Chapter 15

Tournament Procedures

 

I’ve never debated before. Will I be matched against an experienced debater in the tournament coming up?

There are several levels of competition in debate. The easiest is the Novice division, which is reserved for students who have never debated in a judged round before September of the school year. In Novice-division tournaments, first-year debaters will be matched only against first-year debaters.

Experienced debaters usually participate on the Varsity or Junior Varsity division. Each of these is open to anyone; so a Novice could debate on the JV division, even though a JV debaters would not be permitted to debate as a Novice. There are no formal distinctions between JV and Varsity divisions, but coaches are encouraged to put their best students as Varsity debaters.

How are debate tournaments organized?

In Michigan, there are three types of tournament you may participate in: the league, the invitational, and the state elimination series. Debate leagues usually meet periodically after school. Generally, each league meeting gives you two or three rounds of debate. Your performance in the league is recorded after each round. Most leagues extend to several dates; after the last day of competition, awards are given to the debaters with the best overall records.

Invitational tournaments generally take place on a single Saturday, or over a two-day weekend (Friday afternoon and all Saturday). You will usually participate in four to six rounds of debate over this period. The best scores in the tournament qualify you for a trophy. For two-day tournaments, the top competitors after the preliminary rounds are matched against each other in elimination rounds.

There are also various state elimination programs. Michigan sponsors two. The first is for Novice debaters only. All schools participate who wish to may enter one team in the Novice Preliminary tournament, which consists of four rounds of debate on a Saturday. The top schools then participate against each other the following weekend until the best school is chosen. The other state program is organized by the size school: the divisions are based on school size. Schools first participate in a four-round District tournament against schools of similar size from the same geographic area. Those schools with the best records advance to the state debate finals, a two-to-three day tournament held a few weeks later.

Your school may belong to a national speech organization, such as the National Forensic League or the National Catholic Forensic League, which will give it additional competitive opportunities. Such organizations usually sponsor District tournaments allowing teams from all participating schools in a geographic area to compete against each other. Those teams with the best records advance to the next level of competition, which may be national in scope.

The basic entry in a debate tournament is the unit. Traditionally, the standard unit size is four people: two Affirmative debaters and two Negative debaters. The Affirmative partners will stay together and compete against Negatives from other high schools; the Negative partners will stay together and compete against Affirmative pairs (from schools that the Affirmative doesn’t meet).

Many debate leagues and invitationals allow two-person units as well: a pair of debaters who are expected to debate Affirmative and Negative in alternate rounds. Obviously, this swing or switch-sides debating is not for everyone — only the best debaters should try it. Swing debaters are matched against other swing debaters, and not debaters from 4-person units.

When your coach registers your team for the tournament, each unit will be given a numerical code. These numbers are assigned by random draw, so no school knows beforehand what school they will be competing against. At the same time, you will be given a schedule of when the contests are to take place, and a schematic, a table that assigns rooms and teams for each round. A partial schematic is shown below.

 

 

Round 1

 

Round 2

 

Round 3

ROOM

AFF

NEG

JUDGE

 

NEG

JUDGE

 

NEG

JUDGE

62

101

102

120

 

103

119

 

104

118

65

102

103

101

 

104

120

 

105

119

66

103

104

102

 

105

101

 

106

120

67

104

105

103

 

106

102

 

107

101

73

105

106

104

 

107

103

 

108

102

Assume that you are part of team 104. The Affirmative partners will go to Room 67 and stay there all day; often schematics are designed so that Affirmative teams remain in place. They will face Negative teams 105, 106, and 107 for the first three rounds. Their Negative teammates will move from room to room as the day progresses — first meeting Affirmative team 103 in room 66, then Affirmative 102 in room 65, and then Affirmative 101 in room 62.

For swing debaters, the schedule is more complex. Generally, debaters will receive a schematic showing what rooms they are to debate in and what side they will represent for the first few rounds of the tournament. Thereafter, the assignments will be posted on a sheet of paper in a public place for all competitors to consult. The tournament administrators will have scheduled those teams with the best records to compete against one another, those with fair records to meet teams with fair records, and those with poor records to meet other poor teams. This method of matching competitors is known as power-pairing. It is often alternated with power protection, which matches the contestants with the best records against those with the poorest records, while those with average records are again paired against each other. Power protection is used to guarantee that the very best debaters do not eliminate each other from the competition, leaving second-quality units for the remaining elimination rounds. Careful use of these two matching strategies ensures that the best two teams will meet each other in the final round; often, this is a debate on an auditorium stage in front of a large audience.

 

What happens when I enter the competition room?

When you enter the competition room, write your school code number, side, and the names of the debaters on the blackboard. So the Affirmative team in the example above might write:

AFFIRMATIVE # 104

1A:

Molly Malcontent

2A:

Malcolm Molybdenum

Usually, the Affirmative team sets up their evidence boxes and chair on the left side of the classroom (as one faces straight ahead from the judge’s viewpoint), and the Negative customarily sets up on the right. But this is a trivial matter. Speakers will stand to speak, either at or near their desk or from a centrally located table or podium.

The timing of each speech may be done by an observer who is designated as timekeeper, or by the judge. The timekeeper will display index cards with the remaining time (rounded up) exposed — thus, a card numbered "8" will be shown for the first minute of each constructive speech. Usually, cards will also indicate when 30 seconds and 15 seconds remain. If you are still talking when your time expires, you may finish reading an evidence card or you may finish the sentence you are speaking. The judge will ignore anything you say beyond these limits.

Novice debaters may find that they run out of things to say before their time has been completely used. That’s okay. Conclude and sit down. Do not try to fill up the time by repeating arguments you have already presented, or by rereading evidence that has already been presented in the round. For Negatives, especially, the 2NC speech should not waste time by going over case issues (1NR will do that fine!), and 1NR shouldn’t go over plan attacks (at least not in detail; see the reminder in Chapter 7).

One factor we have not yet mentioned is prep time. Both teams in the round are allowed a limited amount — usually seven minutes — of preparation time between speeches. You are not obliged to use all seven minutes. The timekeeper will keep you informed at regular intervals of how much prep time has been used. Note that the allotment is seven minutes for each side throughout the debate — not seven minutes for each debater, and not seven minutes before each speech!

After the debate, shake hands with your opponents. This shows good sportsmanship. If this was an exceptionally well-argued round, make sure you tell your opponents how much you enjoyed the challenge. You may then use any time before the next round is scheduled to reorganize your evidence box or talk with your partner quietly. The judge is probably still working on the ballot, so do not disturb him or her.

Avoid arguing with your opponents after the debate, either in the room or in the hallway. If possible, avoid announcing what school you attend in the judge’s hearing. Schools are assigned code numbers for a reason: the judge is not supposed to know what school the debaters are from. Some judges may be biased for or against particular schools. Of course, if the other team announces, "Hi, we’re from Prestige High School — where are you from?" at the top of their voices at the start of the round, it’s impossible not to answer.

The judge will not announce the decision of the debate. You will find that out later after all the rounds for the day have been completed.

Often the judge will present an oral critique: a few comments to each side to highlight the best and worst points. Listen to what the judge says, and discuss the points with your coach later if you believe the judge was very accurate or inaccurate. Never argue with the judge. You, or somebody else from your debate squad, will be judged by this person again.

 

Are there any tricky procedures that can go on during the debate?

Something that hasn’t been mentioned so far is switching rebuttals. Either team may have the partners exchange rebuttal speeches; all they have to do is inform the opposing team and the judge beforehand. So if the Affirmative team switched rebuttals, one person would give the 1AC and 2AR speeches, and the other debater would give 2AC and 1AR. Check with your coach about the rules for switching rebuttals before you try it. ichigan rules, for instance, require that the team switching rebuttals must announce the fact before the round begins or risk losing the debate.

Affirmative teams sometimes switch rebuttals if an experienced debater cancels out at the last moment. An inexperienced debater is slipped into the Affirmative slot to read the 1AC case. Since this debater would not be up to handling the First Affirmative Rebuttal, the debaters exchange those speeches. Officially, the judge will not criticize the team for this practice. However, in practical terms, this improves the Negative position very well. The inexperienced debater is not likely to hold up well in cross-examination and will not deliver a powerful concluding speech.

While the Negative team has the right to switch rebuttals, too, it doesn’t make sense for them to take advantage of this opportunity. The Second Negative would be on his feet for sixteen minutes in the middle of the debate for 2NC, cross-examination, and 1NR. It makes more sense for 1N to argue case attacks in his two speeches, and for 2N to argue plan issues in both his speeches, than for the partners to switch duties.

Don’t confuse switched rebuttals with switched cross-examinations. Either partner may conduct C-X without informing the judge or opposing team beforehand.

 

What does the judge write on the ballot?

The ballot is a multiple-part form that the judge uses to record her decision on the debate. Before the debate begins, she will record your names, school codes, the date, and other bookkeeping matters. As the debate progresses, most judges record comments on speaking style and delivery for the individual debaters. When the round is over, the judge will use her flowchart to decide which side won the various stock issues. A good judge will explain clearly on the ballot why each issue fell to one side or the other, and how that affected his decision. On the last line of the ballot, the judge will note the winning team: Affirmative or Negative.

The judge will also assign speaker points for each debater. Each speaker will receive a score in the range of 5 to 30. A 30 score represents the pinnacle of achievement for that division of competition. Obviously, a 30 score for a novice division debate is not the same as a 30 for a varsity swing-side debate, but it does represent a speaker who is at the top of his or her division. More than one speaker can receive the same total. Usually, the team with the higher total of speaker points will win the debate.

There are no formal guidelines for assigning speaker points. Most judges award points based on speaker organization, refutation, analysis, reasoning, evidence, and delivery. Conduct and ethics will also influence the scores.

The judge also assigns ranks — first, second, third, and fourth place — to the speakers. These ranks allow comparison between speakers who have identical point totals.

The ballot automatically makes three copies. One will go to the Affirmative team, one to the Negative, and the third is kept by the tournament administrator. Your coach will receive copies of all the ballots at the end of the day.

 

How do conduct and ethics affect my speaker scores?

Debaters who are abusive or rude (especially during cross-examination) can expect to have their speaker points reduced. Debaters who violate ethics — by prompting their partners during speeches, by fabricating evidence, or by heckling the opposing team — usually can expect to lose the round, and the judge may ask the tournament director to disqualify the team from further competition.

Most coaches will try to discourage you from deliberately rude behavior. Every coach will take severe and immediate steps if a student commits a breach of ethics. Dropping the offending student from the debate squad is the usual sanction.

 

How does style influence my speaker scores?

A textbook is a poor way to learn effective delivery. Constant practice in the classroom with your fellow students and your coach is the best way to improve your speaking style. But some general comments are appropriate here:

The speed of delivery is a persistent issue among debate judges. Too often, the debater wants to spread and re-spread his opponents’ arguments, resulting in a rate of speed so fast that words become garbled and unrecognizable. Certainly debate delivery can be faster than everyday conversation, or even faster than the rate acceptable for other speech competitions. And many judges disagree as to what level of speed is acceptable. But if you cannot speak clearly at the rate you have chosen, or if your arguments cannot be flowed by the judge and the opposing team, you are speaking too fast.

Poise and eye-contact also factor into your speaker point score. Adopt a confident, relaxed, and sincere posture when you rise to speak. Use gestures if appropriate, but avoid flailing about wildly. Since the speaking position is usually fixed, do not wander far from it. Make sure you can be heard clearly by the audience, judge, and opposing team, but do not shout.

Style has its greatest influence on scores when the speaker adopts an annoying habit. The debater who mumbles while staring downward at his flowchart, never looking at the judge, will receive poor scores. So will the speaker who constantly sways from side to side, or swivels back and forth at the hips. Again, these are factors which are best resolved by practice debates before your coach.

It probably should not need mentioning, but do not chew gum during the round, especially while speaking.

 

Who gets trophies?

Most leagues and invitational tournaments give two sets of awards — individual and team — for each division of competition. Individual trophies are awarded to the debaters who have the highest total speaker points for the length of the tournament, with ties broken by the lowest totals of ranks (since a rank of 1 is better than a rank of 4).

Team trophies are based on the overall performance of your team unit, Affirmative and Negative together, in win-loss record. If ties exist, they are usually broken based on the cumulative speaker points of all the debaters in the unit. Tournaments which offer elimination rounds may base trophies on the preliminary round records only, or they may give team trophies only to those who advance to eliminations.

The state elimination series does not give trophies away for the preliminary rounds, but they do award very nice trophies to those who advance to the elimination rounds of state finals. Official certificates are presented to debaters who qualify for the state final tournament or novice final tournament.

Depending on your school’s policy about accepting valuable awards, you will probably be allowed to keep any individual trophies you are awarded. Team trophies generally are donated to the school, since there is no practical way to divide the award among two or more debaters.

 

How do I prepare for the debate?

Get a good night’s sleep beforehand, especially for a weekend invitational. You cannot be at your best otherwise.

Before leaving for the meet, make sure you have everything you might need with you. Double check: do you have your Affirmative case? Your evidence and briefs? Flowpaper, index cards, and extra pens?

Speech competition is a formal activity. Dress in conservative good taste. That means skirts or dresses for ladies, ties and jackets for men. Stop groaning! You want to take every chance offered to impress the judge; wearing your good clothes is an easy way to accomplish this, especially if you are competing in an after-school league debate. Dressing up gives you a psychological advantage as well. Dressing in your everyday clothes seems to make you less determined; dressing in special clothes gives you a certain focus and intensity that make you better at debate. So consider it equivalent to an actor donning a costume before he goes onstage, and make the effort to look your best. It will pay off.

 

 

Introduction to Policy Debate
Copyright © 1990, 1993, 1996, 2002 John R. Prager
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Permission is not granted to reproduce this document in whole or in part, in any medium.