When we were on the affirmative, my old high school partner and I would often live or die with The Block—that is, the negative block in team policy: If the negative delivered most of their strongest arguments in the 2NC speech (as opposed to in the 1NC), then we were in serious trouble. As team policy debaters are well aware, the negative block refers to the 2NC-1NR combo, which is a total of 13 minutes of negative argumentation (with 8 minutes for possible new arguments) only split up by a 3-minute cross examination. Following this, the affirmative is given 5 minutes to respond in the 1AR… to everything. At least, if the 1AR drops something, the negative may seize on that and argue that the final affirmative speaker (the 2AR) isn’t allowed to respond, and as we experienced at least a few times, this can mean game over for the affirmative.
I would imagine that for many people who have not been taught to think “this is just the way it is,” this looks a bit crazy. Some policy debaters will offer defenses such as “the 1AR can overcome the imbalance by grouping the negative’s arguments,” but I have long sympathized more with the “this is poorly thought through” camp (and I think the grouping argument is not very strong, as I’ll address later). The problem was that I personally didn’t have any power/influence to make a change. Still, this pet peeve has stuck with me, and now I am finally ready to dramatically unfurl my manifesto and plant my flag on this mountain (even if to some people it may look like a mere molehill). Thus, in this article I will discuss the harms of the status quo of TP round formats, what I propose, and how my recommendation would help, as well as respond to some potential objections. Ultimately, my hope is that readers would recognize some of the problems in the status quo and push for a change in the rules.
The harms (of the current format)
As just noted, the setup looks rather absurd on its face: 13 minutes of affirmative speaking (including 8 minutes of possible new arguments) against 5 minutes of negative rebuttal. (The 3-minute cross examination does help somewhat, but not always and/or not sufficiently.) I would argue that this surface impression is relatively accurate: the round can hinge very heavily on the negative block vs. the 1AR, yet this imbalance in speaking times is not just naturally biased against the affirmative, it is also ripe for (potentially targeted) abuse. I am not saying it is a terrible thing in every round—and I am also okay with conceding that in many rounds, the former issue (natural bias/difficulty) may sometimes represent a good counterbalance against the affirmative advantage (i.e., the fact that the affirmative tends to be much more prepared to advance their own case than the negative is prepared to oppose it). However, the potential for abuse, regardless of how intentional it is, poses a serious problem. I won’t fully explore this issue in this article (because it has already been described here and, to a lesser extent, here), but the basic idea is that for some cases, a good negative team can save all of its best arguments for the 2NC, leaving the 2AC’s points to be addressed by the 1NR; it’s a problem that my partner and I frequently faced in my last year of high school.
“Why not just group the arguments?”
Put simply, grouping (where you respond to multiple points together at the same time) is not something that always works/applies, and even when it does work it is not always enough to make up for the 13-5 minute disparity. Indeed, with our case if the negative split the block on us well, even grouping strategies planned well in advance were not enough because many of the arguments could not be grouped efficiently/at all. Furthermore, as part of grouping we also had to pick and choose just a few of our best responses rather than running most of our good responses, which further hurt us.
I’ve considered multiple tweaks in speech time formats, but the format I’ve come to prefer is as follows: “8-7-6-5” (or more precisely: “88-77-66-55”; for reference, the current model is 8-8-5-5). That is to say: “8 minutes each for the 1AC and 1NC, 7 minutes each for the 2AC and 2NC, 6 minutes each for the 1AR and 1NR, and 5 minutes each for the 2AR and 2NR.”
Why this model and not others?
I would also partially support additional (or just alternative) tweaks such as shifting a minute from the 2NC to the 1NC, adding an extra minute for each team in the round, and/or shifting a minute from the 2AR to the 1AR, but I figured that these may be more confusing since the affirmative and negative speeches would not coincide in time (although I am open to alternative suggestions!). Indeed, I would say that the main reason to prefer the 8-7-6-5 format is just because it is comparatively simple/elegant while also accomplishing two main changes, as discussed in the next section.
As suggested already, the current harms largely stem from the fact that the negative has an 8-minute constructive (2NC) for new arguments while at the same time the affirmative has very little time in the 1AR to respond to the negative block. The 8-7-6-5 model would directly address both of those points by 1) giving the 2NC less time for potential new arguments and 2) giving the 1AR more time (20% more time) to respond to the negative block.
I recognize that these 4 one-minute shifts may not seem so significant, and I even acknowledge it will not 100% solve the current flaws, but I definitely think that it would help—while at the same time it would not be such a dramatic and/or confusing change (unlike, arguably, an “89-77-56-55” or “89-87-56-54” model). If nothing else, I know it would have really helped us in many of the rounds where we faced this problem.
I can foresee at least two major objections (disadvantages) to making this change:
1. It would lead to unbalanced speaking time
Yes, this would mean that the first speakers on each team get 14 minutes per round whereas second speakers only speak for 12 minutes (excluding CX). However, I would simply respond that the benefits of the switch outweigh this downside—especially given that the disparity is very small (a mere two minutes). I personally, as a second affirmative, would have gladly given up a minute of speaking time if it meant that my partner had more time to cover the arguments in the negative block.
2. It would require change and could lead to confusion
Again yes, this would require some effort and adjustment. But again, I believe that this change ought to happen at some point because the benefits (especially in the long term) would strongly outweigh this drawback.
Ultimately, I think this would be a solid improvement over the status quo, but I would love to hear what you think—especially if you have an alternative recommendation, you think that I didn’t address a potential objection, and/or you have personal experience with this problem! I would also encourage you to ask what your clubmates think about this. In general, my (perhaps pipe) dream is that debaters (and league administrators) would wake up to the shackles of the status quo mindset that have oppressed affirmatives while empowering manipulative negatives. (Maybe) I am being dramatic, but in all seriousness: I do think this is a common-sense change that would generally improve TP debate; I at least hope to see more people give consideration to it.
Bad take. The block counterbalances aff perks:
1. Infinite prep.
2. First and last speech.
4. Choose the topic
Furthermore, recent tournament results actually indicate slight aff bias. Sounds like someone needs to get better at the 1AR.
As I noted, I agree that the block is one of the counterbalances, but one of the points I was making is that the current block structure lends itself to abuse in some situations. The 8-7-6-5 model would not eliminate the negative block, but simply restructure it while also giving the 1AR a bit of extra time to respond in case the neg does something like run basic responses and fodder arguments in their 1NC, then run all of their best arguments in the 2NC, using the entire speech for new arguments and then responding to the 2AC in the 1NR.
Regarding aff bias: I don’t know enough about the league and trends, but I would acknowledge that many negative teams (thankfully) don’t (tend to) do this, and when they didn’t we typically won; the problem we faced (and I saw other people with similar cases face at the national level) was that some teams would do this, and those rounds were really difficult to win on the flow, despite the fact that we put a lot of pre-round preparation specifically into planning out 1ARs and trying to economize our responses.
I am just coming across this article and found this comment. I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your gracious response to the perhaps not-so-gracious commenter. I for one was very interested in the article. as a side note, are you aware of any ways debaters can advocate for changes in format?
Hello Ms. Gardner,
Thank you for your response! In terms of suggestions for advocating for these changes, I have a few initial thoughts, but I haven’t spent that much time deeply thinking about it:
0) Ask around in your club or at tournaments and get other people’s thoughts on the idea, as you probably first want to get a sense of whether it’s actually a good or optimal change and whether other people support the idea.
1) If you know someone (or the debating children of someone) involved in rule-making, you could try reaching out to them directly.
2) You could try making a petition and getting people to sign such petitions, then delivering them to rule-making committees.
3) Nail (tape) a list of 95 Reforms on doors at nationals, denouncing The Old Ways as folly. 😉
The reason the Neg block is so crazy is so that the neg has a chance, especially when they don’t know the topic this is what allows them to have any arguments. The other thing is its the same for everyone so its not like it affects you more than someone else. Also a good aff will have prepared documents on all the arguments full of either quick 1 liner evidence or nice logical arguments so that they don’t need to really read evidence or really think to hard about it.
Just some things to think about I don’t think the idea is horrible but I believe it is their for good purpose.
Technically it might be roughly the same for *people* (not focusing on cases of foreign speakers or people with speaking impediments that affect their speaking speed), but our specific *case* was really susceptible to what I considered to be at least borderline abuse/gaming of the speaking times (even if it generally wasn’t so intentional/deliberate), as I explain in more detail here: https://www.ethosdebate.com/splitting-the-neg-how-why-and-when-to-use-and-counter/. And like I mentioned there, even with our prepared documents it sometimes was not enough if the judges weren’t paying close attention and the neg was doing this strategy effectively, because the issues weren’t so simple that a one-liner could dismiss them (at least, not for some community judges, who occasionally seemed to ignore our unrefuted responses/preemptions).
Ultimately, I recognize that the negative block helps (in addition to burden of proof, etc.) balance the rounds a bit, but like I noted 1) my proposals wouldn’t eliminate the negative block completely, and 2) my concerns are when teams can game the system so heavily that it completely throws off the balance/fairness in the debate: we had to put in excessive effort/prep just to scrape by against average teams that happened to use this strategy, so even better/more-strategic teams probably could have really crushed us.