Introducing the MDTA Cup

Alright, I'm very excited to be making this post. The idea for a season-long, cumulative award for Minnesota debaters has been kicked around for quite a while now, and I'm very grateful to the MDTA executive board for letting me help them put this together.

The goal of the MDTA Cup is to encourage participation and reward success at Minnesota debate tournaments. Any MN debater who competes at four our more MN tournaments is eligible. The MDTA Executive board is working on procuring the actual award hardware, but I have been assured that it will be of the utmost quality and impressiveness.

DJ did a fine job of introducing the award here. What follows is a more in-depth description of the points system.

Point Getters

One Point for Participation.
Everyone who competes at a tournament gets a point.

One Point for "Placing"

This point goes either to the top 8 entries (defined by the tournament), or whoever clears to the first elim round, whichever is larger.

  • If a tournament has no elim rounds, the top 8 entries get a point

  • If a tournament breaks to semis, all semifinalists and the next four seeds get a point

  • If a tournament breaks to quarters, all quarterfinalists get a point

  • If a tournament breaks to double-octafinals, all double-octafinalists get a point

One Point for each elimination round won

One Point for winning a tournament with no elims

Point Caps

  • An entry can earn a maximum of 5 points in a given weekend

  • A team can count the points of its top two entries per division per weekend to it's yearly total.

  • In theory, a team could win as many as 40 points in a weekend (5 point cap * 2 students * 4 events), but I don't think the tournament schedule has any weekends where that is possible.


  • Rosemount CS enters the BJ tournament, which has no elims, and places 3rd. He gets two points - the "participation" point and the "place" point - for that weekend

  • Eagan CM enters the BJ tournament, and is named champion. He gets three points - the "participation" point, the "place" point, and the "champion" point.

  • Cooper RB enters the Highland park tournament, which breaks to semis. He misses the break at 5th seed, but gets the "place" point for being in the top 8, so two points total.

  • Rosemount RR enters the Sibley tournament, which breaks to quarterfinals. He wins the quarterfinal round, but loses in Semis to Wayzata GS. Wayzata GS goes on to win the tournament. Rosemount RR gets 3 points (participation, place, win an elim). Wayzata GS gets 5 points (participation, place, win quarters, win semis, win finals).

  • Eagan PM enters the Blake tournament, and makes it all the way to the final round. He would earn 6 points (participation, place, win doubles, win octas, win quarters, win semis) but the weekly point cap is 5, so he gets 5 points

What I'm Going to do
I've agreed to tabulate the results for the MDTA cup and post weekly updates with current standings on this blog.

What I need from you
For tournament directors, I need to know the official results of your tournament, including (a) all participants, (b) top 8 entries in order if there are no elims or if you break any less than 8 students and (c) full elim results, if any.

For all coaches who do data entry, paying attention to consistency will help me a ton. That means a few things: (a) You need to make sure the long form of your school name is always spelled the same, IE "Blake" or "The Blake School," you need to pick one and stick with it. (b) The same goes for students' names. (c) In team events, I need consistent team codes, so please stick to the "alphabetical order" method - Quam and Johnson need to be listed as "Saint Paul Central JQ". (d) Also, if you need to add additional letters to a team's code, that code needs to stick with them, so if you have "Wayzata RS" and "Wayzata ReS", then "Wayzata ReS" needs to stay that way even if RS aren't at the next tournament.

I can fix the little mistakes that we will all make along the way, but please make the effort to proof-read your entry sheet. It will make my life a lot easier and ensure you get timely updates.

Oh, and one last thing, please be good to one another. This is the first time we've tried something like this, so there are sure to be kinks along the way. I'm sure we'll have to make changes to the formula over time, so remember that the first year is an experiment. And this is meant to be fun and friendly, so if you are getting worked up about the MDTA cup, then you are doing it wrong.

You are about to be hit by a bus

The more I coach debate and talk to others in the activity, the more I come face-to-face with a disconcerting reality. You, me and everyone else who coaches debate is about to be hit by a bus.

By "A bus" I mean any one of the long list of eventualities that could suddenly force you out of the activity. Between new jobs, grad school, law school, funding cuts, and even the actual miniature human beings that are in the care and protection of some of us, our lives as debate coaches is short. Even for the lucky ones of us who are able to make debate part of our "day job," our activity is subject to forces far out of our control.

In some ways we as a community are victims of our own success. As we give students the tools to advance in debate, we also open up access to far-off schools, high-power careers, and the kind of fulfilling life that is incompatible with coaching debate. Of course this is a natural process, the very reason that we are willing to do so much for the activity in the first place. It's a good problem to have.

Unfortunately, it means we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction. we can't ignore this reality, and absent some major changes to the public education system we can't make it go away.

The conclusion that I'm becoming convinced of is that we need to embrace it. We need to embrace the bus that is careening toward us and do everything we can to help the activity before it hits us. I'm not entirely sure what this means yet, but there are already a few things that I've started to see differently about debate.

I'm starting to envision my job as a debate coach less as "training debaters" and more as "training debate coachces." If I'm doing my job right (not that I'm ever sure that I am), I want my students to understand the value of the activity and take the long view of what the community needs to thrive. I want them to understand that the value of "in-game" success is predicated on the existence of a community that we all create together.

If we cannot live as long as the elephant, then we need to reproduce like the mosquito. But there is a risk in this strategy as well. If at any point a program is coachless, it can take years to regain that inertia. One of the biggest challenges we face is finding continuity, someone to champion the cause of debate and help to fill in the gaps. Even mosquitos need standing water.

The emergence of the MDTA, NDCA, and Urban Debate Leagues here and elsewhere is promising, but their project is just beginning. And even with their help, all of us need to do everything we can to grow debate. Part of this means finding barriers around entering the activity and knocking them down whenever we can. For me, I'm continually discvering that I've taken things for granted that are incredibly hard for new coaches to overcome.

And while we're on the subject of personal confession, let me admit that I've been downright mean to other coaches. I've belittled people in public and in private for debate decisions that I disagree with. I've made fun of people who are making a good faith effort to grow a debate team. I've treated other judges and coaches as if they were beneath me, as if they weren't good enough to judge or compete against my studnts. And I was wrong.

Short of actual malice or criminal intent, nobody deserves that, especially nobody who is dedicating even a few hours of their time to this activity. If we go searching for intellectual purity, we are going to find nothing but a shrinking pool of kids and adults willing to play this game. The bus is heading for all of us, we must resist even the slightest tendency to throw each other under it.

New Judge Philosophy

I took a glance at my judge philosophy the other day (as I think everyone should, once a year or so), and it was starting to look pretty stale. I had added this and that over the years, but it was mostly the same thing I wrote 6 months after I graduated high school.

The new version isn't much longer, but I think it's much "denser" in terms of useful information about me. I tried to include all of my opinions that lie outside the mainstream, whatever that is.

One piece that is an important change from years past:
On Delivery, I have no problem with speed per se, but I'm increasingly troubled by the clarity problems that I used to tolerate as part and parcel to speed. I desire to hear and understand every word in the round. I'll make a good faith effort to inform you, verbally and nonverbally, if you are unclear, but there is a limit to how much I'm going to yell at you.

Also, instead of littering the page with random rants and pet peeves, I just included the following at the end.

A short list of other things that are on my mind

-It's much easier to flow when things have descriptive names. "Next off is Healthcare Politics" instead of "Next off!"
-I think that Plans and Counterplans alike need an advocate in the literature.
-Absolute defense is just as good as offense.
-Arguments about the existence "side bias" are always stupid
-Impact comparisons are just as necessary on theory.
-I've seen plenty of politics disads that could be killed with a good interpretation of fiat.

Camp Evidence Review

So I just finished wading through the many free files offered by wonderful debate camps with the help of the fine folks at the NDCA. I'm hardly in a position to criticize, what with all this free evidence we've all been given, but still some things stick out to me that would help the user-friendliness of the NDCA evidence.

Things that are awesome:

  1. When the filename includes the camp, lab, name of file, and side (where applicable)

  2. All of that information on the header/title page as well

  3. When the file works in Open Office. It seems like some templates work great and some look terrible, not sure why.

  4. Standard fonts

  5. That the entire set of evidence fits on a CD this year because people used .doc instead of .pdf. Both formats have ups and downs, but file size is a huge factor for a collection like this

  6. When cards are underlined

Things that are not awesome:

  1. Aff and Neg stuff in the same file

  2. 130 page aff and 10 page case neg. Come on.

  3. Maybe this is in response to the problem above, but DDI seems to have every lab do their own case neg to every other lab's affs. Seems like a huge waste of effort to me

  4. Case neg files without any, you know, case neg in them

  5. There are a few camps (not naming names) that seem to have no quality control whatsoever. If you are going to do play like that, I mean, why even bother having a debate camp?

  6. Bonus: I cannot stand it when people use a macro or whatever to make the text Bold, Underlined, and Bigger font. Seems incredibly arrogant, like nobody is ever going to want to change your precious underlining on this card.

On Travel Limits

Alright, much virtual ink hath been spilled over this question, so I'm actually going to try to make this concise (for once).

We've debated the concept of the debate community imposing travel limits on itself through the MDTA. With the MDTA general membership meeting approaching, I'd like to make the case for a resolution that makes some limitations on the travel schedule of MN debate teams.

First, some summary of the debate so far.

Reasons we like national travel:

  • Students that have access can go meet the best competition in the country in front of excellent critics, and receive all the attendant educational benefits.

  • These students bring these skills back to Minnesota debate tournaments, which raises the bar for everyone

  • Being part of a national community and national debate organizations helps knowledge sharing, outreach efforts, professional networking, and other intangible benefits

  • Students who succeed nationally "put us on the map," for lack of a better phrasing

Arguments for restricting national travel:

  • Some programs just can't afford it, which raises fairness concerns

  • Huge costs for programs that can, in terms of dollars and also in livability

  • The "arms race problem" - teams travel to gain a competetive advantage, pressuring everyone else to travel more to keep up with the joneses.

  • The expectation of travel makes "single coach" programs harder to start and maintain, adding additional obstacles to new programs

Additionally, the MSHSL has recently restricted travel for sports citing the same fairness/livability concerns, and has discussed extending a similar regulation to fine arts. If we choose not to regulate ourselves, the MSHSL may decide to regulate us in a way that is less compatible with our activity than we would like.

I think that the following proposal offers the best chance to mitigate these fairness and livability problems without regulating away the benefits of national travel.

My Proposal

  1. Schools can debate as much as they want in Minnesota and its contiguous states (IA, ND, SD, and WI)

  2. Each squad is limited to three out-of-region tournaments from August-April

  3. The number of tournaments is counted "per school per event." If Rosemount sends policy debaters to Harvard and Berkeley in the same weekend, that uses two of our tournaments. If Rosemount sends a Policy team to Greenhill and a LD debater to Wake, both the policy squad and the LD squad have two remaining out-of-region tournaments

  4. Any round robin that is held in conjunction with an invitational tournament does not count as an extra tournament. Attending both Greenhill and the Greenhill Round Robin counts as 1 tournament.

  5. Any "post-season" tournament that requires qualification does not count toward the limit. This includes (but is not limited to) TOC, NFL, and NDCA

Under this proposal, most schools can continue with a "status quo" level of travel, Some will have "status quo but a little less" travel. This has the effect of ending the "arms race" now, and leaving some question of how much travel is desirable up for further debate. If, in a few years, we want to change the number of allowable tournaments from 3 to 2 or 4, we can have that debate on its own merits.

The question of enfrorcement is a good one, and here I'll admit that my knowledge is not deep enough to submit a proposal. I'm not sure if I know what the MDTA could "hold" from violating teams, so I won't make any suggestions along those lines. It has been suggested that the MDTA craft a trophy/prize/scholarship that would only go to students whose teams do not violate the rules, and I do like where that idea is going. I also think that this rule is a good idea even if they only enforcement mechanism we have available is "public shaming."

Credit where its due: I'm far from the first to suggest such a proposal, and pretty much none of the arguments in favor of it were my original ideas.

Tech Tip: Removing Extra Line Breaks from PDF Articles

The Problem

You find a great article as a PDF. The document is nicely formatted, and allows you to copy out the text. However, when you copy-paste to a word processor, what was once nicely formatted text:

turns into text that either wraps in really stupid places:

Or doesn't fill up the available width, which looks pretty stupid as well

Why it happens

For whatever stupid reason, most PDFs are encoded with hard "line break" characters at the end of each printed line. This means that if your word document has different margins or font size than the PDF (as it surely will), the text will have extra line breaks in places it shouldn't. We can see these extra line break characters in a text editor:

The CR and LF characters are interpreted by word as "Start a new paragraph here." That's the problem.

The Solution

We need to remove all the extra line breaks from the document. Word and OpenOffice both allow you to do this using the "Find and Replace" dialog, but the technique is not obvious.

  1. Hit CTRL+F or click Edit>Find and Replace

  2. In word, click the tab at the top of the dialog that says "Replace"

  3. In the Find box, enter ^p for word or $ for OpenOffice

  4. In Openoffice, click "More" and then check "Regular Expressions"

  5. In the Replace box, type a single space character (IE hit the spacebar once)

  6. Click "Replace All"

This is what the box looks like in Word:

And this is what it looks like in OpenOffice:

After you hit "Replace All", all the line breaks will be replaced with spaecs, so your document looks much better.


  • If you want to replace the line breaks one at a time, use "replace" instead of "replace all"

  • It's usually easier to clean the text in it's own document and then copy/paste again to your card-cutting document

  • This technique is also useful for removing extra line breaks after some bozo began a new page by hitting "enter" a bunch of times instead of adding a new page break. Use ^p^p in the find box