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Blog featured image.001We have a problem in the debate community.

It’s not bad evidence that I’m referring to. It’s not shallow argumentation. It’s not a lack of thinking. It’s not poor judging. Those are all problems, of course, but they’re not the problem.

The problem, as is so often the case, isn’t one that’s much noticed or discussed, because it’s seen as traditional and ingrained, like there’s no way to avoid it. The problem, really, is the root cause of a majority of the problems that we have in the debate community.

The problem, simply stated, is this:

The 1A’s life is way too easy.

Allow me to elaborate.

The vast majority of teams in the league still go by the old formula- Inherency and Significance in the 1NC, plus Topicality if you got it, and Solvency and disadvantages in the 2NC, with the 1NR continuing the refutation on the 1NC’s arguments.

On a scale of dumb ideas, this is somewhere between a DVD rewinder and snake mittens. To see why, let’s follow the debate all the way through.

1NC: 8 minutes of inherency and significance, with some solvency and/or Topicality if you’re lucky.

2AC: 8 minutes answering the 1NC.

2NC: 8 minutes of solvency and disadvantages.

1NR: 5 minutes extending the 1NC arguments.

1AR: 5 minutes for the whole Negative block.

2NR: Pulls through the winning arguments (95% of the time, the solvency and disadvantages) in the form of voting issues.

2AR: Answers Negative’s voters, brings back the case.

Let’s stop here and make a note. We all know that time is key when you’re making arguments, so let’s look at the time spent on the inherency/significance part of the Negative’s strategy, in the form of a math problem.

Q: If the 1NC spends 8 minutes on the inherency and significance, and the 2AC spends 8 minutes, then coming out of the 2AC, the Aff and the Neg are on equal ground. So, given that the 1NR spends 5 minutes on the arguments that the better-prepared 2AC just spent 8 minutes on, which team shot themselves in the foot by wasting half of their total speech time and made one speaker completely useless? (Hint: IT’S NOT THE AFFIRMATIVE.)

When you as the Negative follow this traditional model (usually called “splitting the neg”, or, more accurately, “splitting the constructives”), the debate- the substantive, material discussion of issues on which each team is willing to stake their claim to the judge’s ballot on- doesn’t even start until the 2NC. Let’s follow through the round again, but with this in mind.

The 1NC makes his arguments. The 2AC responds, usually with evidence, because they’ve been running this case the whole year, they’ve hit these arguments a million times, they know the arguments way better than you do and they’ve researched it more.

The 2NC isn’t even listening to this, of course. He doesn’t particularly care. He knows these arguments won’t really be voting issues anyways. He’s been busy pulling up his cards and flowing his speech. He gets up and gives his Solvency and Disads, hoping the 1AR’s dumb enough to undercover them. Then, the 1NR comes up and, because of the 8-8-5 time tradeoff, can’t make new refutation against the 2AC’s evidence, so he reiterates his points, drops responses, and sits down. During the 1AR’s prep time, the 2AC’s hoping desperately that the 1AR drops something. The 1AR then gets up and disappoints his opponent by not being grossly incompetent. He spends his 5 minutes spitting out responses to the solvency and disads through the magic of grouping, addresses the one 1NC argument that could actually be important in the last two rebuttals, and closes his speech by saying “aaaaaand for the rest of their arguments just pull through my partner’s 2AC responses which were never really talked about in the 1NR, we’re still winning those issues, thanks, vote Affirmative.” The 1N’s trying to talk to his partner, but to the 2NR’s ears, this advice sounds like the WAH WAHWAH, WAH, WAH, WAHWAHWAHWAH of the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon, because he’s busy flowing his speech. He’s going to make voters out of his solvency and disadvantages, and he does so in the speech. The 2AR gets up and reminds the judge that new arguments in the last two rebuttals are a no-no: the 2NR can’t extend his precious solvency and disads, because any extensions would be brand new. He then eviscerates what’s left of the disads and outweighs them with the case.

It makes sense that this would happen. After all, the Negative block is supposed to be the big Negative strategic advantage- the 1AR has 5 minutes to respond to 13 minutes of Neg speaking, right? However, when the Negative is wasting their 5-minute 1NR, the 1AR only has to respond to 8 minutes. What’s more, those 8 minutes of arguments can’t be developed any more after the 1AR. The 1AR’s analysis carries massively disproportionate weight simply by being the ONLY line of refutation that gets in before the closing rebuttals. If I’m the 1AR, I’d much rather be answering an eight-to-five time tradeoff than a thirteen-to-five, especially when the five carries so much more weight. What’s more, the Negative is trying to win by assuming that the 1AR will make a mistake. In the higher levels of competition, you can’t depend on that. Sun Tzu tells us that we should never bet our victory on our opponent making a mistake. We are to make it so that our strategy is so good that it leaves them with no way out.

Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Now, since negative teams have been trying this same strategy since the beginning of the league, and it’s almost universally considered an uphill fight for negative teams against half-decent affs, we have to conclude that the NCFCA’s negative teams are insane- they keep trying a losing strategy and expecting to win on it.

I propose another way.

Those of you who attended the Irving, TX Ethos camp will remember my most common recommendation for Negative teams is to use another method, one called “shell and extend”. I guarantee that once you try it, you won’t want to go back. It’s very simple in concept- the 1NC “shells” the arguments, and the 2NC and 1NR “extend” them.

Here’s how it works in execution.

1NC: Lays the groundwork for EVERY argument in the round: one significance argument, one solvency argument, and disadvantages 1, 2, and 3.

2AC: Responds to all of the above.

2NC: Pulls through and extends (adds evidence and analysis to) the significance argument and disadvantages 2 and 3.

1NR: Pulls through and extends the solvency argument and first disadvantage.

1AR: Sweats bullets, gets buried under analysis.

2NR: Points out the dropped analysis, pulls through the issues that they’re winning (which should be a lot of them), and does a happy dance.

2AR: Fights for his life.

Do you see the difference? Where the traditional “split the constructives” method focuses on putting as many arguments on the flow as possible, shell-and-extend has a very different focus- on getting the TRUE arguments out there and developing them as well as possible. This allows for a lot more time and evidence and energy and focus to be spent on the arguments that are actually winnable and you can win the round on. If your judge isn’t going to vote on your argument that there’s a bill in Congress that would do the plan, why even run it?

If your arguments are so weak that you can’t win them if your opponent gets a chance to respond, you should not be running those arguments. If your argument is true and strong and impactful and has the evidence to back it up, it won’t matter that they can respond to it. Let them respond to it, and win anyways, because your responses are better than theirs because you decided to run the arguments that are actually true. Bury them under the weight of your analysis, not the number of your arguments. If you spend your Negative block piling on new evidence, new analysis, and multiple responses to their answers on all the arguments you make, you will have actually made your strategic advantage benefit you and put the 1AR under tremendous strain. 1AR’s aren’t used to being required to answer deep arguments, and they can’t just blip out of your stuff.

Of course, shell and extend does take different things. It takes stronger arguments. It takes better reasoning. It takes more evidence. But not only will your arguments be better, but your win/loss record will improve. More than that, it’s also way more fun.

Try it. You’ll like it.

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