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!

Emporia State Wins the 2013 NDT

How’s this for a Final Four:  Georgetown, Oklahoma, Emporia State and Northwestern.   No, it’s not a Final Four from the 50’s.  It’s not even a basketball tournament.  But it is a tournament, and one far more demanding on the mind and body than running up and down a court.  No, it’s not a chess match or an engineering design competition either.   Did you say baseball?  Good guess, but that would be wrong too.  DEBATE.  The National Debate Tournament (NDT) recently took place at Weber State. The final round featured a brilliant team from Emporia State University who presented an alternative interpretation of the national debate resolution to take down an amazingly talented duo from powerhouse Northwestern.

Ryan Wash and Elijah Smith made history this year by being the first African American team to win the NDT and first from Emporia State University and the first team to win two national championships in the same year – the NDT and CEDA Nationals.  They defeated the Northwestern team of Peyton Lee and Arjun Vellayappan in the final round of the NDT on a close 3-2 decision, but not in the way you might think.  As the Affirmative team, Emporia State argued that they could not and would not debate a meaningless national resolution and challenged Northwestern to examine the oppressive role policy debate plays in negating personal experience and identity as critical starting points to meaningful discussions on issues.  They feel as long as oppressive frameworks remain, their voices will not be heard, that “the personal is political” and that until the debate community understands this,  many will find no home in debate.  In Cross-X, Ryan Wash responded that we should tie “theory to the flesh”.  In a reference to the Wiz, Smith and Wash implored Northwestern to “ease on down the road together” with them.  Northwestern did not.  They argued that some framework for debate is necessary, that without topicality parameters, the Affirmative has an unfair advantage because they could talk about anything making it impossible for the Negative to be prepared.  And this strategy proved to be their undoing.

All 4 debaters finished among the top 25 in total speaker points in prelim rounds out of 156 debaters in the tournament:  Lee finished 2nd behind top speaker Andrew Arsht of Georgetown (last year’s NDT champion with partner Andrew Markoff), Wash 5th, Vellayappan 7th and Smith who recently converted from Lincoln Douglas debate to policy debate rated as the 23rd best speaker.

I did not judge the round, nor could I have, but I did read the 11 page critique of one of the judges, Scott Harris, the Kansas debate coach, who voted for Emporia State SW. It is an interesting read and it helped me understand the round better which I listened to earlier here: I have mixed feelings about the debate, as did Harris.  Like Harris and Northwestern, I believe in the importance of topicality.  And I also concur with Harris and the Emporia State University team that policy debate needs to be way more inclusive than it is.  The debate community needs to welcome discussions that tie “theory to the flesh” and allow debaters to relate to their core being to include racial, gender, class, sexual orientation, religious, ideological, political, and geographic considerations. There needs to be fewer debate cards and more clash of ideas situated in this diversity so debaters can speak directly to one another and gain new perspectives so that we can in fact one day “ease on down the road together” toward a more perfect democracy.  Debate is not a game.