Author Topic: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates  (Read 13203 times)


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Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« on: October 19, 2009, 09:20:44 PM »

(1) Until a few years ago, elim day used to end around 1 am
(2) Tab rooms are much faster now (5-15 minutes for a pairing instead of 45)
(3) 5 round elim days a major national tournaments now end at 4am

Culprits for #3:

(1) Pre-round prep
(2) Long decision times (now up to 2.5 hours in elims)


(1) Cut #1 some
(2) cut #2 a lot -- to 1 hour -- says 5-6 hours on Monday.  I'd say 45 minutes in rounds 1-4,  1 hour in rounds 4-8, and 1 hour in elims.

Advantage: (1) Retain 8 debates (50-100 more debates/tournament). This creates more learning opportunities for many and provides more equivalent head-to-head debates.  (2) Forces debaters to be clearer.


(1) Less "careful" decision-making in 10 debates that take 2.5 hours to decide.

Impact -- unclear. There is no evidence at all that longer decisions are better -- debaters don't appear (significantly) more satisfied and the there aren't any fewer 2-1 or 3-2 decisions.   And, even if advocates of 2.5 hour "careful" decisions win that the decisions are better, you are talking about a marginal increase in decision quality by 10 people who take 2.5 hours in 10 debates.  

RFD: More debates win. The loss of MORE "carefulness" by very experienced and careful critics in 10 debates is outweighed by the loss of 50-100 debates.

« Last Edit: October 25, 2009, 04:47:05 PM by Stefan »


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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2009, 01:03:17 PM »

I would be very ok with 30 minutes of prep before prelim debates, especially if including less pre-round prep meant including 8 debates (more debates are critical for the development of all debaters but particularly those from high school circuits that did not have extensive critiques post-round etc).  I think this is also basically what happens at the NDT (prelim rounds have a time limit - elim rounds do not).  In addition, if the pairings are released for any tournament the night before, 30 minutes seems luxurious for pre-round prep in the morning etc.

It seems obvious to me that some judges (Hester, Hoe) emphasize different elements of decision making then say others (Hardy et al he he).  I don't think something is wrong with one or right with the other as we all seem to get (mostly) highly preferred.  I am hopeful, however, that as we all move to paperless (which seems inevitable in the current or another system) post round card reading will become easier to standardize and quicker to process.  I know in the "paperless" rounds I have judged the teams bring me a computer or jump drive with all the cards I need in order...that seems to help a great deal on both ends (gathering cards and reading them).

So, if pre-round gets cut-down by community decree and the helpful hand of tab room administrators releasing pairings PRIOR to debates...And, if post-round starts becoming quicker as a result of technology (and maybe reassessment  of how rounds should be decided, although I think there is a value to having lots of types of judges in the pool)....we might actually start having healthier tournaments.

What does not work, is piling an elim on top of an already brutal two days of prelims.  The greater good for the majority of teams is served by more PRELIMS not ELIMS.  The greater debates for elims occur when the ELIM debaters are not finishing up the bataan death march of prelims following a 16 hour day (if you are lucky).



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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2009, 05:23:36 PM »
Let me ask a question that is relevant to this conversation - is there a maximum length that a competition day should last? It seems like lots of voices worried about the current length of days and a fair number of suggestions about reducing the times.

I agree with those expressing concern about tournament practice and wonder if we should be encouraging more experimentation with our format. If the goal is to maximize the best possible debate environment, perhaps we should be trying to see how these solutions work.

Getting back to the question - how long do folks think a tournament day should last?
Gordon Stables
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Director of Debate & Forensics
Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
University of Southern California


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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2009, 05:53:52 PM »
I will take a stab at this,

A traditional work day is 8 hours, a non-traditional work day (at most) goes 10-12 hours.  Debate days are frequently upwards of 16 hour days.  I would say a day should never go longer than 12 hours.

Kade, I agree with you in principle, but wait until you have been burning both ends for 20 more starts to wear you down.  This is one of the reasons, I suspect, so few coaches stick around for that long.



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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #4 on: October 20, 2009, 06:09:54 PM »
I agree with most everything - but the "suck it up" arguments have really started to ring of  chest-thumping.  There's just no point to punishing students and teachers like that.  I don't think anyone is learning a thing in hour sixteen - they're just going through the motions and trying to hold it together.  There's a very minimal benefit at a very maximal cost.  Some associates at major firms and young finance sector people work days like that - but, you know, they're making enough money to justify it.

I mean, you know that I'm a stay up all night, grind it out kind of guy myself, Kade - but I don't think my idiosyncrasies should be imposed on the debate world at large.

West Point ran on time.  There's an organization that prizes efficiency. 


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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #5 on: October 21, 2009, 08:55:51 AM »
I think that longer days are worse when the tournament has not provided food. If there is dinner before the final round, it's okay that the last round ends at 10PM. If you have to then search for some place that is open that late (not always a problem on Saturday, but frequently is on Sunday), then eat a meal and immediately crash when you get back to the hotel, it isn't healthy. First, it delays getting to sleep by an hour or more depending on restaurant crowding, service time, and squad size. Second, if losing weight and watching Gremlins has taught me anything, it's that eating right before bed is just unhealthy.

My ultimate point...

If you're going to feed us, you can keep us 'til 10. If food is on our own, we need to be ending the day around 8.
« Last Edit: October 21, 2009, 08:57:43 AM by Whit »

V I Keenan

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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #6 on: October 23, 2009, 11:59:35 AM »
We're having a bit of a quality of life discussion about regional tournaments in the Northeast which touches on the some of the same concerns.   Our regional tournaments are mostly scheduled as 2-day events: 5 prelims on Saturday, a 6th on Sunday and elims (always with octos in at least one or more divisions), making it 5 debates on Sunday.

Then we drive.  Through New England and Upstate NY.  In February.

I didn't say we were smart, but it does illustrate what it takes to get it done:

We have limited pre-round prep in all cases (which is amusing to watch when Dartmouth or Harvard drop by - this is how I learned it's not typical for there to only be 20-30 minutes of prep for an elim), and occasionally we lag pair day 1, and on some days we're out by 8:30PM and on others we're out closer to 11.

Our current conversation has become focused around two concerns: 1) the exhaustion of coaches and debaters at the end of day two who then drive squads home - as one person put it, there are federal laws about sleep and hours driven for professionals for a reason.  2) Now we're able to break to partial doubles in novice on a regular basis, and in two days, you just can't add an 11th round, which means we now need to decide to sacrifice a prelim for all or the points and elim experience for some.  Concern #1 isn't as much an issue at National tournament, but Concern #2 almost exactly mirrors the national conversation.

We've been sacrificing the prelim, and we're trying to come up with better solutions. But saving time in the day is the only real way to save rounds and create a day that is less than 14 hours.

"Suck it up" should apply to pre-round prep, people who are crappy community members about the flip, emailing a judge questions rather than needing to spend an extra 10 minutes understanding their interp of the perm post round, and making a damn decision.  "Suck it up" should not apply to real concerns about the impact of the timing of our day on our students - just because we were stupid doesn't mean they need to be. 


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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #7 on: October 24, 2009, 06:56:46 AM »
Re: Suck it up people are lame

Really? Really? People can't stay awake, occasionally giving a 9 minute speech, for 16 hours? It is much less "suck it up" people are thumping their chests then the people complaining about lack of sleep when they only get 7 hours are whinging. It's not that suck it up people are saying "omg you are all weaklings while we are macho", we are saying an average human being should be quite capable of doing this. Driving while extremely tired is a legitimate issue, but seems better solved by staying another night then by cutting debates for 100+ teams.

neil berch

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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2009, 07:51:24 AM »
I think Vik is right that we're being stupid.  The solution is to stop being stupid.  Her solutions begin to solve (wish I'd known that before posting on another thread).  "Stay another night" is not a solution with class attendance and coaches with non-debate jobs being an issue.  Stay another night is also not a solution for programs that are less-well-funded.  And, yes QoL for coaches counts, too.  Think about retention issues for coaches.  And not everyone who drives is a 22 year-old.
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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2009, 05:14:43 PM »
If we have 12 hour days, which isn't exactly a killer, especially since very few coaches judge a full commitment and the debaters mostly seem to want 8 debates, iwe can have 8 prelims (to answer Gordon's question). 

I do think that we should look at that as a max and try to do what we can to shorten it without cutting debates (quick tab room pairings, less pre-round prep, and caps on decision-making time).

Although 5 elims on Monday will inevitably violate this 12 hour standard, it is VERY FEW people who have to put in more than a 12 hour (or even an 8 hour) day on Monday. Many do not have to do anything at all.  Those that do have to put in a 12+ hour day get to celebrate when they are in the finals/win the tournament, etc. The best debaters usually become professionals who will work incredibly long hours in their careers and I don't think spending 4 or 5 Mondays debating late at the college majors is a big deal.

That said, I do think it should end by 12/1am.  Starting at midnight and ending at 4 does seem absurd.  We should at least make the goal to finish the same day we start.

A few other points:

(1) Why not start at 7:15/7:30 instead of 8 on Monday?  People used to not have the pairings the night before and would want to prep and move their tubs in the am. Now they have that the night before, so we could start at 7:15/7:30. Everyone had to be "down stairs" at 7am anyhow.

(2) I don't agree with Josh that it is good to have a few people taking 2/2.5 hours.  The fact that it is a few seems to make the situation worse -- the entire tournament is held up because 10 debates are taking 2/2.5 hours to decide. This is just hurting everyone so that a few decisions-makers can take a very long time.  I don't think we should debate until 4am or sacrifice prelims so 10 ballots can come in after 2 hours across hundreds in a tournament.

(3) Debates don't last any longer than they used to.  So, why 3/4am?  Because of a slight increase in pre-pround prep and a significant increase in decision-making times by a limited number of judges in a few debates in each elim.   Judges now literally have enough time to read every single card that was read in the debate if they want to and do so many times over.  In order to accomodate this, we have chosen to eliminate 50+ (7 rounds) to 100+ (6 rounds) of debate that benefit a lot of students a whole lot more than 10 2/2.5 hour decisions in a tournament.   This "debate" doesn't even seem very close to me.

I bet if you asked most of the debaters if they'd rather have 8 prelims or the opportunity to experience a 2/2.5 hour decision that it wouldn't even be close.  Most people who debate in college debate because they LOVE debating, not because they love waiting for long decisions.

P.S. Nothing in here should be taken as an affront to those who take a very long time to decide. I think all of those individuals are some of the most committed individuals in debate, but I think the practice is starting to undermine tournaments through reduced rounds.


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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #10 on: October 27, 2009, 12:14:14 AM »
One small change in practice that might accelerate decisions would be reading only the highlighted portions of the evidence.

Many judges read around highlighting to deduce context.  This seems to retard the process, however slightly, and potentially remove debaters from the debate.  It also encourages highlighting that does violence to very basic grammar.

Tossing out a number of word salad cards would serve the interests of both expediency and communication.


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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #11 on: October 30, 2009, 12:38:32 AM »

1. start time in the morning is an important factor. especially for those of us on the west coast, 7am pairings mean "get up at 3am west coasters for your 4am pairing." the rest of the day; the rest of the tournament is spent adjusting and recovering to this totally altered time schedule. and by that, i mean spent exhausted, getting sick, etc.

2. debates at large national circuit tournaments have to account for moving tubs across campus. with the move to paperless, hopefully this will speed up but the walk is still there. i'm guessing you do this:
--announce pairing
--40 minutes later the round starts (30 min prep but also including 10 min for walking/getting to buildings).
--9-3-6-10 totals 92 minutes but in real practice, it is about 1 hour 40 minutes.
--decision max 40 minutes
--total time for the debate: 3 hours
--then, when powered, you need _at least_ 15 minutes to get the next pairing out and fully in motion

3. with 3 hours per round--that is 12 hours of debating with 4 rounds; if you have a lunch and dinner break--you are at 13ish hours; 13.5 hours with time for powering 2 of the rounds each day. that is 9am to 10:30pm (with pairings at 9am). but that includes lunch and dinner being served. is that doable? yes. smaller tournaments can shave off 45-60 minutes from that.
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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2009, 12:30:45 AM »
I think there are two key questions here (bracketing off any arguments in favor of long decision times) -- why do decisions take as long as they do, and what remedies are available?  Question 2 is obviously more important, but question 1 must be asked first.

1.  What factors cause a decision to take an undesirably long time?

This seems hard to answer without data, yet I can't really think of a good way to collect data on this question that would be both useful and non-intrusive.

I speculate that there are two general kinds of situations -- a. a thorough judge has watched a very complicated evidence-intensive debate and is trying to be 'careful,' or b. an inexperienced judge is, for whatever reason, in over his or her head and is either reconstructing the debate just to figure out what the arguments are, and/or is trying to 'work hard' in order to soften the blow of an incoherent/strange decision.

Besides actually taking a long time to decide, delays in start time or between speeches (often when the judge takes a smoke break) + delays after the debate due to debaters not being in the room to get relevant cards (also usually due to smoking breaks) make things worse-- I suspect that this isn't the primary problem but it is worth addressing / thinking about.

In any event, it is the very last ballot in each case that does the damage... Does anyone who has run a tab room have a sense for which kinds of situations (either as described above or otherwise) are most often relevant for the last couple of ballots every debate?   I think it is useful to know this because the best remedy for situation a is probably different than the best remedy for situation b.

Beyond these conceptual explanations, is anyone aware of trends that might be useful for predicting which debates will take the longest to judge?  Besides the known offenders, is age a predictor?  kind of debate (policy, performance, critical)?  debates involving specific teams (i.e., regardless of judge, debates involving team X or team Y are often the last ballot to come in)?  something else?

2. What can be done to shorten decision times?

I feel like this is the critical question, and it isn't one that I've seen a good answer to.  I do not mean "what can individual judges do to shorten their decision time" -- though that is a good question, we still have to figure out a way to make the slowest judges ask it.  Sometimes I see sabre-rattling on the coin flip rule, but how many times has that rule ever been enforced?  I think most people who are against long decisions are also against the coin flip, and even if it is a good solution it's an irrelevant red herring if we don't as a community have the will to enforce it.  The only other status quo solution is to publicly argue that decisions should take less time and hope that everyone will be either persuaded or shamed into taking less time (so far entirely unsuccessful as a strategy).

So, if punishment isn't really an option, we need to figure out prevention.  There is only so much that can be done about our community's unfortunate nicotine addiction, but judges who know that they take a long time should obviously do whatever they can to avoid delays (and if the tab room can identify who the slow judges are, they can probably send extra minions to pester those judges in particular to start their rounds on time and remind them not to take breaks between speeches). 

If the problem is mostly competent judges who are taking extra time to be careful but could choose to take less time and still deliver a satisfying comprehensive decision (i.e., something that would still be considered on average a 'good' decision), then perhaps we identify and engage those judges and try to persuade them to do that.  But if the problem is mostly judges who for whatever reason lack the competency needed to evaluate certain complicated debates within a reasonable period of time, perhaps judge education would help.  I remember a few years ago that there was a judge mentorship program at the wake tournament -- perhaps something like that could be brought back. 

We spend so much time teaching people how to debate, and virtually no time teaching people how to judge.  I'm sure that some experienced judges spend at least a little time imparting wisdom and advice to new assistant coaches / judges, but I'm also sure that this doesn't happen on every team.  Judging is considered a service to the community rather than a competitive performance like coaching and debating, but the fact that we ask every team to rank every judge in order before each tournament suggests that judging is at least a somewhat 'competitive' activity and that some people are better than others.  MPJ ties judge quality with competitive success (a 'good' judge in this context is one who is likely to vote for us and our arguments primarily, and perhaps secondarily is one who gives us helpful advice, and perhaps after that is someone who isn't totally unpleasant or mean or creepy) -- but if we as a community decide that making decisions within a certain length of time is something that makes one a 'good' judge, perhaps it should be rewarded or recognized in some way.  I remember Harvard announced on one of the ballots last year that Calum was not only the most preferred judge, he was also always in on time and always personally picked up all of his ballots from the table.  I can't think of many other examples in which positive reinforcement of this kind was used.

Most judging philosophies are a collection of banal "dont change how you debate on my account" comments (which, incidentally, are question begging for so many reasons) along with some belief statements about various theory issues.  Very few philosophies explain the process or method that the judge plans on using--especially those belonging to young judges.  I think this speaks to the fact that there is very little emphasis in the community on consciously developing and then following a judging methodology.  I think if people did think about this process more, and put that process into their judging philosophy, inexperienced judges would be more likely to have a strategy to follow after the 2ar finishes.  More importantly, the methods of other judges could be inspected and discussed -- we would have some data to inform our conversation.  The best we can do now is "well, if you do x, you should do y instead," which is only but so useful.

More importantly, while certain judges are often called out by name as exemplars of situation a-- repko and hardy come up a lot in this context -- I wonder how many people who employ different judging methods actually even know why repko, hardy, and others in this category take as long as they do.  Or at least, not beyond "well they read all the cards."  Sure, they read all the cards, but that is clearly not the only thing they are doing, and it is probably not even the most time consuming thing that they do (even in a complicated debate with a slew of relevant cards, it can't take more than 15 minutes to physically read all the cards).  Neither the cards nor the flow by themselves tell Repko, for example, that the negative won 73% of their disad.  It seems bizarre to me to try to have an informed discussion about the relative merits of being 'careful' without everyone having a clear idea of what being 'careful' entails.  Without knowing what a judge is spending his or her time doing, how can anyone even know if the relationship between deciding time and decision quality is even linear?  I suspect that for at least some judges, the decision quality shoots up dramatically after some critical event occurs, after which they are making small linear gains in quality as more time is spent (and in some cases, I suspect that the decision quality begins to *decrease* in a linear fashion after a certain point, as the rebuttals become more distant memories).  Most judges write a lot of things down while they are deciding, but I bet there is a great deal of variance in the kinds of things that people write down, as well as the way they organize those things.  Some judges write nothing down, or they only write things down to guide how they deliver their decision, rather than to guide how they make their decision.  Judges usually do something with their flow while they are deciding, but what they do (and how much time that takes) seems to vary a good deal.

Examples of questions I think judges should ask themselves:

-How much of your decision do you prepare before the debate is over (mentally and/or written down)?
-How do you decide which part of the debate to evaluate first?
-Under what conditions will you call for a card?
-What will you do with those cards besides read them(compare with the flow, write down warrants, write down citations, write down some kind of evaluative comment, look at un-underlined parts, reread the tag and other stuff on the page, etc.)?
-Do you read the card first and then ask yourself questions about it?  or do you have a specific question in mind every time you start reading a new card?
-What kinds of questions will you spend the bulk of your deciding time attempting to resolve?
-Do you generally decide who you will vote for at the very end, or do you decide earlier and then spend the rest of your time making your decision comprehensive / preparing for questions from the losing team?
-Are you mostly an information gatherer or do you argue with yourself back and forth in your head (and if so, how do you conduct such arguments)
-What if anything do you do to 'double-check' that you aren't missing anything?
-What conditions have to be satisfied for you to have confidence that your decision is sufficiently 'careful' ?


Beyond judge education and rational discussions about specific judging methodologies, what else can be done?  I have a few ideas, though I have no idea how feasible or easy to implement they are...

1) Study which judge/team combinations statistically are most likely to take too long, and include algorithms in the judge assignment software to avoid these situations when possible.  Difficult to do, kind of extreme, lots of possible unintended consequences, but could potentially solve the problem entirely.

2) Let judges see the cards as they are being read.  I suspect that debaters notoriously overestimate the degree to which they are communicating the entirety of their arguments effectively to the judge.  This has been discussed on edebate, people have pointed out the oddity that debaters often tend to need to see the other team's cards in order to figure out what they are saying well enough to provide a sufficient response, yet judges are left "in the dark" until the debate is over.  On the other hand, people have pointed out that this situation is one of the few things separating our *speech* activity from a written debate in which the arguments are simply "read into the record."  I could go either way on this, but I feel like some middle solution might help out a lot -- like if there is a page long counterplan text, I suspect decisions would be better and quicker if the judges got to read that text at some point before the 2ac. 

3) Preemptive harassment -- figure out the offenders, send people to the room to make sure the round starts on time, that no unnecessary breaks are taken, and/or that the judge is reminded of the time at regular intervals while deciding.  Annoying and dubious solvency, but probably better than nothing.

I'm sure that there are many other creative solutions -- this is what I could brainstorm.  I do think that the conversation doesn't really move forward unless people talk about the solvency and not just the harm.

Paul Strait
University of Southern California


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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #13 on: December 21, 2009, 07:38:11 AM »
As a former D8 debater I can say that 5 round days are awful experiences.  Almost all of my worst rounds were late in the day.  Yes, it's doable, but in my experience it was rarely net beneficial.  The national discussion seems largely predicated on the assumption that only a few people make it on to the five round day, but the infamous 5-1 schedule at many D8 tournies made everyone start the tournament with one.  I hate to generalise from anecdotal evidence, but I definitely believe it was a retention issue for college novices at Rochester.  As much as I hate the idea of clipping the already short 6 prelim schedule to 5, I don't think I would have objected one bit as a debater if expected elim size made a 4-2 schedule impractical.

kevin kuswa

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Re: Cuts Decision times, Not Debates
« Reply #14 on: December 24, 2009, 05:46:34 PM »
Good posts. We run 8 rounds and clear half the bracket and manage to do it on time.  In fact, the Spider tournament had more debates than just about any other tournament in the country thus far with a few exceptions.

how does this happen?   There is more than just shorter decision times, although those are important.

1. planning, planning, planning.  have room keys ready, have maps ready, have lots of help.

2. ballot runners, including some experienced debaters.  Have a runnner for every building or every floor and do not allow those people to hold the ballots--have separate runners to get them to the tab room.

3. have an awesome tab room director.  we have scott luchetti who totally rocks and helps keep it on time--including a text message system that sends pairings to people's cell phones.

4. decision times--enforce them, encourage people to explain decisions after voting and finding a runner.  Dallas thinks it's just the ADA and a lot of quick triggers, but I don't think it's that clear--we have a lot of judges from other national tournaments around the country.

5. FOOD (Lunch) on campus.  this is key--especially if it's good :).  This saves a lot of time.

6. Generally there is something about a culture of starting the rounds on time, having a schedule that makes sense (some lag pairing can help), and making sure there are lots of folks to help on all fronts.

The last issue is out-round day and keeping it short.  Most of the above suggestions apply, but it also makes sense to try to limit it to 4 rounds.  If you decide to have 5 rounds, keep things on time and make sure the teams in semis and finals are either staying over Monday night or have a safe way to get back.  We will provide housing if necessary for Monday night competitors and we also hire extra judges for Monday so that schools can (for the most part) leave when their teams are out.  we always give priority to teams with longer drives.

I haven't answered all of the concerns, but it's not about just sucking it up and it's not about a death march.  It IS ABOUT DEBATES--the more the better.  Giving more participants more prelims is a good thing.  Debates in semis and finals are almost always better than Quarters because the teams are a little better and they are energized to debate.

We also support regional 6 rounds tournaments and think they are very valuable as well--we can save a night on hotels and get back on Sunday.  There is a place for both.  The 6 rounders we support have two rounds Friday afternoon, 4 Saturday, out rounds on Sunday.  If we have to select between a 6 rounder and an 8 rounder, we almost always go to the 8 rounder if distance is about the same.

thanks for reading--this is an important thread.  i have another post on this topic on edebate somewhere--i'll try to find it and re-post it.  The bottom line is that by the time you get off canmpus and are ready (or sort of ready) for debates, the more the better.