The Risk of Affirmative Overstretch by Stephen Babb

It’s impossible not to understand the temptation for Affirmative debaters to crowd the 1AC with as much stuff as possible. And yes, there’s good reason to maximize the value of those precious six minutes.
But that’s where people start to disagree—what exactly should we be stuffing that 1AC with?

The trend of late has looked a lot like a Jackson Pollock drip painting—a lot of splatter with no rhyme or reason—we’ll call it “overstretch.”

The intent has little to do with provoking deep, abstract introspection, and more to do with overwhelming the senses of opponent and critic alike in a chaotic full-frontal assault. The result is a mess, and an unnecessarily difficult 1AR.

Today’s judge typically wants to see that a debater is “ahead” on a key issue, that the principle concern of the debate has been solved in one scenario better than the other. The 1AC should be viewed as a jumping off point for winning a particular argument or two, not every possible argument.

The 1AR is ill-equipped to win everything. It’s also ill-equipped to read enough evidence on particular issues of importance when there isn’t already a wealth of relevant evidence in the 1AC. As it is, good Negative debaters have a pretty easy time circumscribing or otherwise expanding the debate to eliminate and/or mitigate the relevance of 75% or more of the 1AC’s output.

A 1AC prioritizing heterogeneity over depth will also suffering from at least two strategic dangers.

First, the evidence-shrinkage necessitated by overstretch puts the 1AC instantly behind on any potential level of the debate. Allowing 1AR add-ons to do most of the heavy-lifting gives the Negative debater an expanded time advantage—the 1AR will struggle to keep up with the 1NC’s time investments, much less the 2N’s ability to rejoin key issues for a full six minutes.

The 1AR’s best option is to give itself a head-start by limiting the scope of the AC’s offense and instead investing time in key issues. Will your opponent be prepared to answer these? Of course—but under-investing in the development of those issues will make your arguments easier to dismiss or beat head-on. Deeply-warranted and multifaceted evidence is almost never well-answered in the NC, and the AC should take advantage of superior preparation and better evidence.

Second, overstretch proliferates and complicates the responsibilities of the 1AR. Rather than having the opportunity to read more evidence and explain the implications thereof, these 1ARs are forced into a hectic dash across the flow and haphazardly connecting the dots.

Sure, we’ve all seen someone do that masterfully, but for every successful execution, there are countless attempts that fail or miss by a hair. The margin for error is slight—for every “game-winning” trick or slick extension the 1AR hopes to make, the NC must first make a mistake (e.g. dropping or mishandling a random argument somewhere). A strategic paradigm based on your opponent slipping up may work in prelims, but it’s unwise against elite competition. They will be prepared for your tricks and have a few of their own up their sleeve.

The overstretch strategy requires technical proficiency that’s difficult to consistently replicate in such a short time. It requires the 1AR to extend and apply multiple spikes, deal with numerous parts of the flow and tie up all those loose ends into a ballot story that makes a shred of sense.

There’s also a reality about judges they sometimes don’t like to admit—at the end of the day, even those aspiring not to intervene would prefer to vote on arguments that are compelling and substantiated. 1ACs that try to do too much crowd out the opportunity to advance those kinds of arguments.

To be clear, we know empirically that the overstretch strategies work sometimes, but the record of their success reflects how often they’re used more than the wisdom of doing so. When debating against the best of the best, the 1AC is better off deploying a focus and internally nuanced position. Give the 1AR something it can actually work with.

  • Adam Torson

    Totally agree – so much of the time the Aff spreads itself. The other problem with overstretched 1ACs is that it just takes time to extend things – even if the time needed to get out that claim/warrant/impact isn't substantial on any given argument, they add up when you have to extend like 6 arguments instead of 3, and every second of the 1AR is precious.