Here is a guest post from Andy Hume on expanding the break at Worlds from 32 to 64 teams. This is an issue that is likely to come up at council in the near future and we welcome your comments and opinions:
A few months ago I was writing an article for the Monash Debating Review. In the course of showing it to others for their thoughts, the lead author of the 1996 WUDC rules, Ray D'Cruz, suggested to me that the time had come to expand the break at Worlds from 32 to [at least] 64. His reasoning was as follows:
Adjudicators at Worlds are scared to break orthodoxy because they know that one poor result for a highly fancied team could see that team miss the break. Expand the break [in fact, Ray suggests 128, not 64!] and let everyone breathe. I remember when the break was fought out between 120 / 150 teams. Even then it was very competitive. I also think this is why debaters are very orthodox in their approach (method-driven). They don't want to put a foot out of place - debaters and adjudicators. Everything is terribly risk-averse.
Whether Ray's analysis of the change in the behaviour of debaters and adjudicators is correct or not, I am entirely persuaded of the merits of an expanded Worlds break of 64 (though 128 may be pushing it for the time being). Some of the arguments in favour of such a proposal:
Maths: the break of 32 was designed for an era when there were 150-250 teams at Worlds. As such the chances of breaking were somewhere between 1 in 5 and 1 in 8. With over 400 teams now routinely attending WUDC (and those numbers limited only by hosts' capacity), fewer than 1 in 12 teams now break.
As a former CA at Worlds and indeed a former winner of the competition, I need no reminding that the "elite status" of making the Worlds break is valuable in itself. However, it has now, in my view, become far too difficult to get there. Is there any other major competition in the world that has such a low proportion of teams in its main break? If you had 48 teams at your intervarsity, would you break directly to the final? Expanding the Worlds break to 64 would merely be restoring the status quo ante.
Creativity: expanding the break makes room for those teams of talented but perhaps less orthodox debaters. It allows the possibility of a couple of wildcards in the break. Anyone well versed in sporting analogy will see the similarity with the World Cup - the more open the break is, the better the chance of a Cameroon, a Korea or even an Ireland finding themselves in the quarter-finals and enlivening a dull, predictable draw. The break should be a test of the best teams in the world, sure, but we have knock-out rounds as well, precisely to keep alive the possibility of upsets.
Judges: far more independent adjudicators travel to Worlds than was the case 10 years ago. The judging pool in Asia and Europe is exponentially stronger than 20 years ago. In many cases CAs are now spoilt for choice and find themselves excluding many qualified judges due to sheer pressure of numbers. There may also be a tendency, regrettable but understandable, to "play safe" by picking a well-known name for the break rather than a younger and lesser-known judge. Expanding the break would be more inclusive for the adjudication pool, too - but not necessarily require many more judges if strength in depth proved to be shallower in any given year.
Inclusiveness: it is now about 20 years since Worlds stopped being an Anglosphere-only club and the era of mass participation of non English-speaking nations really began. Yet despite a massive improvement in the infrastructure and mean standard of debating in "ESL countries", it is not uncommon for a main break to feature no ESL teams whatever. Expanding the break would bring this target back within the range of more of the best ESL teams, as it was 10 years ago.
Logistics: the time pressure in Worlds schedules revolves overwhelmingly around the three days of main competition. Adding a double octo-final would not be a problem. Indeed, when WUDC was held in Princeton in 1995, it was held in North American parliamentary style, and double octos were held. If there were concerns about the dilution of the break, a provision could be included giving the organisers the option to drop the double-octos for that year if the number of registered teams proved to be below a certain level, say, 300.
There are other potential reasons, but these are the ones that spring to mind. In any case, this proposal to bring in a 64-team break may make it to the agenda at Worlds Council on 1st January. Any thoughts, comments or other arguments I have not thought of - or criticisms - might prove valuable in the discussion which is, I believe, well overdue.
CA, WUDC 2001
DCA, WUDC 2000
Edit: I have changed the posting date to keep this discussion higher up the front page of the blog.