NDT 2015 same as it ever was…mostly

For those of you unaware, the NDT of my title does not refer to Neuro-Developmental Treatment, Nondestructive Testing or Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation, though these would all be good guesses and impressive ones at that.  What I am referring to is the National Debate Tournament which is happening this weekend at the University of Iowa.  It’s as big of a deal in the college debate community as March Madness is to college hoops.  It’s the big dance of debate, and there are quite a number of really good dancers this year from colleges and universities around the nation.

So who made it to the NDT anyway and why do I say same as it ever was?  For starters, many of the teams that competed in the NDT last year, are back again, including the team from Michigan, Allen and Pappas, who made it to the finals in 2014 losing in a close round to the two time NDT champions Georgetown AM.  That team is no longer, but the Andrews, Arsht and Markoff, are judges at the tournament.  Two strong Harvard teams are back and Northwestern MV too, Miles and Vellayappan, who made it to quarters in 2014 and earned the Copeland Trophy for being the best team in the country this year. So far, they have a perfect record in the tournament. And there’s Oklahoma, a squad that dominated last year with three teams advancing to break rounds including Campbell and Lee who were national semi-finalists. Townson is back, as are excellent teams from Wake Forest, Emory, Kansas and Minnesota.  Dartmouth and Baylor are in it again hoping to bring back the glory years when they were the teams to beat.  Surprisingly, several schools that are usually here aren’t this year, like North Texas, although one of Harvard’s coaches, Sherry Hall, once debated or coached for the Mean Green in the 80’s.

Who will win this year – anyone could?  The powerhouses have been knocked out before.  Emporia State ousted Northwestern in 2013.  The University of Mary Washington surprised a few in 2010, finishing 3rd, as did Missouri State in 2008 and Wayne State in 2006-7 and an unheralded UMKC finished 2nd in 2007.  Anything can happen and sometimes does as I’ve pointed out, but the dynasties nearly always have the upper hand – Georgetown (in recent years), Northwestern, Kansas, Michigan State, Emory, Wake Forest, Harvard and Oklahoma.  But this year’s NDT could see a winner from a competitive, but not quite in the dynasty category school like a Minnesota or a Georgia.  And I’d like to see the host teams from Iowa finish strong including Shearer and Hancock, who have had a rough prelim so far, but are showing signs of momentum with a win in rounds 3 and 5.  Hancock, who won the TOC in 2012 debating for Iowa West advanced to octos last year and is debating with a new partner this season.

And while anyone could win, chances are strong that we will see a final with one (or two) of the following teams Northwestern MV, Harvard BS, (and they are not BS, but the real deal!), Michigan AP, or Minnesota EC.  Longer shots but very possible include Kansas HR, Emory KS, Townson TW, Oklahoma AC, Harvard DH and Georgetown LM.  Longest shots but not out of the realm would be Georgia GH, Oklahoma CY, Kentucky GS, Rutgers-Newark SH, KCKCC CN, Cal Berkely MS and Vermont BL.  But what do I know?  Nothing much.  I’m not even there!

I don’t care who wins.  I’m not affiliated with any of the schools, although I went to Baylor debate camp as a kid and remember listening to a lecture from Lee Garrison of USC in 1979 and buying evidence books compiled by Kansas, the University of Redlands, Baylor and Loyola Marymount, which might have been a squirrel killer book, or that could have been the one from Ithaca.  By the way, whatever happened to Ithaca debate?  I’m a fan of the academic sport, and applaud those in the community who work to make it more inclusive. Let the debates continue and may the best team this weekend win!

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.