Thursday, December 16, 2010

Plugging Everybody In

Spanky, Alfalfa and Spike discuss plugging in the tabroom. No one's knocked it completely yet, but inroads have been made. Episode 35.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sexism in debate

Taking off from a recent discussion on VBD, Menick, Cruz and Palmer discuss the issue, and even suggest the beginning of a solution. Episode 34.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Redesigning TOC?

Brian Manuel's recent Nostrum Rostrum article about a more regional approach to TOC comes under the microscope, right after Menick whines about Bump. Anyone who can listen to this whole thing is beyond hope: Episode 33.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

More on tournaments

Given that among the four of us, we probably run about a gazillion point three tournaments, we love talking about how it's done. Hence, we do so again in Episode 32.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Speaker points

This week the Harpo, Groucho, Chico and Zeppo discuss speaker points in all their glory. The problem is, of course, that there are no objective criteria. We also raked MJP over the metaphoric coals in light of Big Bronx. The episode is here.

And this is the Bietz speaker point scale that I found a little stingy:

This scale is what a judge should use based on the ROUND itself, not the person's potential or reputation.

30= Perfect. Judges should think REALLY hard before giving a thirty.

29= Nearly perfect - Debated well enough in the round to win every tournament they attend. No mistakes.

27-28= Very good. Debated well enough to break and make it to deep outrounds. Could have beat 90% of the pool.

26= Good. Should end up with a winning record.

25= Average. Should be somewhere between 2-4 or 3-3.

24= Not good. Made a lot of mistakes. Spoke poorly.

23= Awful. Shouldn't win more than 1 round based on what you saw here.

22 and lower = offended you.

Monday, October 11, 2010

TFVT launches War on Drugs

So the Four Corners of the Debate Earth tackled the Nov-Dec resolution last night, with decidedly mixed results. Find out which word in the resolution ultimately drove us into the wall. Episode 30

During the discussion I mentioned some material I had picked up from Filip Spagnoli's blog (which you may not be aware of, if you don't follow the Coachean Feed, which you also may not be aware of, which is a tragedy of epic proportions).

Oh, yeah. The feed. I've plugged it in there over on the right. The best thing to do is follow it through RSS.

Friday, October 1, 2010

You heard it here first

That is, you heard Menick retching when discussing what is now the Nov-Dec topic. Hear what the Four Feathers (Menick, Cruz, Bietz and Palmer) have to say about all of the potential resolutions in Episode 29.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We are not alone

Well, we weren't alone already because of 3NR, but now the PFDebate Blog folks are in the podcasting business. If you care about PF, and have a chance, check it out.

Monday, September 27, 2010

MJP at Yale

I've posted an account of what, exactly, happened at Yale at, if you're interested in the end of the story.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

MJP in the tabroom

The Five Marx Brothers (including Gummo Vaughan as well as Menick, Bietz, Cruz and Palmer) talk about how, exactly one can do mutual judge preferences, and how, exactly, they will do it at Yale and, it would seem, at the New York City Invitational. If you're not subscribing to the podcast on iTunes, you'll have no choice but to click here to get it. Unless you don't want it. But admit it. You know you do. (The Seaver memo referred to is a couple of entries down from this one.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Episode 27 - Case Disclosure after Greenhill

The Four Gabbers of the Apocalypse—Menick, Cruz, Bietz and Palmer—tackle disclosure in the light of Greenhill last weekend, plus they propose a change to the system. Resistance is futile, so you might as well listen to it. Episode 27.

MJP at Greenhill

The following is the document from Aaron Timmons and Frank Seaver, in aid of next week's discussion..

MPJ: The Perspective from the Tab Room

The goal of this document is to enhance the transparency regarding how decisions are made in the tab room when it comes to assigning judges. It is my belief that the primary responsibility of the individual assigning judges into debates is to do so in a way that is both equitable while trying to meet the competitive interests for all the competitors. We continually try to make changes and improvements to our system with that vision in mind. I believe that the more decisions that a coach/team can make before the tournament to communicate their wishes and intent, the better the tab room can then provide a positive and rewarding experience. To that end, if you have any specific questions, please feel free to email me at Of course, since I will be taking care of finishing the Round Robin Friday evening, my ability to answer questions may be limited as the MPJ deadline approaches. I will try.


I think there are two basic strategies to ranking judges. Some coaches like to rank the judges from most preferred to least preferred – and then assign their categories in a hierarchal fashion from that list. A second approach is to rank judges based on who they would prefer to have judge their team relative to the other teams in the tournament. For example, you may think (it is 1992 and) that Aaron Timmons is the best judge in the pool and rank him as a #1. However, if you also felt that – for whatever reason – that Timmons was a better (ie: more strategic) judge for most of your competition in the pool, then this second approach would rank Timmons lower (and may even strike him). Neither approach is “right” or “wrong.” The second approach can be riskier. However, the second approach can also pay off with nice strategic dividends in the elimination debates by producing better panels given the norms we will use in assigning judges. Coaches that adopt this approach frequently wish to strike all supplemental judges that are offered once the tournament starts with the goal being to preserve their 1 category to be as small as possible knowing that the tab room will do everything they can to ensure all 1s in elimination debates (and sometimes that can backfire). I am sure this may be self-evident to some/most. But I do want to expose the way these competing philosophies play out in some not-so obvious ways given my vantage point behind the computer. There are times when the person at the computer has to make subjective decisions. I would prefer to have guidance from each school (like the MPJ system is trying to do to begin with) regarding how to handle these situations.


Some coaches may desire to have as many “true” 1s in their first category as possible. That may mean that they assign more judge units to the first category than is required. Of course, this decreases the amount of units required for the second category (e.g. for this year’s allocation requirements, at least 12.5% of the judge units must be 1s, 25% must be 2 or higher; 37.5% must be 3 or higher, 50% must be 4 or higher). Here is something important given the new way we will be pairing prelim debates. If you exceed the number of units in a category, while that will increase the likelihood of having that judge in a mismatched debate (meaning: the judge is a 1 for you and a 2 for the opposition), it also means that in mutually preferred judging situations (1 and 1), the discrepancy in mutuality could be larger than normal. Example: lets say only ten judges are needed to meet your 1 category – but you decide to place Timmons in that group as your 11th judge.

There may be times where the fairest pairing is a 1-2 situation, which could mean you get your very top #1 judge in the pool who happens to be a 2 for the opposition. Great! However, that also means that a mutual 1-1 debate could result in Timmons being the judge who is technically your 11th most preferred by your opponents very top #1 judge. Not so good because that discrepancy is larger than what the categories try to allow for. Also important for our changes this year: because we are purposely matching lower-ranked but mutual judges for some of the prelims, smaller allocations in lower categories may actually put you in disadvantageous 2-1 situations. This is something to think about regarding the strategy of your allocations.


Tab rooms face this question often. What do we do in situations where, for example, there are no available mutual 1s or 2s. Do we put in a mutual 3 (or 4) or do we place a judge that is a 2 for one team but a 1 for another team. This goes back to philosophy and strategy. Some coaches just want the best judge available. Other coaches want the judge where there seems to be the level-est of playing fields relative to their competition. Our default for this tournament is to privilege mutuality when faced with this problem. However, we appreciate that when faced with either a 3-3 (or 4-4) situation versus a 2-1 (or 3-2) option, some coaches would prefer the mismatched judge that the other team prefers even more. IF THIS IS THE DEFAULT YOU WOULD LIKE ME TO ASSIGN FOR YOUR TEAM(S) – EMAIL ME AND I WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN. I need to have this email sent to me by the MPJ deadline, I will not allow coaches to tinker after the tournament starts.


This is the formula we will use to assign judges. However, there is one unpredictable intangible that plays a role, which has to be implemented at the discretion of the tab room relating to deciding when to complete a judge’s commitment to the tournament. In theory, the tab room wants to delay as long as possible the fulfillment of judges who are not committed for every preliminary debate. The more judges that are available as the tournament moves on, the better the statistical probability of producing the most highly mutually preferred debates. There may be times where the tab room bypasses these rules (by opting for the next option if no other options are available) in some situations to keep judges available for later prelim debates. Example: Lets say you are 3-0 and the only mutual 3-3 with your opponent is Timmons – but he only has one more round of commitment left. If no other 3-3s are available, then we might choose to place an available mutual 2-2 judge to ensure that Timmons is available for a later debate (where he may be a 1-1 and more valuable to the tournament).

Round 1-2
3-3; 4-4; 2-2; 1-1; 3-4; 2-3; 1-2; 2-4; 1-3; 1-4; 5-5.

Round 3
0-2: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 2-4; 1-3; 1-4; 5-5.
1-1: 2-2; 1-1; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 2-4; 1-3; 1-4; 5-5.
2-0: 3-3; 4-4; 2-2; 1-1; 3-4; 2-3; 1-2; 2-4; 1-3; 1-4; 5-5.

Round 4
1-2: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 2-4; 1-3; 1-4; 5-5.
2-1: 2-2; 1-1; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 2-4; 1-3; 1-4; 5-5.
3-0: 3-3; 4-4; 2-2; 1-1; 3-4; 2-3; 1-2; 2-4; 1-3; 1-4; 5-5.
0-4: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 1-3; 2-4; 1-4; 5-5.

Round 5
2-2: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 2-4; 1-3; 1-4; 5-5.
3-1: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 2-4; 1-3; 1-4; 5-5.
4-0: 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-1; 2-3; 1-2; 3-4; 2-4; 1-3; 1-4; 5-5.
1-3: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 1-3; 2-4; 1-4; 5-5.
0-4: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 1-3; 2-4; 1-4; 5-5.

Round 6
3-2: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 1-3; 2-4; 1-4; 5-5.
4-1: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 1-3; 2-4; 1-4; 5-5.
5-0: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 1-3; 2-4; 1-4; 5-5.
2-3: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 1-3; 2-4; 1-4; 5-5.
1-4: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 1-3; 2-4; 1-4; 5-5.
0-5: 1-1; 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 1-3; 2-4; 1-4; 5-5.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Disclosure Q&A

On 9/7 we hope to resume recording, and our first show will be about disclosure. (I know. You're shocked—shocked!—to hear it.) If you have any questions for us, post them here as comments. We are hoping CP will be on the show, and that, soon after, we'll have AT, so if you have questions for them, post them as well.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I will not put this into the RSS feed, but if you're the sort of person who actually comes here to grab the episodes, you are either in for a treat or for the dumbest waste of 10 minutes in your life so far. Prior to starting episode 26 (and, by the way, as far as I'm concerned, any "very special episode" should include a wedding of Joanie and Chachi), Adam and I waited while Fred tried to get Skype to work. We could hear him, he couldn't hear us. We tried texting him, but that took a while to click. Anyhow, I mentioned this in 26, and here it is.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Episode 26 - Robertson Sells CatNats and Torson Sells DNA

In a very special episode—I know, you thought we were done for the year; so did I—Bietz and Menick interview Fred R on the plans for Omaha's CatNats this weekend, while Torson chimes in when we get to DNA and the NatNats topic. If you're going to either one, you should give it a listen.

And where's Cruz? I don't know. He wandered off somewhere...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Episode 25 (including show notes)

The three and only wind up the season (as Cruz insists it be called) with, mostly, discussion of TOC 2010 here. (Those who go the distance will, as occasionally in the past, get a special treat.)

As discussed on the show, first, the link to my news feed.

Second, the conflict material from TOC:

The Lincoln Douglas advisory committee has instituted a policy which requests directors, coaches, and judges of programs to provide information about potential conflicts. The document or statement below should help guide persons in determining whether or not they ought to be conflicted or blocked from judging certain debaters at the tournament. Please read the document carefully and then follow the instructions at the end of the document to provide the tabulation staff with accurate information so that these conflicts may be recorded. We thank you in advance for your cooperation.

We would ask that you enter your conflicts there even though they may have been entered on the Joy of Tournaments site or sent to Dave Huston. We will have verification of your conflicts and mutual preference sheets at registration.


Fair competition requires not merely the absence of impropriety but also AVOIDING the appearance of impropriety. A conflict of interest is a relationship that might reasonably be thought to bias a judge toward or against a competitor. Such relationships may themselves be quite innocent, but they could reasonably be thought to compromise a judge’s impartiality. The Lincoln Douglas TOC Advisory Committee has drafted these guidelines to be implemented at this year’s Tournament of Champions.

A judge can’t judge a school they attended.

A judge can’t judge a program (whether one school or a collection of schools) for which they coached, consulted, or judged until four years after they stopped. This applies even if the judge only worked with some (or one) of the program’s students. It applies whether or not the judge was paid for the work.

A judge can’t judge a program if there are plans for the judge to work with that program in the future as a coach, consultant, or judge.

A judge can’t judge a program if the judge has done exclusive pre-round prep for one or more of the students from that program, whether electronically, verbally, or through the transfer of resources. Judges can share information without creating a conflict, but if the judge engages in “coaching behavior” such as discussing strategies, arguments, evidence, etc., with a program for the purposes of helping them win a debate, then they shouldn’t judge that program. If a judge does this in the middle of a tournament, they should inform the tab room and recuse themselves.

A judge can’t judge a program if they attend practice rounds with students from that program prior to tournaments.

Judges can’t judge students who are members of their family, who they have dated or had a close physical or emotional relationship, who they regularly chat with either in person, over the phone, or over the computer, and judges can’t judge debaters with whom they socialize outside of the realm of debate.

A judge can’t judge a student if the judge thinks that they would be unable to fairly judge them for reasons not stated in other parts of this document, but for which the judge feels some personal bias.

A judge may choose to recuse him or herself from judging students if they regularly share transportation and/or lodging with the student’s team, if they have a close relationship with the student’s coach or a member of the student’s family, or if the judge works for a debate camp or other forensics business for which the student is planning to work.

NOTE: This doesn’t mean judges can’t judge students who were in their lab at camp, but if the judge maintains regular contact with those students or has a personal relationship with them, they shouldn't judge them.

NOTE: Any time these rules talk about a “program” that means any student from that program. If a judge is hired by one or two students from a program and never meets the other students, they are still a judge for the program.

NOTE: A program is any school or collection of schools that prepares together as a unit, even if they don’t always compete under the same name. If two or more schools share coaching, transportation, lodging, and practices, then they’re a single program.

Judges, coaches, and students all have the responsibility to reveal conflicts. If a coach or student fails to disclose a conflict, all students from that program will lose their mutual preferences. No decisions will be modified as a result of disclosed information. The TOC Advisory Committee or a quorum thereof will adjudicate any disputes and its decision will be final, with appeal to Dr. J.W. Patterson or his tournament staff at the discretion of Dr. Patterson.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Episode 24 - NDCA with a schmear of TOC

The three debate coaches behind theory, litotes and American Idol—not to mention Jersey Shore—present "The Cruz's Underwear Episode." This week we talk about the recent NDCA tournament, and the future of that group and its event. In and out, we hit on the TOC, but it refuses to go out with us. Get it here.

Thank you, Corey Vidal.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Episode 23 - Tricks and Psych-Outs

Menick, Bietz and Cruz—AKA Bietz, Cruz and Menick—look like they're going to discuss all sorts of evil ways to get ahead in debate rounds, but really don't. Or, more to the point, they only do a little bit. They also talk about the CatNats resolution (hint: they think it's the greatest thing since the Inquisition), while mostly concentrating on the aspects of rounds other than line-by-line that many debaters forget about. If you're too poor to afford iTunes, where the episode is automatically downloaded into your iPod/iPad/iPud/whatever, then click here, but maybe you might want to think about saving a few bucks and joining the new millennium.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Episode 22 - Public Forum, Pt 2

Having tossed Palmer onto the discard pile, TVFT goes all TOS with Cruz, Menick and Bietz talking mostly about how topics affect an activity, and then we take on the recent controversy over fiscally supported PF topics. Where do we stand? You may be surprised. Here's the audio (which has been optimized for the iPad by doing absolutely nothing different but charging twice as much—the good news being that since we weren't charging anything in the first place, you can still afford it).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Episode 21 - Public Forum, Pt. 1

What activity has so many names and so many nicknames? Controversy, Ted Turner, Puff, Pffft, etc. Maybe its lack of accepted nomenclature affects its lack of format? Whatever. Menick, Bietz, Cruz and Palmer begin their dissection of the beast in this this episode, with predictably confused and incoherent results. Have a listen.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Episode 20 - Tournament checklist

We run our series on tournament management into the ground end our series on tournament management with a checklist. Cruz was out of electricity and was unable to join the other three peanut farmers, but don't hold that against him. He was willing to stand out on Manhattan's 14th Street with a kite and a key and an extension cord into his apartment, but we begged him not to do it because, well, there wasn't any lightening. That didn't stop him, though.

(Jeesh. This blog is beginning to sound like so many other things I write...)

The link is here.

And here's the checklist:

Get teams registered. We recommend a service like Joy of Tournaments or

Get rooms from your facilities people. You need rooms for rounds, tab, meals, judges. Make sure there's a place for everyone to congregate. Keep tab close to the ballot table. If necessary, assign a room (key) person, and whatever you do, maintain great relations with your custodial staff. (Bribes won't necessarily be a bad idea.)

Get judges: Hire 5 or 10 totally neutral extras for each division, depending on the size of the fields. Do NOT assume that arithmetic will somehow allow you to sell judges to fulfill hire requests if you haven't specifically hired judges to file those requests. And your judges filling hired requests DO NOT count as extras.

Get tabbers: Don't do it yourself, even if you do it for everyone else. Get someone experienced with the software.

Set up housing. If you're housing people, get a person assigned to this at the earliest opportunity.

Prepare your supplies: computers with the correct printer drivers, printers, extra printer cartridges, four times as much paper as you think you need, tape, scissors

Set up judge lounge. This should be a comfortable spot with lots of good eats and drinks.

Set up meals. You're feeding hundreds of people. Or more to the point, you're assigning someone else to manage the feeding of hundreds of people.

Set up concessions. You can make money selling water. Don't get carried away: kids don't need an assortment. They mostly just want water and a few assorted snacks. Chips aren't a bad idea, btw.

Get finalized data as accurately as possible to tab from registration. A big problem at many tournaments is that table changes inevitably don’t get through to tab. If you're a tournament director, you should probably run registration yourself. It isn't fun, but it's the best way to insure the fewest problems.

Put a process in place for starting and stopping rounds and collecting ballots. You've got to keep your tournament moving. Develop a system proportional to the scope of your event.

(And after you've run it, watch this video; NSFW for vulgar subtitles.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Episode 19 - Questions from the floor

Continuing our series on tournament management, the Three Bean Salads, with the addition of an extra Bean, answer all the questions that are asked of a tab room during a tournament, and put a few urban forensic legends to rest along the way. Final score: TVFT 3, Dumb Questions 5 — they'll win every time, damn the little buggers! Get the episode here.

By the way, Mr. Palmer will be joining us in the future as a semi-regular. This will keep him out of mischief on Wednesday nights, if nothing else. If you wish to join the show, let us know what you want to talk about, when you can do it, and don't forget to avail yourself of a decent microphone, so you don't sound like Halefoil Cumcut with a head cold.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Episode 18 - Tournament Management Pt 2

Harpo, Chico and Groucho add Zeppo (aka Chris Palmer, the dean of the northeast college circuit) this week to further discuss tournament management. If you only listen to one podcast in the next five minutes, this should be one of them.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Episode 17 - Tournament management

The Three Little Pigs take on running tournaments. Want to do it yourself? Are you that crazy? Get tips from the experts in this episode.

(If you're counting, episode 16 doesn't exist, except for the phantom episode of Not 16. And our special guest this week is not Chris Palmer. What else is not true? Don't ask.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Running tournaments

Respond here if you want to help us out on our next episode about running debate tournaments. Thanks.

And hear about the legendary lost episode here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Episode 15 - Jury nullification

You begged with us, you pleaded, and we listened. The Three Squaremealsaday have added an extra portion of nutrition! This week we are joined by Adam Torson, coach and law student from the depths of the midwest, as we discuss the March-April topic. It's so unusual to have someone who knows what he's talking about that you may find the thing totally unrecognizable. The episode is here, if you're too cheap to subscribe to it for free on iTunes (which is, of course, pretty cheap even for you).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Episode 14 - Topic selection + the Modest Novice

The three visually-challenged mice take on NFL topic selection, followed by a description of the modest novice topic, complete with recipes and serving suggestions. You can get it here, or you can get it on iTunes. I gather you can also get it on eBay but you'll have to pay shipping and handling charges.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Palmer responds

I wish Chris Palmer allowed comments on his blog. Below is his response to last week's podcast.

Let me say one thing, which I've said before elsewhere but didn't say in last week'd podcast. What Palmer has done for the colleges with which he works has been nothing short of superhuman. If in any way, shape or form he thinks that we do not recognize this, then I trust that repeating it will make up for that misunderstanding. In the present pantheon of debate gods, as far as I'm concerned, Palmer is at the top.


From CP's blog (link)
Whenever I hear “The View”, I think about that daytime show where a bunch of random women refuse to allow their own ignorance to hamper the forceful expression of their opinions. That association is somewhat off, as the Three Geronimo Brothers have been lately been producing The View from Tab, a podcast about the LD centric portion of our universe. It made its way into my commute-podcast rotation, I’ll admit; they think nobody is listening, and I’m nobody, so there we go.

Last week’s podcast, I have to admit, rubbed me a bit the wrong way. Most of the podcast was spent talking about the various high school tournaments hosted at colleges in our activity, and the problems and frictions that brings. Over the years I’ve grown a bit sensitive to blanket denunciations of college tournaments. After all, I’ve been the guiding adviser for various college tournaments for a decade now. I have firsthand knowledge of working with four different college hosting organizations & campuses, each very different than the others, and the administrations and setups of said campuses. I’m willing to put out there that nobody in the activity right now knows more about the trials and tribulations of a college hosted tournament than I do. So I’m going to cite myself as evidence, and not apologize for it. But as a result, the discussion was a little hard not to take as a personal affront, even though I’m good friends with all three of the Mooching Mojitos.

Their discussion was inspired by the Emory tournament, which I gather had a few issues last weekend — I’ve never been to Emory, so I don’t know firsthand. But Emory’s ills launched us into a takedown of college tournaments in general. That really bugs me — the underlying assumption of the podcast, and of many high school coaches, is all those college tournaments are the same. That’s completely unfair. I get annoyed enough when running Yale that I sometimes have to defend occasional Yalie decisions I disagree with; proxy-defending Harvard while I’m at it is beyond the pale.

I’ll point out that UPenn is a remarkable exception to their entire discussion; they’ve been exceptionally well managed for the last few years, their proceeds go to urban LD debate programs in Philadelphia, and they would run the tournament even if it did not turn a profit. In a lot of ways, UPenn stands apart, and definitely above; they’re better than many high school-hosted tournaments I’ve been to. Plus, cheesesteaks. I’ll even admit that I’ve lost a little bit of respect for coaches this year who are sending squads to Harvard without supporting UPenn; but we’re going to have a good weekend, I think.

However, let’s go to the other end of the scale; it’s no secret that Yale is by far the most profitable tournament I direct and advise. I’ll still put the Yale tournament experience up against Harvard’s any day on any grounds. Yale spends good money hiring a great pool of judges in every division. We use those judges well. They put out plenty of food for the judges and coaches — I’ll admit the quality could be improved and certainly can’t compete with home cooking, but the Yalie parents are far flung and I don’t want to eat college student home cooking. They orchestrate an exceedingly complex tournament that nonetheless leaves time for sleep and meals. They make sure that high school people are in charge of every division; no division at Yale is treated like a second class citizen run by a B team tab staff.

The Yalies slip up sometimes, Lord knows, and I yell at them for it when they do. But not every slip is driven by a Montgomery Burns (Class of ‘14) moment. For instance, Bietz and Cruz complain about colleges not having printed schematics and attribute that to cheapness — but it was actually environmental concerns that led me (Me! Not them!) to decide that posting a small number of schematics is sufficient instead of handing a copy out to every debater. That’s also why we tried the ballot scanning project this year, to try to save some trees — we ended up paying far more in person-hours than we saved on paper by doing so, and knew we would going in. But it was right to try.

When folks start muttering about Harvard and Stanford and Villiger in the same sentences as the Palmeric Quartet, as if there’s no difference, it leads me to conclude that the work I’ve done getting these tournaments in shape isn’t valued; after all, after nine years hacking away at Columbia, if it’s still no better than any other college tournament, then why should I do it?

The other thing to understand about college organizations is that they are not internally monolithic; the ones I run all lack staff support and permanent coaching. Few colleges support extracurricular activities with staff support anymore — hell, some barely support curricular activities adequately. The cast of characters therefore changes a lot. But there are patterns. Usually the student tournament director is a former high school debater or speechie with strong ties to the community. Tournament directors typically care a great deal about the quality and the experience at the tournament.

However, the leadership of the teams, not the tournaments, can be a trouble spot; college team leaders are not chosen for their connection to high school forensics. The troubled years at college tournaments often happen when team leadership overrides tournament leadership, out of ignorance and greed. However, the college organizations whose tournaments I run know one thing and one thing well; in the long run, they’re screwed without me. I provide tournament directors an external veto on bad practices. The tournament directors will sometimes themselves ask me to throw a fit and threaten to quit. That gives me leverage to overrule team treasurers. The system hasn’t worked perfectly — sometimes bad decisions creep through without me knowing, such as this year’s inflated concessions prices at Yale — but it’s worked much better than what came before.

No tournament I’ve run this way has failed to hire a good, if not great, pool of qualified judging; no tournament has failed to feed coaches & judges, and no tournament has failed to run on schedule. Harvard’s judging and schedule is a horrifying crapshoot, I’ll grant — though the schedule at least has improved recently. Emory apparently fell short too this year, though they also sound like they want to improve. But if any of the pools at Yale, Columbia, UPenn or Princeton were insufficient after I’d taken them over, I’d love to hear about it.

The triplets of terror then turned their attention to the role the TOC and TOC bids play in encouraging college tournaments. Honestly I’ve wondered myself that the road to the pre-eminent event in high school debate runs through (and ends at!) a series of colleges; one of these days I should figure out how many bids as a percentage are given at college tournaments versus high school hosted ones. But I’ve always been told the TOC bid process attempts to be descriptive, not prescriptive; they give bids to tournaments at levels where the kids are worthy of them, rather than declaring a tournament an quarters bid and hoping 8 bid worthy kids end up the quarter as a result. When Yale got promoted from semis to quarters, it was on the argument that in the previous five years, all 20 non-advancing quarter finalists except for one ended up fully qualified to the TOC anyway, so clearly the tournament was producing a quarterfinals bid-level field. So if it’s a problem that colleges have bids, the problem is not necessarily the TOC’s sanctioning; it may simply be that critical masses of good debaters go to college tournaments, and the TOC is recognizing that.

However, I’d point out a few things over and above that factor, since the cause-and-effect nature of a TOC is bid is certainly hard to suss out.

First, the TOC and bid status has far more influence with tournament staffs than they think. Yale, Princeton and Columbia would never be the same tournaments without their bids, because those bids are very useful in encouraging good practices. The TOC bid level at a tournament is pretty much the only external indicator the college teams get about how they’re running their tournament. The tournament directors at college tournaments work very hard to run a tournament worthy of their bid level, and one of the most potent statements I can make is “Quarters bid tournaments are expected to do X” or “To get a semis bid, you’ll really have to invest more in Y.” Princeton’s demotion from a LD semis to a finals bid was the wake-up call that inspired them to clean up their act on a number of fronts; doing so has immeasurably improved their tournament. Columbia spent tons of money on hired judges beyond what was merited by their finals bid in order to get promoted to semis.

That said, the power of suggestion with the TOC bid level is weakened the bad college tournaments which nonetheless maintain their high bid levels. Say you’re a member of a college team’s exec board, and you don’t have experience in high school forensics. You want to know, for example, if it’s justified to raise your registration fees this year, or if you should keep them the same. The natural thing to do is find comparable examples. So you go around and look at other college tournaments, and holy crap Harvard charges like four thousand dollars per kid! A vision of a world without financial worry at all blossoms in front of your eyes, and when that annoying Palmer guy says “No, that’s terrible for the community, you’ll piss people off,” well what does he know? Harvard is an octos bid, so they have the TOC’s stamp of approval; tons of people go to the tournament too, so obviously coaches don’t care that much. Why not jack our fees to match theirs? Why should we hire outside judges? Why should we feed them? Harvard doesn’t.

I have to have this argument about once every two years. It sucks. It especially sucks that while I encourage the colleges to do the right thing and essentially leave money on the table each year, Harvard never gets its comeuppance; the long term karmic benefit never materializes.

All the same, once every two years is only once every eight tournaments. I’ll point out that isn’t so bad; it rather undercuts the belief that all college students are grasping thieves.

Secondly, I’d point out too that the TOC itself is an exemplar of bad college practices. They don’t feed anyone, they don’t hire a single judge, and last year they didn’t even give out trophies. They also charge an arm and a leg, and the at-large application fees add even more, even though I doubt that the committee that reviews those applications gets an honorarium for their work. If you really want to discourage profiteering, maybe start by looking at college debate’s penultimate event?

Thirdly, the TOC advisory committees and the high school community are notably silent about what they want. Cruz pointed out that the Harvard administration was genuinely surprised that the LD world hated their tournament, and didn’t know why. I can understand that. I certify 14 TOC bids in Lincoln Douglas, 18 in Student Congress, and a whopping 48 in Public Forum Debate each year. I’ve been certifying TOC qualifiers now for about 6 years. I might be responsible for more total bids than anyone else in this activity. I’m certainly responsible for more bids than anyone who isn’t on one of the advisory committees. Even so, I have yet to hear a single word from any TOC affiliated committee or authority about how they expect these qualifying tournaments to be run. Not once. I’ve gotten a few emails this year about how to submit bids, which is a vast improvement — when I first started I had to ask all around creation to even figure out how to do that. I would love to have a set of published standards from the advisories that listed out “Here are things we expect from Quarters bid tournaments, Semis bid tournaments…” and then noted concrete actions a tournament director can take to fulfill those standards.

It would help me a great deal in knowing the latest ideas myself — I keep abreast of what’s going on in LD, but I’m not an LD coach, and I don’t attend a lot of bid tournaments in LD besides those I run. But even more so, I can also guarantee that it would lead to instant improvements at Yale, Columbia and Princeton. If there’s something Yale isn’t doing, and it appeared on a list of expectations of quarters-bid tournaments that the TOC published, they’d do it and they wouldn’t argue about it. They really do care about running a good tournament that the community enjoys. However, they’re also not going to spend $5,000 on something if it’s an edge luxury, not a necessity to the tournament; they need to know which is which.

If the committee does that, though, they have to stand by it; they have to take away bids where the expectations are not being met.

Finally, I’ll point out one thing. The college students do make money off these tournaments; they’re major fundraisers for their own college debate teams, apart from UPenn of course. However, they put a lot of work into the tournaments too. Hosting a tournament at a college is much harder than at a high school; there are layers of bureaucracy, transport issues, administrative restrictions on spending the team’s own money, and a bizarre array of last minute nightmares. A teacher at a high school is a colleague and can navigate their lower hurdles better; a college organization are students and have little to no leverage if an associate dean of obstruction is in a bad mood and threatens to cancel the entire show three days before because Form 341-b wasn’t filed within the appropriate ten minute window and the tiddlywinks team asked for the space, too. It’s also not as if college students get any time off their day jobs either; they have no professional days; and if there’s a midterm the Monday after the tournament they’re probably going to bomb it.

If you totaled up the person-hours, college debate teams would probably be better off just sending their members to all get jobs at McDonald’s for six weeks. The people would be more pleasant to deal with, and the hours and pay rate are better.

Even though the experience is more difficult for college students, they offer uniquely grand tournaments. In speech I can’t think of a single large multi-state tournament with the kind of heft that any of the college tournaments have in the entire Northeast. If college organizations stopped doing this legwork for us, my speechies would literally have nowhere to go beyond our local tournaments and Nationals. They’d decline, therefore, in skills and edge, never having exposed to anything beyond what’s going on locally. In debate the situation is better, but still not quite there; only Bronx runs a full three-day event like the colleges routinely do. Where are all these bid-worthy invitational tournaments in the region, that we should take away Yale, Columbia and Princeton’s for the sin of being at colleges and therefore being lumped in with the excesses at Harvard or Emory or wherever else?

In short, if the high school community isn’t willing to do the legwork to run these tournaments, then yes, they should have to pay the college students who are willing to do it for them. The students I advise work very hard and deserve it. College tournaments can offer facilities that make a tournament better. You don’t have large lecture halls and auditoriums to have final rounds where everyone can watch elim rounds at high school tournaments. You don’t have an open campus to explore with a host of nearby restaurants and hotels. You don’t have access to your building for the whole weekend. And yes, you don’t have the name.

But there’s more to Yale than just the name. Besides, it’s just a safety school.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Episode 13 - Rantin' and Ravin'

In this episode, the Three Remaining Marx Brothers stop complaining about Zeppo behind his back and discuss a few very specific tournaments, most notably last weekend's Emory event. How would you handle their kerfluffles? Get it here.

(In related news, Menick asks that you refrain from handling his kerfluffles, thank you very much. He's perfectly capable of handling them himself.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Episode 12 - The future

In this episode, which might be number 12, or 11, or 13, or some number bigger than a golf ball, the Three Skating Mojitos discuss the technological future of debate, the ups and downs of MJP, why boring lists of old debaters should be other boring lists of old debaters, and whether pigs have wings. Get it here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Step away from the iPod!

TVFT fans around the world are depressed at the news that we won't start up again until next week. For everyone else, it's dancing in the streets.

If you're wondering, the reason for the delay is so that Bietz can get into shape for the Vancouver Olympics. (He and his figure skating partner have extremely high hopes of taking a medal. Whatever.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

This week is postponed

The Three Reliables have agreed to postpone this week's episode so that one of them could keep his day job. We will return next week with our predictions for the next decade. Prediction number one? We will never miss another recording date. Ever. Hardly. Much. Unless we have to.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Episode 11 - The Decade in Review Pt 2

The three Save-the-Baby-Seals-by-Clubbing-Them-First guys continue their run down of the last decade. Or at least two of them do. Menick does occasionally pipe up with something, but only on being kicked awake under the table. The episode is here (although, as always, iTunes is soooo much more convenient).

If you want, you can make a game out of it, to help you stay awake. How the points work:
1 point if you know who the person being talked about is
2 points if personally know the person being talked about
3 points if you ever debated the person being talked about
4 points if you are the person being talked about
5 points if you are the person and are preparing to sue for defamation of character but knowing that you are an automatic winner will stay your legal hand

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Sound of Music

It seems better to answer questions here. Someone asked what the music was. It's just something I did to amortize the expense of my Yamaha Clavinova (captured via GarageBand). If I can get a few thousand people to buy it, I'll be even.