "live" at for three days.  There are a few key issues that we need to address that I think fall in line with increasing attendance: 

     A.  Distance, Geographic Location and Affordability of Travel.  As beautiful and historic as Morgantown is, it is not he most convenient city to travel to.  Our drive from Marist was roughly nine hours across northeast winter weather. With rounds beginning on Friday afternoon the only logical choice for our team was to arrive at the hotel at 3 AM Friday, paying for rooms for Thursday.  Squads from the north have long drives (with the longest likely being Vermont, which Google maps puts at roughly 13 hours).  Ironically enough, these are also the squads that do the largest promotion of JV and novice debate.  Those teams flying may also find traveling into Morgantown difficult as it is not the largest airport.  Other mid-atlantic cities like Baltimore provide better travel options and serve as a better central meeting ground for those of us already on the east coast.  A quick check on Orbitz indicates several affordable options for flying into the Baltimore region in comparison to flying to Morgantown (and in fact, when checking for flights like Denver to Morgantown none are available from the major cheap-ticket-outlets.  Baltimore on the other hand yields round-trip flights under $200.  This is, by the way, my totally sly way of suggesting that some cool D9 teams come east.  Matt Stannard... are you listening?). 
     Additionally, location dictates quality of tournament life in many ways.  Larger urban areas provide more options for meals, often have establishments that are open later for those late finishing nights (of which there were two in Morgantown), and more options for lodging.  While the tournament hotel this weekend was affordable and pleasant, economic and well maintained lodging is not a factor unique to Morgantown.  A more urban setting also affords those squads with a multitude of lifestyles represented to better meet the needs of their debaters.  It is quite frustrating for vegetarians to have to default to the Taco Bell option for dinner each night because it is the only vegetarian option open beyond 11:00 PM. 
     I also think that reevaluating where we hold this tournament is important on the level of community goals and intercommunity interaction.  I have talked to several UDL representatives this year who have been interested in bringing high school debaters to our tournaments to  help educate their students through observation of higher levels of debate.  Holding a tournament that we wish to have importance for debaters (and for incoming students who are in UDLs and high school debate leagues who may become college debaters) means that we have to build that importance.  We have to reach out to the communities at large and get them involved in our tournaments, interested in our tournaments.  I judge a lot of rounds that call for transformative change in the world through debate, where we are talking about how engagement in debate can help our communities.  Why aren't we reaching out to communities - and in particular communities of up and coming debaters who can help to facilitate change in their communities through the skills debate teaches - when we construct our view of what the national tournament should be?  Do we want to construct yet another tournament that does not interact with the various debate organizations in the host city, or where there is no opportunity for community cross-connect to occur?  Why are we also not hosting the JV and Novice national debate tournament in a city where there are neighboring colleges?  I think it would be a strategically beneficial idea to host JV and novice nationals in a city where there are many schools - not only so that the schools that do have programs in those cities can attend, but also so that schools that DON'T have programs can attend.  There are kids all over the country who leave high school/UDL programs and who end up at a college where there is no opportunity for debate.  It is likely that for many of these students, the first place they will engage college debate is at the JV or novice level.  So why aren't we using our national tournament as an opportunity for those students to experience what debate is like?  

  B.  Centrality of Tournament Events 
     While hosting a tournament of this size is never easy to keep centralized and a plethora of buildings are often used, I think that the WVU campus presents challenges that other campuses in the area do not.  I empathize with the folks who spilled tubs of evidence on flights of stairs in or outside of buildings this weekend.  I also empathize with students who found elevators inoperable and buildings difficult to locate.  These seem like small issues, but they contribute to a larger problem:  keeping the tournament on time.  Round 3 on Friday night for some debaters began as late as 8:45 for a planned 8:00 start time.  In large part, this was due to consolidation of buildings as Friday night went on, wherein some debaters and coaches needed to move from one end of campus to another, across busy friday night traffic, up and down multiple flights of stairs.  I spoke with several coaches this weekend who expressed frustration on Friday and Saturday with having to race from one side of campus to another to reach all of their teams (granted, I was not all that adversely affected by this issue with my two teams, but I expect to bring more next year and believe this is an issue larger than a personal gripe) while being urged to start rounds on time.  Campuses that are not easy to traverse require that we either allot more time into the schedule or that we consider centralizing building usage better.  Again, I would argue that there are other campuses that provide easier access and easier terrain to travel. 

  C.  Tournament Hospitality/Quality of Life 
     While I commend the WVU debate team on their ability to provide a hospitable and enjoyable tournament, I do think there are a few things that could have been a little better.  I believe that debate teaches a variety of lifestyles and that the people who make up our community come embrace a plethora of those lifestyles and mindsets.  It is only appropriate that tournament directors (and in particular, national tournament directors entertaining groups coming diverse sets of regions and lifestyles, both urban and rural) prepare adequately to meet the needs of everyone.  This means providing healthy options for meals for everyone.  If we are to be inclusive and hope to make debate an enjoyable activity for the novice and JV debaters who attend, it means we also have to think about the vegetarians attending.  It means we should recognize that a slice of cheese on a six-inch Subway sandwich is not an adequate source of protein for most debaters.  It means rethinking the mixing of vegetables and chicken together and advising students who do not wish to eat silken tofu that they should eat white rice and pick the vegetables from a meal that contradicts their ethics (and for many of us will likely make us sick due to the fact that we are not used to breaking down animal protein).  Flour, water, yeast and vegetables for 2-3 days is not a healthy way to feed our debaters - whether it is in the form of a sandwich or a "vegan pizza." 
     There is also a resource problem that stems from this approach to feeding everyone - many of the directors I spoke with this weekend talked of having to take teams to "second dinner."  This also interacts with the location of the tournament.  The lack of late night vegetarian options leaves directors hard pressed to feed their debaters and debaters feeling lousy and lethargic.  For us, the drive from Poughkeepsie across rural Pennsylvania contributes to this problem as there are not necessarily solid vegetarian options until we get home - at which point it is too late for me to feed my very hungry and tired debaters. 
     You can also cross apply my arguments above about campus layout/building centrality here - the more terrain there is to traverse and the longer it takes to traverse it, the less chance some debaters will have to access food.  I am aware that my debaters and the debaters of several other squads did not have an opportunity to eat before round 3 on Friday night due to room changes and long distances between them.  I know, I sound like a whiny patriarchal parent, but if there's one thing my long-haired predecessor taught me it's, "Don't mess around with the lives of other people's kids."  The plan to retain the same "provision(ing) of most or all meals" is inadequate - especially if we are paying fees. 
       These quality of life issues are important because they contribute to the environment of the activity.  If we hope to retain novice debaters we must provide a fun and welcoming environment, but we must also provide an environment that is not physically and emotionally draining to the best of our abilities.  As directors, we have to remember that these "debaters" turn back into "students" on Monday morning.  The condition they are in to learn on Monday morning in their 8:00 AM class and their physical ability to accomplish that learning is in many ways reliant upon how hospitable the tournament is and how well it is run.  When debate starts affecting a novice debater's overall ability to function as a student or as a well-adjusted person they are likely to move away from it.  When this does not occur, we often get people like Andy Ellis who we love, but have to remind to cut down on being crazy about debate because they're slowly killing you. 
      OK, enough facetious humor, I hope that I have made my arguments heard. The point that I hope to make here is that if the tournament is in West Virginia, we will come and we will be happy to be there.  We like Neil and his squad and think they did a bang-up job!  But I do not necessarily think that another year in West Virginia is the BEST option for us as a community and believe that if we are to treat Neil's announcement as a proposal we should think about some of the larger context issues in evaluating it.  If this e-mail serves as a commitment, then these are questions that should be addressed in the planning of the tournament.  Any thoughts? 

  Jim Maritato 
  Director of Debate 
  Marist College 

  NEIL BERCH wrote: 
    Hi, everyone!  Thanks to all for your feedback.  I was somewhat surprised to find this morning that Morgantown does have a hotel with just about enough conference space to hold octas in two divisions (we may have to use a couple of sleeping rooms for the first octa--like Kentucky does; I'll be examining the space tomorrow for soundproofing issues).

    Thus, we will offer a JV/Novice Nationals on March 3-5, 2007 (Saturday-Monday), with 4 rounds on Saturday, 3 rounds on Sunday, followed by doubles--all on campus (and I should have room for up to 160 teams).  Monday's elimination rounds will be at the hotel (cost is slightly higher than this year--around $85 per night).

    We will deal with the other important issues that people raised with a package of changes:
    1.  We will charge fees, probably similar to those charged by Georgetown last year.
    2.  In order to count toward your commitment, a critic must have judged at least 12 rounds during the year.  Rare exceptions will be made if circumstances dictate.
    3.  Schools may reduce their entry fees by $35 per extra round of qualified judging provided.  This will increase the quality of the judging pool tremendously; it will also allow a school bring two teams and two judges to trade judging for free entry.
    4.  We will use some of the revenues to improve the quality of awards.
    5.  We will use a modified version of MPJ (using 4 to 6 categories); together with the critic requirement and the generous buy-out provision, people should get both better and more evenly distributed preferences.  We will supplement that with strike cards for late outrounds.

    Things that will stay the same:
    1.  Provision of most or all meals.
    2.  Mountaineer hospitality!

    I thank Ken Johnson, Sarah Snider, and Jackie Massey for their concern about the opportunity for WVU debaters to compete.  I will talk that over with my squad, but my first inclination is to say that we will give our novices the chance to compete for a national championship at ADA Nationals, and we will give our JV debaters a chance to compete for a national championship at Johnson County.

    I still welcome other feedback on how we can do this better next year.
    --Neil Berch
    West Virginia University
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