Comments for the Circuit on the NCFL and NFL Nationals by Brad Taylor

I jotted these thoughts down last year after the CFL and NFL National tournaments to offer some pointers to the LD circuit crew on both of these tournaments this year. That’s the group focusing on the “national circuit”, the collection of tournaments where the competitors earn bids to the coveted springtime Tournament of Champions (TOC) in Lexington.
There are probably several hundred kids that would call themselves circuit debaters. Circuit debate is at one end of the debate spectrum. I guess the term “style” might be the best description of the spectrum, but I’m not sure that’s a perfect fit. The other end is usually called “traditional” debate. You’ll have to indulge me as I toss the entire LD debate world into one of these two bins.

Circuit debate is hyper-competitive. It’s the type of debate that you’re trained for when you attend certain popular debate camps. I’m trying to avoid using adjectives like “top” or “best” because that’s all relative and not very important. Suffice it to say that most of the large LD debate programs across the country would recognize these camps, hire coaches that coach circuit debate, and generally train their students to compete in circuit debate.

Circuit debate has case and argumentation rules and expectations that evolve year by year, many more than traditional debate. Wins and losses are decided primarily on a technical level. To be sure, speaking ability is still important and valued, but persuasion is much less so, as the judges are technical as well and decide mostly on the detailed flow. It’s this structure of rules and expectations that creates a type of debate that snags the interests of the circuit. It embraces an array of tactics, requires a high level of research and preparation, and facilitates amazingly diverse and sophisticated debates. I’ve been told this is what excites and drives the circuit debaters. It’s also conducted at warp speed. Two hundred words a minute and you’re slouching. But hey, more words, better debate.

And that’s fine for the circuit. Traditional debate is different. It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s not harder, it’s not easier, it’s different than circuit debate. And there’s the rub, since for the most part the judges fall into the same two camps. The judges decide who wins and when there is conflict they’ll usually defer to their camp. So you need to do the math; if there are more circuit judges, try to debate circuit; if there are more traditional judges, do that — if you see it coming and if you can change directions mid-stream.

The 2011 NCFL LD tournament was a boat race for the circuit gang. Yes, that’s a good name for it: a prototypical beat down, the outcome never in doubt from the start. Coaching a single debater on the national circuit all year, it was natural for me to examine how the best circuit debaters, those who demonstrated consistent success in the bid tournaments, fared in the NCFL LD break. They were crushed.

The NCFL field was 214 LD debaters. If we look at the top circuit debaters, those who earned at least one TOC bid last year, there were about 120 of them in the entire country. By my count 15 of them were in the NCFL LD field (apologies to anybody I missed). The break was to doubles, 32 out of 214 or 15%. The TOC-bid circuit broke all of three kids, only 20%. Considering that many, if not most, of the LD entries had far less experience, the TOC-bidders’ break percentage among those who “stood a chance” was much less than a random draw. And considering the accomplishments of this group on the circuit, certainly much less than they expected and were used to (and if I missed any then the numbers are even worse).

The CFL is a more traditional league than the circuit, so on balance, the judging there is traditional. And let’s not mistake that for inexperience. Most of the judges I observed were well seasoned. The game was played by mostly traditional rules, so to succeed, the circuit folks had to adjust properly, and most of them did not. I learned quite a bit from observing other judges, through friendly conversations between rounds and sometimes specific comments after a round. There is a tremendous diversity of points of view and styles. Some of the things I heard other judges say and do were frankly staggering. For example, several experienced judges did not flow a word.

At the risk of minimizing all the differences between circuit and traditional debate, and going by what I’ve observed at the NCFL tournament the last three years, including judging all prelim rounds and doubles last year, I think there are three key points the circuit needs to keep in mind.

First, persuasion is at a premium. Not just communication, but at the end of the round persuading the judges that your big picture makes more sense than your opponent’s — getting them to believe you. This is the hardest aspect to put your finger on, but we all know some people do it better than others. The best persuaders outline a good thesis, keep it consistent, and keep it simple. They fold their arguments around the thesis while stacking their opponent’s off to the side somewhere. It’s not the exclusive domain of traditional or circuit, but it’s harder to focus on persuasion while doing all the other circuit things. In particular, circuit debaters are often trained to “layer” their argumentation with as many “even-ifs” as possible. While this is strategic on the circuit and sometimes persuasive in real life, more often than not the use of excessive layers comes off as a perceptual weakness, because the debater that sticks to one or two layers sounds like they are more confident and have a more consistent message.

Second, traditional debate is more about the 10,000 ft. view than the 100 ft. view. Circuit debate is all about the 100 ft. view. Many judges give priority to the former over the latter. Some of the judges outright ignore the details and many are less persuaded by them than the bigger picture. Many traditional judges, the ones that flow at all in the circuit sense, won’t flow or process the details.

And third, many circuit tactics just won’t fly because they are not understood or considered necessary. This is not a deficiency of traditional debate, it’s not worse because of this, it’s just a different game. A circuit debater may spend a lot of time on arguments that are simply irrelevant to many traditional judges. For example, they might spend a lot of time warranting their value criterion and attacking the lack of warrants in their opponent’s. Many judges don’t believe this is required and some don’t completely understand warrants. Circuit debaters are often trained to see the value criterion debate as determining the relevance of contention-level arguments in the round. For example, if you win that “maximizing the protection of life” is more important than “constitutionality,” then it doesn’t matter if your opponent’s brilliant arguments about the constitutionality of an action are stronger than your mediocre arguments about saving lives. Many traditional judges, on the other hand, take a holistic view of the round. They aren’t looking to entirely accept or reject one particular value criterion. In order to win these judges, you need to treat your value criterion and contentions as two parts of the same narrative, and treat your opponent’s the same way.

The same goes for claim-warrant-impact structure to arguments. One would think this is required at all levels of traditional debate, but it’s not. I saw many case arguments, even in the elimination rounds, without warrants, some without impacts. And I saw many judges who did not care about them as much as an argument’s (or an arguer’s) intuitive plausibility. Again, this is not wrong per se, it’s different. And if you’ve spent your time arguing these things in front of judges who won’t credit you for those arguments then you’ve wasted your time. The judge probably won’t care if your opponent dropped your link-turn because they don’t understand the term. Judges won’t reward you for being obtuse, fast, or complex. Leave your theory expando at home, forget about K’s, off-case adventures, and ditch any non-traditional treatment of the resolution. Moral skepticism (or relativism, or particular-ism) will get you to 0 – 5 after prelims.

The NFL nationals are a bit different than the NCFLs, but similar in some ways. The tournament is larger and sports a more diverse pool of competitors and judges. It’s more traditional than the circuit, but not as provincial as the NCFLs. Circuit judges are well represented as are non-circuit judges open to non-traditional approaches. Circuit debaters fare better here, but overall it is still dominated by traditional judging. The six prelims are set in advance, so without power pairing some good debaters will suffer from tough draws while others will benefit from easy ones.

The three key points given above certainly apply to NFLs, but you may have a little more leeway for sophisticated tactics. However the traditional style still dominates and non-circuit peculiarities abound. I witnessed one quite unexpected manifestation of this in the 2010 NFL late rounds (11 and 12): a non-circuit debater deftly used scripted rebuttals to defeat two circuit debaters, including my debater. Scripted rebuttals (in this case large portions of the NR and 2AR) would be anathema to circuit debate — no one could predict in advance what would be on the flow. But they were brutally effective in the persuasion and big picture department and won the majority in both cases which happened to be traditional judges.

In round nine this past year the other two judges were circuit, plus me, who passed for one. The flight A debaters treated us to a knock-down circuit round worthy of quarters at a TOC bid tournament. Flight B was slow-down traditional. The juxtaposition was striking and the rest of the panel commented afterwards just how odd that was. As late as round ten, I judged a debater who interpreted the resolution in a clearly abusive manner, taking most of his opponent’s ground, something that would never have happened on the circuit unless someone wanted to provoke a theory debate – and judges voted for it. In another late round, my debater won a convincing round by a 2-1 decision. The dissenting RFD was that his opponent’s case was “better organized.”

Despite the clearly non-circuit flavor, the good news is that the last three winners of the NCFL tournament, and the last two winners of the NFL tournament, were all circuit debaters — and the list may go back even further. I had the opportunity to judge or observe all of them. They all could spin a good story without stopping for an “umm” or pausing to regroup, making it sound like they were reading it from a script, and all while embracing the art of persuasion. The young man who won the NFL last year had six TOC bids, but in the semis and finals he slowed way down to almost an “aw shucks” drawl. His opponent in the finals was one of the North East’s most successful circuit debaters, but she also won Villiger, a CFL-ishy traditional tournament at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia which had an LD field of 125.

So, there is a path to success from the circuit in these tournaments. You just need to find the right approach. You might start by talking to one of the recent champs. Or don’t worry too much about it, have fun, and experiment. Just don’t expect the circuit treatment.

Good luck!

Brad Taylor is a former LD coach for Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, Bryn
Mawr PA.  His son, Zachary, competed on the North East circuit for three
years and continues to debate for the University of Rochester.  Brad is a
Technical Fellow at DuPont.

  • If we went to a baseball tournament and

    • There's one problem with the baseball analogy- someone has written down the rules for baseball. The only written rulebook for LD only applies to the NFL tournament, has very general guidelines, and is regularly ignored even where it applies.This is not to say there wasn't a boatload of incompetence at CFL. It's just incompetence that's entangled with genuine difference.

  • KatelynSheehan

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am the 2012 NCFL LD champion. Do I consider myself a "circuit" debater? Only in the loosest sense of the term (that being I've debated on the circuit occasionally with very limited success). I also wouldn't consider myself to be an especially traditional debater. In fact, I was consistently the more technical debater this weekend. I believe that I was successful because I was able to adapt. Adaptation is an essential skill in debate. After all, if you haven't convinced your judge that you're right, why should you deserve to win the round?We seem to have this notion in the LD community that some judges just don't "understand" progressive debate, and circuit debaters are then asked to "dumb down" their strategy in a desperate attempt to salvage the round. This is problematic for several reasons. First, it tells us, even if only implicitly, that progressive debate is somehow more skillful than traditional debate. This is flat out untrue. Not only do both styles rely on the same underlying critical thinking skills, but both require an immense amount of practice and preparation to be successful. Second, it places the blame for a loss on the judge rather than the debater. Saying you had a lay judge or an older judge or a Southern judge shouldn't excuse you from consistently dropping rounds in front of them. Yes, sometimes we get bad judges. Yes, sometimes good debaters get screwed over. But in the end, we should be teaching debaters that the round is what they make of it and that they can debate in a way that will win them those ballots. Third, it places the responsibility of adaptation only on the progressive debaters. Traditional debaters shouldn't get a free pass here. All debaters, no matter their style, have the responsibility to make their ideas accessible to judges. If they're not doing that, they won't win the round. Plain and simple.No form of debate is any more valuable than another. It pains me to see and hear judges who bemoan the influx of "policy" into LD just as much as it does to hear those who look down on traditional rounds. We all have something to offer the community and we all deserve respect.

    • Ryan Miller

      Katelyn,Congratulations on the win. I learned to debate in rural PA and semi'd CFLs my junior year, and I know full well that traditional debate and judge adaptation are just as difficult as circuit debate. anon94 is right that a lot of judges give vague paradigm answers–but that just means you have to learn the skills of asking in a friendly rather than antagonistic way, reading body language, and as you note asking appropriate follow-up questions.Where we differ is that I think the real differences that Brad outlines are a preference for sophistry over argumentation, and while sophistry certainly requires real skills, I think it is, ethically speaking, a less valuable practice. I think that's covered up when you say "we all deserve respect." Certainly you deserve respect as a human, and as a very talented human at that, but why are the particular norms Brad outlines worthy of respect?

      • KatelynSheehan

        I'm not trying to defend the judging practices of traditional tournaments. I'm also not trying to convince anybody that traditional debate is the way to go. What I am trying to do is say that all debaters deserve our respect regardless of what style they are.You may feel that speaking style is less valuable than actual argumentation, and I fully understand where you're coming from (and in many situations would likely go so far as to agree), but that doesn't change the fact that it DOES have value and that some judges will ALWAYS prioritize that. I pointed out judge adaptation not to say that those judges are right in valuing speaking so highly, but to further the original purpose of the post, which was to highlight how to handle a traditional tournament. We can't change how judges feel, right or wrong, but we can teach debaters to take responsibility for how they conduct themselves in round. No, they won't always be able to adapt, but I think it's better to try than to consistently drop ballots and blame the judge.My comment was meant to point out that most debaters work hard, even if they're traditional, and therefore are deserving of respect, so we shouldn't have the attitude that those debaters are inherently "bad" or not as good as circuit debaters. I think they can be very good, amazing even, in different ways. Again, this was more about the students than the "norms", as you say.

        • Ryan Miller

          Katelyn, that certainly seems pretty fair. I just think that in public fora, it doesn't make sense to suggest that the norms are equally valuable. That doesn't mean the debaters aren't worthy of respect as competitors, but it does cast doubt on the activity.

    • There are benefits to both styles of debate, and good and bad practices within both styles of debate.But that does not mean the scale is even. There are plenty of examples of circuit debaters rolling into non-circuit tournaments with minimal prep, one or two good judge adaptation lectures from their coach, and winning.The reverse never happens. It's not even conceivable Teaching a novice or even a successful traditional debater how to be good on the circuit takes months. It's simply far more complicated.Second of all, there's far more variation in traditional tournaments. In my state tournament, I went from semifinalist to champion to quarterfinalist my sophomore, junior, and senior years respectively. And the year I won, I almost didn't even qualify from my district. There was even a CFL champion in recent history who didn't break the next year at the tournament. Speaker points at CFLs are direct evidence of this. I remember one round my senior year at CFL where one judge gave me a 28 and another gave me a 20. Both watched the same exact debate and gave me the same general, more-or-less-useless descriptions of their paradigm. This would NEVER happen on the circuit to a debater who actually asked judges about their paradigms. In fact, senior year I could reasonably predict how well I would do before any national circuit tournament: Break and win one or two outrounds. I finaled in two tournaments and didn't break in one, but those where the vast minorities. Yet there'd be a huge variation in the arguments used in individual rounds. In contrast, I'd do a lot of local tournaments as well (many of which used the NCFL topic) in which 2/3rds of rounds came down to the same stupid arguments (such as "giving everyone on US soil equal constitutional rights would mean criminals have to have guns and 3 year olds can vote") but the judge outcomes were like rolling dice.And, third, and most significantly, the circuit community is a lot more willing to be self-critical and change debate norms overtime. (The evolution of theory to check back abuse a-prioris on the corporations topic, followed by the evolution of theory norms to reduce frivolous theory is one example; the emphasis on oral critiques and paradigms is another.) Judges try very hard to be as formulaic and specific (ie, "tab" or "flow-based') as possible, to reduce arbitrariness to a minimum. But most representatives of traditional debate embrace arbitrariness (calling it "persuasiveness" or "style") and don't make any effort to reform it. It's somewhat analogous to science versus religious fundamentalism.This is not to say that traditional debate has no value, or that you should be belittled for winning CFL. Congratulations on the win. But it's important for defenders of traditional debate not to cling to flat-out falsehoods like the idea that both kinds of debate involve the same complexity or amount of work. (Which is, to clarify again, not the same as saying a given traditional debater didn't do a lot of genuine preparation to win.) Traditional debate would certainly benefit most from this paradigm change. (Awful pun intended.)

      • anon94

        re: speaker points. When asked for the speaker point scale by a coach during the general meeting, the LD director responded with, "Oh, its just varsity here".Really? Like, REALLY?

      • KatelynSheehan

        My comment wasn't meant to be in defense of traditional tournaments or of traditional debate itself. I don't think that traditional debate is perfect or even better that progressive. In fact, I don't particularly enjoy it and I don't debate that way. But I also don't think the people who do debate that way are wrong or any less deserving of our respect as competitors. The issue I take is the attitude that traditional rounds are somehow beneath progressive debaters and that progressive debaters are inherently always better. I firmly believe that both types of debaters can excel, just in wildly different ways. But to respond specifically…1. It would appear that some circuit debaters DO have difficulty adapting to traditional styles as evidenced by the original post. Again, I don't point this out to say that circuit debate is any better or worse than traditional. It's just different.2. To say there's no variability in circuit judging seems kind of silly to me. I recognize that the circuit community is making the effort to be more formulaic (and this could potentially mean more fair in the end) and that the traditional community is not, but this is also because the styles conduct the round in totally different ways. While preparation and quick-thinking are the basis of any debate, different skill sets are emphasized after that. Traditional debate does place a premium on speaking style and presentation, but who's to say that isn't valuable? Again, the two styles are different, but that's a GOOD thing. I'm of the opinion that exposure to these varying styles can only give us a broader (and ultimately better) education.The overall purpose of my comment was never to say that the CFL is a wonderful, perfect league and we should all follow the examples set by traditional rounds. We shouldn't. We should respect the work put in by traditional debaters and not put them down because they rely on a different, but also valuable, skill set. Likewise, traditional judges/coaches/debaters should respect the amazing things circuit debaters can do and recognize what they have to offer. No one has to like what the other does, but we should respect it.

        • Ryan Miller

          No, sophistry is not an equally valuable skillset. I hope Plato's Gorgias can convince you of that. As I and Zach both admit, circuit debaters engage in plenty of sophistry too, which I also decry. But sophistry isn't legitimate, and shouldn't be respected, condoned, and adapted to.

      • Ryan Miller

        Just to concoct some data as the plural of anecdote, I did a ton of local debate in high school, and my experience very much parallels Zach's. Sometimes I did very well, sometimes I did very poorly, but I never knew why. Mostly it's just luck.

    • anon94

      "First, it tells us, even if only implicitly, that progressive debate is somehow more skillful than traditional debate. This is flat out untrue. Not only do both styles rely on the same underlying critical thinking skills, but both require an immense amount of practice and preparation to be successful"Really? The same critical thinking skills? The same article you are commenting on noted that debaters won round on scripted rebuttals. Where the hell is the critical thinking in that? Even if circuit debaters may read from long block files at least they have to compare the arguments in the final speeches and choose which blocks to read. Moreover it is just false that the same amount of prep goes into doing well in circuit debate. Most people write one case for either side and dont really do very much at all. It may require a decent amount of work in some capacity, but not nearly the same as circuit debate."Second, it places the blame for a loss on the judge rather than the debater. Saying you had a lay judge or an older judge or a Southern judge shouldn't excuse you from consistently dropping rounds in front of them. Yes, sometimes we get bad judges. Yes, sometimes good debaters get screwed over. But in the end, we should be teaching debaters that the round is what they make of it and that they can debate in a way that will win them those ballots"adapting to judges is nearly impossible when codes are used instead of last names (making it impossible to check paradigms) and judges frequently ignore or bemoan questions being asked of them before rounds. A lot of the time judges will just stick to their convictions they had before the round and vote regardless of arguments, or they vote on presentation which isnt even debate at all."Third, it places the responsibility of adaptation only on the progressive debaters. Traditional debaters shouldn't get a free pass here. All debaters, no matter their style, have the responsibility to make their ideas accessible to judges. If they're not doing that, they won't win the round. Plain and simple."See the comments re: adapation above.I understand you won, congrats on the big shiny trophy, but to defend a tournament with vigor only after you have won when this article has been up for a while is very egotistical.

      • KatelynSheehan

        1. Were you or are you a traditional debater? If the answer is no, then don't presume to know how much work they do. Blocks ARE scripted rebuttals, and even traditional debaters must choose which of those that they've written to read from. It's unlikely that every single round ended up in such a way that one rebuttal could be read in its entirety as a response. How on earth could you know that most traditional debaters only write one case? A variability of available positions isn't unique to the circuit; I've hit traditional (slow speaking, jargon-less, big picture) kids with expandos. Again, please don't presume to know how much work those kids did when it's clearly a style that you have little to no experience in.2. I'm sorry to hear that you've resigned yourself to believing that such a key skill is simply nonexistent. It hasn't been my experiencing that adaption is "nearly impossible" or that judges ignore my questions about paradigms. Most judges I've encountered have been happy to provide me with that information and nobody has ever flat out refused and sat there in total silence. I honestly think that when judges are less than forthcoming with their preferences it isn't because they're against telling you, but because they don't quite know what to say. It's a lot easier to answer specific questions than to try and explain your entire debate belief system. When I see I'm not getting the sort of detail I want, I try that tactic. Again, no one ever refuses me.3. The point of adaptation is to change yourself to fit your judges' ideas of "good" debate, but I guess somebody like yourself who refuses to do that would be upset when a judge actually sticks to their preferences and doesn't vote for you. We get ballots with RFDs back from tournaments for a reason. Those comments are meant to help you understand what was going on in the judge's head so that you can better formulate an approach to those sorts of rounds. 4. Presentation is not the only skill in debate, that's true, but it does allow for accessibility. If you're talking too quickly or using "debate jargon" with a judge who specifically told you they don't want that, expect to lose. In all likelihood, the judge told you that because she has limitations. She may just not be able to flow and comprehend speed or have a background that taught her all the jargon you're using. Chances are, she isn't some sadistic tradition-pusher out to get all you darn circuit debaters. She just wants to be able to understand and vote on the round to the best of her ability. Judges are people too. They aren't perfect. Help them help you by explaining your position in way they can understand.5. Not a word of my comment is meant to be in defense of any tournament. I only mention my win because my attendance at more traditional tournaments has helped shaped my views on its value as a style. That seemed like relevant information. What I'm defending in my comment is the idea that no debater should have to apologize for their style. You can prefer progressive rounds and detest having traditional judges and never EVER try to adapt. That's fine, it's your right to feel however you'd like. But every competitor deserves your respect regardless.

        • anon94

          1) traditional debate just does not consider the arguments or warrants very much and prioritizes presentation far more. the general trend from what i saw at the tournament was debaters having one case and very few blocks. regardless, circuit debate requires far more prep and practice than traditional debate. i dont know how to become a card-carrying "Traditional" debater but i have competed and done well in more traditional tournaments and can adapt, my status as a good traditional debater is just as irrelevant as yours.2) if i had a nickel for every time i asked a paradigmatic question and was met with "make good arguments" or "persuade me", i would be a rich man (or perhaps capable of affording the judges lounge). we are clearly not going to agree on this, but at the least they could have used judges names on pairings to allow the use of judgephilosophies. if adaptation is so important, make them publish judge paradigms! 3) i dont know why you are suddenly able to claim i cannot adapt, i simply said it was difficult and required stereotyping. I am not a mind-reader and cannot look into the soul of a judge and find their conception of good debate. and dont get me started on the jokes they call "rfds". "AFF was more persuasive" does nothing for anyone.4) sadistic tradition pushers are more common than you think. at any rate, debate is a complicated activity and perhaps if the NCFL tried to get more experienced judges into the pool then the language barrier wouldn't exist. although i wont blame them since they typically can only work with the judges they are given, but some minimum requirement should be in place. moreover, these judges that do understand debate terminology (aka the ones that have debated before and may be less than 18 months out of high school) should be allowed to judge elims. not every FYO is super technical and some often prefer more traditional debate, but they can still understand whats going on better than the judges you describe and yet they are not allowed to judge elims even when THEY WON THE TOURNAMENT THE PREVIOUS YEAR. you seem to know about debate and it seems strange you yourself would not be able to judge next year :/5) you clearly knew about traditional debate before, and my comment at the end was just pointing out how you waited to defend the tournament until after you won.

        • Ryan Miller

          I appreciate you placing the emphasis on tournament practices like judge codes, because I really do think they are the driving factor.You should sign your name to what you write–you'll be taken more seriously.

        • ldrlt

          I get the dislike for not being able to have a bio for the judge in advance, but to clarify, the ballots at NCFL do have the judges code, name, signature and school (and they were making judges complete the code, name, signature and school name fields)

        • KatelynSheehan

          This isn't about how I may or may not feel about NCFL. Again, I'm not defending the tournament or the judges. I was merely asking that we treat traditional debaters with the same respect we give to debaters on the circuit.Traditional debate exists whether we like it or not, and we have to deal with it. I'm not asking you to enjoy traditional rounds (I don't really like to debate that way either). I'm not asking you to love traditional judges or agree with their paradigms. I was only asking that we all lose the traditional-equals-bad-debate-every-single-time because it isn't helpful and it extends to how we treat other competitors. [I'll stop for a second to clarify that I, of course, don't know how you specifically feel, but I know that I'm guilty of it and I've certainly seen it from other debaters and judges] If we legitimize that idea, then we make it okay for the "other side" to belittle circuit debate and the students who do it. You may not see the value in traditional debate, but you do have to realize that those debaters work hard. This was about not belittling any competitor just because they do it differently than you.And you can stop with telling me I'm hypocritical for defending NCFL after I won. This isn't a defense of ANY tournament.

        • anom97

          Dear Anom 94: If NCFL sucks, and the judge can't be adapted to, and it's all so unfair, how did a debater like Tara Tedrow ever manage to win it twice in a row? The answer – good debaters do what's necessary to adapt to those in the room, they don't whine about the "unfairness" of things, they get on with the adaptation and get the job done.

        • anon94

          some can adapt better than others, and good debaters DID get screwed all tournament. if adaptation is so important, then make them publish paradigms to encourage legitimate adaptation and not stereotyping that someone looks like a parent.

        • anom97

          If "good" debaters got "screwed" all tournament long, perhaps it is accurate to say that "better" debaters – those who would ask questions of their judges, and then make the necessary changes, were rewarded all tourney long as well.

  • anon94

    cfls is bad and they should feel bad

    • There was at least one instance where someone didn't break because tab recorded a loss and a win. And it was round 5 and this person had a win 30, so it was a pretty significant tab error.When we checked in, they didn't even have me registered as a judge at all, and had a parent who didn't intent to judge registered instead. I also ended up judging a round that turned out to be a forfeit, even though the missing debater had told tab she'd dropped out of the tournament a full 48 hours before it began.

      • anom97

        If a debater was not advanced, their coach should inform their Diocesean Moderator, who will then advise the tournament.

        • anon94

          thats bureaucracy if i've ever seen it

      • ldrlt

        If you think there was an error, you should report it with a copy of the ballots… otherwise it is just a rumor…

        • anon94

          im pretty sure this was his own student, calling legitimate complaints "rumors" is demeaning.

        • ldrlt

          If it is legit, I am sure NCFL will address it and I hope he reports it to them, Claiming the issue here does nothing and sorry, just like people call for cards to show the legitimacy of evidence, showing the error is reasonable not demeaning.

        • anom97

          I believe that ldrlt is saying is that if this truly happened, the coach should report it. Until such a time as it is reported and verified, it is a mistaken assumption, or you are reporting a rumor. I have been around NCFL long enough to know that most coaches report such errors the minute the tournament packet is released.

        • anom97

          After checking the culm sheets, I can only find two instances where a person in Round 5 with a 30 was given a loss. I know one was legit as both were given 30's, and the ballot has been seen by me. The other round both speakers had 30's too. So, the coaches of 1011 and 1166 – those were the other two involved in a round where a 30 got a loss in Round 5, see an error on the ballot, they should report it immediately.

        • It wasn't my student, but I heard it from someone who was directly involved and requested I didn't give more details. Regardless, there's nothing that can be changed now.

  • Ryan Miller

    Brad,I understand that you're mostly just offering tactical advice, most of which is more than fair (though there are traditional judges who are very, very serious about arguments impacting to value structures). I semi'd CFLs after a not-that-great junior campaign and then went I think 2-3 after a much more successful senior circuit campaign, so it definitely behooves everyone to understand their judging.That said, why is it now not PC (and it's not just you doing this) to say that circuit debate is just better than traditional debate? Voting for arguments without warrants or impacts (and arguments that link to a defeated VC are just an example of the latter) either indicates a radical deficiency in logic or indicates simple intervention. Voting for the person who is "better organized" makes sense in a context like a Presidential "debate" where in the end you're voting for a person, but is clearly fallacious when voting for a resolution. Allowing abusive positions is clearly not good for debate.Many students on the circuit layer too much for their own good, of course, and would be better off providing more warrants and impacts for fewer layers, but judging an "even if" argument as rhetorically weak is also clearly fallacious. And of course these fallacies don't predominate in certain settings because of "community preferences" or culture or something, but rather because of a very straightforward procedural difference: the lack of oral critique in which a judge must publicly justify their decision. So offer tactical advice for those who want to play the game, sure–but realize that you're teaching the odds for various poker hands without mentioning the glaring fact that they're in favor of the house.

    • rrabbit12

      Ryan:There are way too many layers in the onion than I care to negotiate to argue that one type of debate is "better" than another. I volunteer my time, a lot of it, helping the local (PHSSL) league because I believe Forensics is a valuable experience for kids at any level, and just about all those debaters are traditional. I'm not being PC, I'm just not comfortable with a position that minimizes their hard work.If you want to define what you mean by "better" and state your claim, fine, you just did and I won't argue other to say that it's just one layer in that onion.My purpose for the article was to address EXPECTATIONS. Zach beat his head against wall at NCFLs three years in a row missing the break by one ballot each time and I firmly believe had he (we) better addressed the three points I mentioned, he would have had better results. That comes from a lot of discussion with and observation of other judges, and a few of the debaters who did well.Likewise, I certainly did not expect many of the things we experienced in late rounds at NFL Nationals. I'm not too interested in taking a position that any of them were wrong or right, better or worse, but only that that circuit crew should be aware what awaits them.So I'll turn your parting shot, it's not that I forgot to mention the glaring fact that that odds are in favor of the house; quite the opposite, that's exactly what I'm addressing, that the circuit should expect as much, and if they want to nudge the odds towards their favor they might want to check their approach.Brad

      • Ryan Miller

        Brad,All very fair, and I certainly don't mean to say that non-circuit forensics isn't valuable. But to say that checkers is fun and kids learn from it and some kids work hard to get good at it isn't to say that it has the educational or aesthetic value of chess. I'm clearly picking a fight here, because the main point of your article was, as you say, purely tactical, but I don't understand why you're unwilling to place an objectively greater value on circuit debate.

        • Anon427

          Local debate teaches persuasion skills a lot better than circuit debate. In the real world, extending a dropped spike doesn't actually do anything for you. So they're different skillsets, and if you try to claim that one is "objectively" better you're just flat-out wrong.And I think you overestimate the intellectual rigor of circuit debate — there's very little intellectual value in most framework debates and almost 0 in theory. In a lot of cases, arguments are accepted simply because they're common, not because they have warrants. Think the "conditionals" argument, but also people are given a lot of leeway on common theory/standards arguments.Circuit debate also places high value on presentation, just in a different way; rep and perceptual dominance instead of persuasion.

        • Ryan Miller

          1. And extemp is even better at teaching persuasion than local debate. Sophistry is definitely a skill, and one well rewarded by markets, but it is objectively less preferable. Read Plato's Gorgias.2. I've judged tons of circuit debates with, as you correctly note, very little intellectual rigor. You're absolutely right that circuit debate is subject to all kinds of fallacies, which I decry on my ballots, oral critiques, blog posts, etc. But I would (and do) blast anyone who gives public advice that in order to do well at ToC-bid tournaments you should have lots of unwarranted spikes and lunatic theory shells.In short, people will always have their biases, and different groups will tend to different biases, but we should condemn those biases rather than condoning them as mere differences worthy of adaptation.