What I Want from a Debate Competition

It needs to start at a reasonable hour. Maybe at 3 or 4 on a Friday, run until about 8 at the latest. On Saturday, nothing before 10 in the morning. Except maybe a breakfast at 9 where everyone can talk about what happened Friday. On Sunday, one final event at noon. Or maybe nothing at all; we could be done on Saturday night. 

We need these times to welcome in the community whose rooms and buildings and space we now occupy as some sort of conspirators, some group that hides in the shadows of the college campus, while we do the work of the college campus much, much better than it seems to these days. We need people from the campus to come see and come get something out of what we are doing in their classrooms on the weekend. For it's probably a bit more engaging than what happens there most of the week.

We also need to be alert and aware ourselves, and we aren't sometimes at our tournaments mainly because we are driven to get in the "right" number of debates. We need to be willing and able to take in what's said, and put out something of quality. 

We also need to take advantage of the college campuses. There are so many scholars, so much thinking, so many good authors all over the place. Well, they aren't really around at 8:30 in the morning on a Sunday, so we don't get to see them. But we could have them there. They could speak or comment on the debates or on a debate. We could get something good from them. 

We could have it like this:

Debate 1      3:30 - 4:45

Plenary Debate with scholar response - 5:00 - 7:00

Debate 2 (on tangential motion to the Plenary Debate) 7:30 - 8:45

Oh and yes, this would be a common topic. Or topic area. We have amazing research facilities; we should be making use of them. We should enter our debates well-read. This is difficult to do even with agreement as to what constitutes appropriate public sphere controversy from which to draw motions. Most of the time it's fragmented. Most of the time we won't admit that we are held hostage by the knowledge and comfort levels of the CA team. Most of the time those levels don't resonate with the body of debaters present. 

If it's a topic area, let the convener and CAs decide. You can vote with your feet. Let them invest in bringing in some relevant scholars from their own faculty to the debate. Let them arrange for the panels to be mixed between reasonable people, topic area knowledgeable types, and "people pretending very hard to be reasonable people, within the constraints of time limits and argumentative fairness between teams" aka debating-oriented judges.

There would be maybe 4 debates, with the debaters doing best moving on to the final, perhaps a semifinal. All participants will turn in "ballots" marking the quality of their opponents and themselves, as well as the judges. From this, it should be easy to determine who should move on. Who was high quality? Who did we enjoy debating? Who was prepared? Who was an asshole to us? These sorts of comments will help the CAs see what the semifinal or final round should look like. 

If the topic or topic area is narrow enough, perhaps some sort of exchange might be in order. Teams could exchange their prepared material with one another before the debate and run it against one another. This is a strange twist on "opp choice" cases run sometimes in APDA, but one that might become a real test of a debater's ability. People would come to want to write good cases to test their ability against their own mind, delivered with some unpredictable twists from another.

We have too many debates about too many esoteric and non-controversial things. I think that William H. Davis described this well in 1916 when he wrote about things being "debaters' arguments" - that is, things that debaters would only find persuasive or controversial because of the parameters of the contest. 

These parameters are not my commitment; they are my idea, and hopefully they work to raise questions about our practices. What would happen were we to allow the non-debater public in? What would happen if we had our events at better hours of the day? What would happen if we publicized? What would happen if we merged into the curriculum? What would happen?