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21 March 2011

Eliminated debaters making the judge break?

Steve at Progymnasmata has an interesting article based on a mail from Paul Gross of the University of Vermont.  The proposal is to allow eliminated debaters to be considered for the judge break. You can read the full article here but in the meantime here is a comment I have posted to the article:

I can see the benefit on paper of doing this. I was DCA at a tournament where a former world champion was debating with a fresher and just missed the break. They would have been a great addition to the judging pool but we could not use them. However that said you would generally expect that the best debaters would be in the elimination rounds. Therefore if it is a small tournament (say 20 teams) you will find that half of the speakers will have made the break and the speakers you are left with may not add quality to the judging pool.

Tournaments which are large enough to attract a depth of quality teams that means many potentially good judges will miss the debating break are also tournaments that attract a good depth of quality judges. You need to make sure that breaking as a judge does not become a consolation prize for the 3-4 teams just outside the break. If this happens it reduces the incentive for people to come and judge the whole tournament. Why would you slog through 6-7 preliminary rounds as a judge only to be told we don’t want you in the break because debaters who failed to make the break are still regarded as better judges.

Also for many people adjudication is as competitive as debating. Having been CA or DCA at a number of large tournaments I can tell you the couple hours after the break are a rollercoaster of reactions. You will get some judges coming to you and thanking you for giving them a chance. However you will also get many judges who are angry and extremely disappointed at missing the break. Some take it to extremes and if they were judging a bubble final preliminary round you could not be certain that the judge break will not be a factor in their decision. If they have estimated that they are just hanging onto one of the last slots in the judge break would you trust them to eliminate a team that will probably then push them out of the judge break?

The proposal has some merit but I think it should be a potential option rather than a default option. Add the potential to call up an eliminated debater into the judge break to the arsenal of the adjudication team BUT it should be an exceptional event. If it becomes a regular event then I fear it will have an adverse impact.


  1. Anonymous12:41 pm

    "Why would you slog through 6-7 preliminary rounds as a judge only to be told we don’t want you in the break because debaters who failed to make the break are still regarded as better judges."

    Because they're better adjudicators than you? The same reason the majority of adjudicators turn up?

    Career adjudicators will hate it, so it won't happen, not that it'd matter since alot of it isn't merit based anyway.

  2. I dislike this term "career adjudicators”. It makes it seem as though only great debaters make good judges. There are people for whom adjudication is the main area of "achievement" in their "career" on the circuit. I don't see what is wrong with that. Just because they were not successful as debaters does not mean they can't comprehend and evaluate arguments.

    Without good adjudicators in rounds 1-7 then debating would collapse as an activity. Debaters are very quick and quite right to complain about poor adjudication in the preliminary rounds. We need to encourage good judges and not dismiss them as careerist or discard them as soon as some debaters become available after the break. If someone

    Also in my opinion people should have just as long a "career" as a judge as a debater. I see it as paying back for your time as a debater. Thankfully many of the best debaters do see it that way but many “average” debaters do not and simply leave once their time in college is up. This means we are left with a shortfall of judges especially if you actively exclude the average past debaters as nothing more than “career adjudicators”.

    But I do think this proposal has some merit. We should have the ability to call on eliminated debaters if they are significantly better than a very weak pool of judges. However we need to be careful that it is the exception rather than the rule and where a 50-50 (0r even 60-40) call is to be made then the person who has sat through seven preliminary rounds as an adjudicator should get the nod.

    Also in the case of the US where the WUDC circuit is really only getting started there is not a great pool of alumni to pull from. They need to work with limited resources and that may mean using eliminated debaters as judges. However in parallel to this there should be some effort put into establishing a pool of “career adjudicators” to actually judge the tournaments.

  3. I have responded in more detail on the original post, and endorse Colm's points above about reinvestment in debating as an activity, but would ask Anonymous specifically how this policy would work in tournaments with adjudication tests - should the DCA/CA team have to test every entrant? By testing a cohort, are they identifying teams favoured to win? Most tournaments started from humble beginnings but once you hit 32 teams or hold quarter final rounds it's not unfair to require a minimum standard in the preliminary round judging pool - and if necessary actively recruiting for it.

    Also: if the choice is between seven judges in an elimination round including eliminated speakers or five judges who have been in it from day one, the obvious choice is five - if only to minimize the often tendentious length of elimination round decisions.

    One final note - if a world champion or other notable is debating with a fresher, s/he should be doing it for no other reason than the development of the fresher, and should willingly take a seat in the gallery for later on. It does us all good to sit and watch from time to time.

  4. Anonymous12:22 am

    There's no need to test some people. When a former world champion or whoever gets eliminated in the Semi or Quarter, they'll obviously make a great adjudicator for the remaining debates. But if necessary, just test everyone, including the debaters (but make it voluntary, so only the really good ones will do it). I just don't think the test says a whole lot anyway.

    Career adjudicators have a role, but nobody should be adjudicating a level that they themselves could not reach. If debater X who has gone to worlds for 3-4 years, broken a few times, maybe made the GF, wants to adjudicate for 10 more years, good for them. I'm sure they'll make a great adjudicator 99 times out of 100. But an adjudicator who has never done anything as a debater should definitely be passed over in favour of someone who just made the Qrt/Semi for the 3rd time, and who has been in the top 10 speakers the last few years, and if that hurts the career adjudicators feelings then too bad.

  5. How many adjudicators were not debaters? With the exception of some of the professors and coaches popping up from America and East Europe all the judges I see were debaters at some point.

    If you introduce a cut off level for adjudicators of having "gone to worlds for 3-4 years, broken a few times, maybe made the GF" then there will be a lot of rooms with no judges.

    Many of the most successful debaters disappear after graduation because they go into careers that do not afford them the time to come back and adjudicate.

  6. Anonymous9:59 pm

    They can turn up for the same reason most people with no realistic shot at the break turn up, to have a good time and see their friends. If Bob from Israel, or Joe from Botswana, or Pete from Dublin, who have never done anything as debaters, are sad because they get bumped from the Qrt panel for Sally the Worlds GF'ist and top ten speaker, whose team got unlucky in the Octo, then too bad.

  7. Anonymous6:59 am

    So apart from Sally who will judge the other Qtr finals since you clearly think no one but Worlds Grand Finalists are able to judge? Perhaps we could stagger the start times so she could judge all 4 Qtrs.

  8. Anonymous9:25 am

    It's an example obviously, you don't have to be a Worlds GF'ist to adjudicate the break, but obviously alot more is expected of you than has been asked of some of the recent DCA's. If a debater is more qualified to adjudicate a finals debate, and they just got eliminated, then they should do so. Perhaps there will not be many Sally's, but I doubt it.

  9. Anonymous9:58 am

    Given this level of disrespect for judges you have to wonder why anyone bothers to judge. Just let the debaters do it all.

  10. I don't think this is black and white, All Debaters or All Judges as some people are making it out to be. This would be nothing more than a useful tool to be used in exceptional cases, especially in areas where experienced judges are few.

  11. Anonymous11:30 am

    Poor DCA's with a fully paid trip to Worlds. Where will we find more qualified replacements?


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