If you’ve been reading my blog articles for a while, you knew that this was coming. Earlier this year, the NCFCA announced their rule changes for 2022, with this being one of the revisions: “Only the Affirmative speaker (LD) or 1st Affirmative speaker (TP) may briefly ask a general question regarding judges’ backgrounds or judging philosophies.” While there are valid concerns that prompted this rule (more on that in a second), I’m of the belief that ultimately it will hurt more than it helps.
Why the Change?
Before you get out your pitchfork, it’s important to understand the NCFCA’s reasons to introduce the rule in the first place. Luckily, we know exactly why the change was made. In her interview with Danielle Miller, NCFCA’s Executive Director Kim Cromer said that there were two main reasons that the committee decided to introduce the rule:
Firstly, Ms. Cromer said that when debaters ask questions regarding theory or strategy, they are narrowing the round. For example, asking how the judge feels about counterplans harms the education of the round (in the opinion of the rules committee), because in the event that the judge says no, the round is limited beyond what it would have been before the question was asked. They felt that the answer the judge gave could be used as a spike or an argument in the round.
Second (and more importantly), the rule committee was concerned about our judges. Apparently, there have been situations where the judge has felt as if they are in the hot seat, being grilled by both teams before the round ever starts. Because the NCFCA relies so heavily on community judges, it just wasn’t worth it for the league to allow techniques like this that potentially could scare off our judges.
My Issues With the Change
I’ve written two articles already that highlight the importance of the judging philosophy, and the many benefits of asking specific questions and follow up questions. Many other debaters I know share the same sentiment, and this new rule severely restricts our access to information that (in my opinion) is necessary to have the best possible debate round.
While I understand the reasoning behind the “more questions = narrower debate” argument, I tend to disagree with it. In fact, I think this change will result in more narrow and less educational debates than before. Why? Because by limiting their access to the judges’ opinions, debaters will be less willing to adopt… um… “spicy” strategies. If the majority of judges seems to dislike counterplans, negative teams will probably never run them just to be safe. Even if they get a judge who is ok with counterplans, they’ll never know. Ultimately, I think that without the ability to specifically tailor strategies to the judge, debaters will resort to running “basic” arguments and strategies.
But of course, we are still left with the issue of the judge feeling uncomfortable. To explain my thoughts here, let me use the example of a debater who uses lots of technical jargon, speaks quickly, and never tags. In my opinion, this debater would make a new judge very uncomfortable as well. But what’s the difference? The difference is that jargon, speed, and tagging are not part of the rules!
As with these things, or even with things like attire or gymnastics, I think that the judge should be able to dock points for being unprofessional if the debater comes across the wrong way when asking for the philosophy or while asking follow up questions. The fact of the matter is that there will always be nasty debaters, and the way to combat them is to let them lose their own rounds, not to make rules that they will simply work around.
One final thought: when we have discussions and make arguments in real life, we should always know where our “opponent” or “judge” is coming from. Instead of trying to opt for generic arguments that appeal to everyone regardless of their biases (which is as impossible as it is unrealistic), we should always try to tailor our arguments to be as specific as possible.
Obviously, whining about the problem doesn’t do anything to fix it. Luckily, I believe the situation can be rectified. Firstly, Ms. Cromer gladly shared that the best way to appeal this (or any other rule) is to email the appropriate Committee with your concerns, and make a compelling argument with details. She made it clear that if you politely make an argument for a rule change, your request will certainly be considered!
With that in mind, I would highly recommend that anyone who would like to see this rule changed should follow this link, select “I Have a Question or Suggestion for the Debate Committee,” and make your case. Remember: don’t whine or complain, and use your debate skills to present what you think is the biggest warrant for the change. The NCFCA certainly seems open to changing almost any rules, provided that enough people provide valid reasons for doing so. A great example of this is Danielle’s submission to the committee:
(Note from Danielle: “Since there is a 500 character limit in the suggestion box, I linked a google doc with my answer.”)
“I am a Team Policy coach and fifth year competitor, and I am concerned about the new restrictions on asking for judge philosophy. Following the advice of our coaches, my partner and I have always asked our judge philosophy question very specifically, such as asking if our judge had any experience with immigration or Europe, or asking a community judge how they got roped into judging and their occupation. This allowed us to get much more applicable information than what we received in previous years from just asking a simple judge experience or philosophy question.
This was most noticeable with community judges. While asking for their experience with judging would usually get only the response “none”, asking a more specific question led to all kinds of fascinating answers, and by extension, fascinating debates. One community judge was a public speaking professor, another was an attorney, one was an actual European immigrant. Each required a different approach, and that taught me to think on my feet to appeal to a diverse range of people. One judge at Nationals asked us to appeal to his very conservative politics, and even though we had been running the same case all year, that debate was unlike any other, from the arguments each team emphasized to the language they used. This taught me how to shape my message to appeal to a specific group, a skill I will definitely use in my everyday life.
I understand that some debaters abused the privilege of flexible questions, but I would hope that the trend of intimidating, combative questions could eventually be stamped out by judges themselves, especially given NCFCA’s carefully worded judge orientation video and speaker point guide.”
I agree with Danielle that a viable alternative to this new rule would be a revision of the Judge Orientation videos. Make it crystal clear to the judge that they are in charge, that they are not expected to know anything, and that they absolutely have the power to dock points if debaters make them uncomfortable in any way.
If you disagree with this or any other recent rule change by the NCFCA (or even if you don’t, to be honest), I would highly recommend that you go check out Danielle’s interview on her podcast. Ms. Cromer did a great job of explaining the reasons for all the rule changes and cleared a lot of things up for me, as well as providing some interesting bits of NCFCA news.