Georgetown Wins the NDT…AGAIN!

Here’s a trivia question you might not be able to answer.  What is the fastest “sporting” competition in the world?  Ping Pong? Wrong.  Formula 1 racing? Not even close.  Here’s a hint.  500 per minute.  Do you give up?  Try speaking 500 words a minute.  No, it’s not a spelling bee of auctioneers.  The answer is college debate, policy debate to be exact.  Unless you are part of the debate community at the high school or collegiate level, you may never have heard a “proper” debate.  They aren’t televised very often if at all.  You’ll not hear one on the radio dial.  And they are nothing like the presidential debates, in fact they are far more demanding and intellectual stimulating if you can follow or as debaters might say, flow the arguments.  The problem isn’t that an average educated American couldn’t understand the arguments, although they are often nuanced and developed.  The problem is that the average American could not understand someone speaking 500 words a minute.  Yes, 500, that’s not a typo. That’s some Fast Talk indeed and I’m not sure which is more impressive – someone who can speak that fast or someone who can understand someone speaking that fast.  In any event, it’s not gibberish – debaters make sense to one another and the judges evaluating the rounds, who most often are debate coaches who themselves once debated competitively.

So, what’s up in the debate world these days? Well, this:  the Georgetown team of Andrew Arsht and Andrew Markoff (the Andrews as they are called), also known as Georgetown AM, won their second National Championship in the last three years at the National Debate Tournament, the most prestigious, invitation only, collegiate tournament in the United States.  Who did they beat? A formidable opponent from the University of Michigan – Ellis Allen and Alex Pappas, who earlier in round 7 of the prelims defeated Georgetown AM.  These teams were evenly matched and had each defeated the other in their two previous meetings.  Georgetown AM defeated Michigan AP in quarters at Georgia State University and lost to them in prelims at Dartmouth.

Like the NCAA basketball tournament, the NDT has brackets, seedings and the like, only they start with 80 teams and play more games or rounds as they are called.  In fact, preliminaries consist of 8 rounds over the course of two days.  The teams with the best records advance to the break rounds  where it is one and done from there on out: doubles, octofinals, quarterfinals, semifinals and the final round.  This year, the debate final four consisted of teams noted for their research and prowess at the podium:  Oklahoma, Harvard, Michigan and Georgetown.

With three teams qualifying for the tournament, team Oklahoma dominated in the preliminary rounds.  The tandem of Rashid Campbell and George Lee went 8-0 in prelims, actually beating the eventual champs, Georgetown AM, in Round 8. Rashid Campbell went on to win the top speaker award of the tournament and earned a perfect score of 30 points on three of the 24 ballots awarded during prelims.  Campbell and his partner, George Lee, advanced to the semifinal round. By the way, a ballot is the judge’s scorecard of the debate. There are three judges in each of the prelim rounds.  Campbell and Lee won 23 of 24 ballots in their first 8 rounds, a fairly spectacular feat.  To put the perfect scores in perspective, each of the 160 debaters in the tournament receive speaker points from each of the three judges in each of the first 8 rounds.  All told, there were approximately 3,840 scores given to all the competitors and there were only 7 perfect ones awarded.  Vida Chiri from Liberty earned 2.  She finished as the 27th best speaker and she and her partner advanced to doubles,the first break round after preliminaries. Eric Lanning of Houston received a perfect score too in one of his rounds. He was recognized as the 7th best speaker of the tournament.  He and his partner advanced to the quarterfinals.  And Ameena Ruffin from Towson, earned 1.  She finished as the number 13 speaker and with her partner Korey Johnson, advanced to doubles. Impressively, Ruffin and Johnson won the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) national championship earlier in March becoming the first all-female African American team to do so in CEDA history.

Back to Oklahoma domination.  Get this: they had three qualifying teams that won more debates in preliminary rounds than any other team – 18 and won 53 judges ballots. Harvard also had three teams in the tournament and won 16 debates in prelims and 46 ballots; Northwestern had 16 wins and 45 ballots.  Georgetown qualified only two teams but won 12 rounds in prelims and 36 ballots.  One could argue, and I will,  that they were the most efficient and effective squad in the tournament with a team advancing to octofinals and another winning it all.

Dartmouth qualified 2 teams and only won 3 debates in prelims and just a total of 12 ballots.  Dartmouth last won the NDT in 1993 and had a Copeland winning team in 2001-2002.


  • John Spurlock, top speaker and winner of the 2013 high school Tournament of Champions (TOC) finished as the 22nd best speaker of the 2014 NDT tournament, debating for Cal Berkeley.
  • Liam Hancock, one half of the 2012 TOC winning team from Iowa West, finished as the 85th speaker as a sophomore debating for Iowa.  Iowa advanced to octos.
  • Michigan’s Ellis Allen, 2014 NDT runner up won the TOC in 2010 and 2011 with partner Daniel Taylor, who debates for Harvard and also advanced to octos with partner Anna Dimitrijevic, the top TOC speaker in 2010.






Georgetown Wins the 2012 NDT

Georgetown won a collegiate national championship on Tuesday against the Wildcats.  This tournament, every bit the equal to NCAA March Hoop Madness in drama, strategy and stamina, began with 78 teams from all over the country including basketball powerhouses Gonzaga, Kansas, Baylor, Michigan, Georgetown, Loyola Marymount, Michigan State and Harvard.  This grueling 4 day bloodsport is not held in a gym, or on a court or field.  Rather these intense matches occur in suburban Hotels in rooms called Salon B, The Admiral Club and The Grand Ballroom. What’s the sport you ask?  DEBATE.

And I’m going to argue that academic debate is a sport; a Fast Talking sport of the mind, not for the feint of heart or hearing for that matter.  In fact, to 99% of the population, the arguments in the debate won’t be heard at all because they are spewed at supersonic speeds.  The only thing heard is the sonic boom at the end. They sound like auctioneers on speed.  It’s absolute madness.

To demonstrate what I mean, here’s a clip from the Finals of the National Debate Tournament (NDT) which took place on April 2, 2012 between Georgetown and Northwestern. Layne Kirshon of Northwestern is giving the first speech, also known as the First Affirmative Constructive, upon which the rest of the debate is focused.  Next to him, retrieving papers from the speech, is Georgetown’s Andrew Markoff, who with his partner, Andrew Arsht, by coin flip, debated the negative side.

Have a listen

Northwestern went 10-0 over the course of 4 days, to make it to the Finals; Georgetown 10-1.  Interestingly, during the debate year, these two teams of Layne Kirshon and Ryan Beiermeister from Northwestern and Andrew Markoff and Andrew Arsht from Georgetown faced off 9 times, Northwestern with the better record winning 5 of the debates.  3 of the 5 Northwestern wins came in Final rounds – at Georgia State, Texas and USC.  But in the one that counted for bragging rights, the NDT, Georgetown upset Northwestern, the team that had earlier in the night won the Copeland Award as the top debate team during the 2011-2012 regular season.  I think it’s sort of like the Field’s Medal from Good Will Hunting.  Beiermeister, following in the footsteps of her former teammate Stephanie Spies, who won the NDT last year with her partner Matt Fisher, was named the top speaker of the tournament.

So what did they debate about?  Good question, at 1,000 words a minute, only trained debaters and judges could follow or flow as it’s called, so I looked it up:  – RESOLVED: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase its democracy assistance for one or more of the following: Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen.

Speaking of Resolved, it is the name of a fascinating documentary on High School debate, fascinating to me because I was once a high school debater, but we didn’t talk quite so fast – nor did we have the benefit of energy drinks.  I even went to debate camp as a teen years ago, which was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life – 10 hours of research, lectures and debate a day.  Everyone was so stressed out and wired by the end of the first week, that the debate staff made us all take a day off – they called it a “mandatory fun day”.  They set up a volleyball net and piled up a bunch of baseball equipment in a heap on a dusty field, but most kids were just playing chess, Dungeons and Dragons or prepping debate cards.  This was back in the day when we cut out college debate guides packed with evidence on the topic for the new school year and pasted them onto 3×5 index cards.   Every prominent college debate school sold these evidence books at their debate camps – Baylor, Kansas, Redlands, Georgetown, (one debate case brief was called squirrel killers) to help debaters prepare for weird “squirrely” cases that might surface at a tournament.  This was all long before the PC and the internet, which Al Gore wouldn’t invent until the 90’s.

Another highly recommended movie on debate called Fast Talk, due out soon is rumored to be as riveting as Spellbound and Resolved.  It chronicles the fast talking debate subculture and features a Northwestern debate squad from a few years back in their quest for yet another national debate title.  Northwestern is to college debate what UCLA was once to basketball – DOMINANT.  But kudos to GTown AM who pulled off a bit of an upset in the NDT – you could call them dynasty busters.

And that’s a wrap.