As a judge, we’ve all been in rounds where we might have seen a team do something that we perceived to be unfair or unethical. Perhaps it was bringing up a new argument in a rebuttal or making any other kind of sus argument.
Most of us would immediately dock speaker points and many of us would let their conduct or actions affect our decision in the round. Today, I’d like to present you with an alternative line of action. I don’t make the claim that this is an absolutely perfect alternative, but I do make the contention that it is better than what we judges do in the status quo. The alternative I propose is offloading the decision-making to the debaters.
Instead of immediately knocking off a new argument in the rebuttal, you wait until the debaters’ opponents bring up the fact. This provides several major advantages over the current way of things, but before we get there, I’d like to make one thing very clear.
The Net Goal Of Debate Is Education
The largest and more prevalent reason parents sign their kids up for debate programs is so that they can learn more about the world we live in and learn more about how to become a persuasive and intelligent person when it comes to the real world. In the Christian homeschool leagues, these goals are meant to sharpen and enhance our God-given skills while teaching students to always point back the glory to God.
What the above means is that we should always be striving to make debate a more educational experience for students. This leads to several advantages — the implicit one of increased education being one of them as well as more parents wanting their kids to join (which is always a good thing for competitions).
We could go into all the reasons why increased education in debate is good, but I’ll spare you the details ; ) because I’m sure you agree.
With this in mind, let’s get to the four reasons that you as a judge might want to consider offloading in-round compliance issues to the debaters.
Reason 1: More Debaters Run Procedurals
A procedure is defined as any argument that “claims that a team should lose because it has violated the proper (or ideal) procedures of debate” by Dr. Joe Belon (Director of Debate, Georgia State University) and Abi Smith Williams (Assistant Director of Debate, Samford University). I highly recommend checking out pages 62-64 of Bello & William’s Policy Debate Manual for further reading about procedural arguments.
In essence, a procedural is a four-part argument that argues that the other team violated debate norms and should be punished in some way for it. Here are the four parts of a procedural argument, each one is critical to the entire argument:
- Interpretation (state your interpretation of the debate norm or rule)
- Violation (explain how the other debate violated your interp)
- Standards (explain why your interp of the debate norms are the best in round)
- Impact (explain the reasons this procedural matters as well as how the other team should be punishment)
You might recognize the above format, and kudos to you if so! It’s the format of a topicality press. Topicality is a procedural argument that says that the AFF team broke both a debate norm and a debate rule of staying on topic of the resolution. The conclusion of the vast majority of topicality arguments is that the AFF should lose since they missed the mark of the resolution.
But there are plenty of other procedures. For instance, agent-specification (also known as an A-Specs which is where the AFF doesn’t specify enough information about agents in their mandates) or over-specification (O-Specs, where AFF specifics too many details in their mandates). Check out page 62 of Bello & William’s for more details on these arguments.
The conclusion here is that by fostering an environment where students know that the judge is not going to cover for them if they don’t run a procedural when the other team does something wrong, then we force students to run procedurals and by extension massively boost education to rounds.
Reason 2: Allows Anyone To Judge Debate Rounds
Something that the homeschool leagues especially stress during judge recruitment campaigns before every tournament is that anyone can judge a debate round. You don’t need a college degree, you don’t need to be a coach, you don’t even need to read the news or know any basic world events. All you need to be able to do is come into the round and listen. You don’t even need to take notes if you don’t want to (though you’re highly encouraged to do so and for good reason).
Being able to attract this kind of judge pool is critical for the homeschool leagues. All tournament fees are completely offloaded onto the family of the competitor and this means that the homeschool leagues can’t afford to pay for judges to attend like public school and college leagues do. Homeschool tournaments need to be able to recruit a wide range of judges in order to have enough for the actual tournament.
And this need brings me to the first reason why outsourcing in-round issues that come up to the debaters is a better idea than trying to factor it into your decision by yourself: it provides an easier time for brand-new judges who don’t know a lot about debate.
As a parent or alumni judge, you probably know a LOT about debate. You’ve probably sat in tens of hours of debate rounds if not more and you’ve seen a lot! You’ve probably gotten good at manually looking at rounds and weeding out messy parts, unlike the average community judge. When students realize that their judges are able to do this on their own, they make their arguments in a round lazier. Instead of explaining why exactly their opponent’s argument is new and why exactly that’s bad — they instead opt into saying an accusatory “that’s a new argument” and move on to the next argument. This ruins the procedural aspect of education that debaters would have normally gotten if they were forced into explaining to you why and how the argument is new as well as why and how that matters to the round.
Reason 3: The Other Side Gets a Defense
We try to do our best as judges, but sometimes, we mess up. Perhaps we forgot to note down an argument made in a constructive and in the rebuttals we discard it as a new argument.
If you ever get a chance to have a conversation with competitors of the homeschool leagues, then you’ll hear numerous incidents of this as well as other similar kind of judge mistake incidents happening. Many times, this makes competitors feel awful and ends up discouraging them.
How can we judges prevent something like this from happening? It’s not like we’re trying to discourage and hurt debaters when we judge — we’re just trying to do our best. To this end, I propose once more that we offload these kinds of decisions to the debaters. If the other team doesn’t contest the first team doing something, that means that either (a) they have no problem with it or they think it’s not important and thus it’s a moot point in the round or (b) they’re brand new and still learning debate.
For the first case, as I mentioned, it’s a moot point if it’s not important to the round or if the other team doesn’t have a problem with it. The second case is where things get tricky. I’d like to say first and foremost shame on any team who runs sus stuff on newer teams because they know that those new teams don’t know enough about debate theory to defend themselves. But that being said, if we as the judges were to step in here and “play God” — that would set a horrible precedent for these new debaters and ruin their chances of doing well in future years because we give them no incentive to improve their knowledge of defending themselves.
Reason 4: Clean Slate Judges
I’ve previously blogged about why judges should “disarm” before “battle” — i.e, before they even walk into the debate room, they should leave behind as much as their bias as possible in order to give a complete clean slate to the debaters. The three main reasons I presented for why judges should do this are (1) judge minds are mostly unknown, (2) two teams not three, and (2) debate is a simulation, not 100% the real world.
I recommend reading that blog post because, for a judge, it gives some really good context of how you should walk into a round and why exactly you should be open-minded given the amount of time that busy competitors sacrifice each season to be able to compete.
I will say that the alternative I present here today is not completely foolproof. It’s not perfect and I never claimed that it was perfect. There are obvious problems (for instance, how do you combat new arguments in the 2AR? Every disadvantage I mentioned about having judges handle it on their own apply, but you can’t use the alternative I presented because the other team has no rebuttal to the 2AR. Perhaps we should team 2NRs to get better at predicting unethical teams and then spiking unethical arguments that might come up in the 2AR in the 2NR?)
However, I argue that this alternative is far superior to the way things are treated in the current system as all four reasons I presented point out. In addition to these four reasons, sprinkle the salt of unpredictability on top of them all. ALL judges see arguments differently and some might see one argument as a new argument while others might not agree. Because of all the issues with the current way of doing things, my recommendation to current and future judges is to simply offload as much as possible onto the students to make your decision not only easier but severalfold fairer.
Justin is a three-year alumnus of NCFCA and an honors student at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. Currently a senior, he hopes to receive his degree in computer science with a concentration in cyber security and minors in criminal justice and math. In his senior year of high school debate, Justin went from never competing in a single outround to averaging semis or quarters at every national open, including 4th place at the 2021 NCFCA nationals, as well as averaging finals at regional tournaments. His philosophy is that debate is a game. Providing one is ethical, the most persuasive argument flies. At the end of the day, Justin argues you should honor God & have fun! Debate is not all about winning, it’s about how you win and the skills you foster in the process.
You can learn more about Justin by reading his bio, and you can book coaching with him over here. You can also catch more content from Justin by checking out his personal website and blog as well as subscribing to his YouTube channel.