Whenever I talk about APDA to prospective debaters, I almost always lead with how free-form and open our form of American Parliamentary debate is. I contrast it with debate styles like policy and even the big three of contemporary high school debate (Cross-Examination, Lincoln-Douglass, and Public Forum), citing how comparatively little research is necessary, how little repetition there is from round to round. The would-be debaters, future speakers and leaders of an age of public speaking, get wide-eyed looks on their faces.
“You mean… I can talk about… anything?”
“Anything.” My emphatic response.
It takes about thirty seconds, maybe a minute for the most intrepid, for the fear to set in. They do the math in their head and stop considering what a privilege this is to stand up before judges, audiences, people of all kinds waiting to be persuaded, and talk about what one wants to talk about. They turn the tables, remember the harsh high school lessons of learning what bastards other people can be, and wonder aloud, “But what if I don’t know anything about the topic that someone else wants to talk about?”
And then, perhaps disingenuously, I explain to them that the standard is anything an average well-informed college student would know about. I offer them the checks our league has instated, things like Points of Clarification (absent during my debating career, but a mainstay of my coaching time) wherein the Opposition team can query the Government almost endlessly about the topic to ensure they have fair ground for debate, and norms that people not run anything too weighted to one side. I usually quietly omit the additional check of tight calls, the technical debate term for how the opposition asks the judge to adjudicate on the issue of fairness rather than the points in the round. I quietly omit that many teams deliberately play with the line of “spec knowledge,” the norm we have against basing arguments on technical or obscure facts and citations to give themselves an advantage. I focus on the fun rounds, the opportunity to discuss individual choices in everyday settings, the chance to explain to a stranger why you feel so passionately about an issue, large or small, that affects the way we live.
The hope is that this person is so intrigued and excited about debate that they will not mind so much when the inevitable round comes along that puts them to sleep, that makes them, if briefly, regret their decision to come to debate. The round about minute details of insurance law, the round about tiny variations in interest rates, the round about something truly interesting where the speaker spoke so fast it was impossible for anyone to keep up except, somehow, the Prime Minister’s partner and judge. These rounds take people inspired by arrival and training in a new debate format and make them want to leave the activity. They take something that is generally supposed to be a conversation and turn it into a lecture, a monologue, a one-way fight where the team presenting the case, theoretically to be interesting, persuasive, and engaging, cares merely about out-pacing their opponents than why they joined debate in the first place. Hopefully, by the time they are complaining to me about that round, these new recruits to debate are so hooked on the good stuff, the discourse, the really engaging and exciting rounds, the inspirational speakers who eloquently run circles around them on the basis of years of experience, that they stick around.
I am a coach on APDA. I have been coaching the Rutgers team, voluntarily and then professionally, for a full four seasons, three of them at an obsessive, daily level. I have failed to attend only three tournaments in the last three years on a “season” that offers a slate of 26-28 scheduled weekend tournaments a year. Each tournament is a grueling 36-hour affair from midday Friday to the end of Saturday with between two and ten hours of travel tacked on in each direction. Competitors and often coaches sleep on hard dorm floors in sleeping bags between the first three and last two preliminary rounds, dreaming of hopes of the “break,” advancing to quarterfinals (or, at the large tournaments, octofinals), the single-elimination playoff rounds that are all the more pivotal for being judged by a panel of adjudicators rather than a single decider. The Rutgers team has grown from a small huddled handful of 8-12 students to a team that regularly offers 60-65 students a year the chance to compete at official tournaments, while educating or training a couple dozen more who are considering competition when their schedule smooths out. The team has gone from unranked to 24th to 5th to 9th to 3rd under my tenure. Make no mistake, I want to win.
But, as I did in my four years competing for Brandeis, I want to win the right way. And, unlike a seemingly increasingly loud chorus on the league and perhaps US society in general, I believe there is a right way. There is no question that part of the strategy of the chess game that is debate is scouting opponents, learning and understanding the cases and subjects they tend to run, and anticipating their strengths while playing to their weaknesses. Playing the right way does not require one to disadvantage oneself inordinately, to run only economics against future financiers and only political theory against would-be presidents. However, there are limits to the advantage one should push, and these are not merely checked by the ability of the other side to ask Points of Clarification (PoCs) or to call a case “tight” (unfair) in a technical way during the round. And indeed, one of the greatest checks of all is often that people are not always expert at discussing their most well-known subjects. My most frequent college partner, on my team when we won the North American Championships, Adam Zirkin, famously melted down in a round the year prior about pharmaceuticals that the other team bravely ran against him. This despite Zirkin’s primary field of study and expertise being same. His explanations were far too detailed and technical to be accessible to the common judge and they lost the audience and the round. When we found ourselves in NorthAms quarters against a fearsome dino team, they chose the same strategy. But Zirk had learned the lessons from that prior contest and I was able to provide a sufficient general framework to fend off the Gov team and take the round.
This is not, or shouldn’t be, a post about me. It is about me, a bit, or a lot, because it’s about my perspective on what may prove to be the most pivotal round for the entire APDA league in my time coaching, however long that will be. It was a round that made clear, almost immediately, seconds into the second speech (LOC, or Leader of Opposition Constructive) that it would carry that kind of weight. It was a round that people couldn’t stop talking about for days after, until one of the league’s leaders asked people to stop talking about it, and then they only stopped talking about it on the league’s internet forum. It’s a round that has haunted me since it ended, that I wake up each morning thinking about, mulling, considering, repackaging in my head. Scenes from the final round have been with me in restless sleep and idle afternoons, now four days since the round’s conclusion. It was dramatic and riveting and polarizing, as debate should be in its best form. And yet almost everyone agrees that the end product was far from debate in its best form, each team and especially its supporters blaming the other side for the mangled, sad representation of the league that was ultimately displayed in its most-watched platform of the year.
This is about me, though, a bit. This is my personal blog. These are my thoughts. This was the eleventh APDA National Final I have attended, almost certainly a record for the league. I have, in person, judged, watched, or debated against every National Finalist since 1998, save one. That is Anish Mitra of Stanford, who I tabbed 2011 Nationals with. I have a pretty good grasp on the institutional evolution of APDA as a league and how it has changed and not changed over time. I am firmly of the belief, contrary to most shorter-term “dinos” (the semi-affectionate term for former debaters used league-wide since well before my time) that the overall quality of debaters is almost precisely fixed and stagnant. Many debaters suffer under the illusion that debaters were far better when they were novices and are far worse after they have graduated, simply because of their own relative evolutionary process and relative skill to the greats of the circuit.
This is an easily explicable, if flawed, phenomenon. One remembers being devastated by seniors when one was a novice and thus misremembers them as being perfect at debate, rather than one’s own shortcomings that made them see that way. One then remembers how bad the novices seemed when one was a senior, putting them two notches below the greats of their own novice year. Then one judges those novices as seniors, easily besting the current day’s novices, who can’t even give those seniors a challenge. And thus one concludes that each year’s novice class is substantially worse than the class before, simply because of one’s own biased perspective as an improving debater. I was never especially prone to this fallacy, but I certainly have excised it after fifteen years in some contact with the circuit and eleven National Championships attended.
This is all merely a way of trying to vouch for my credentials, which itself is another reason people like to say debate was better in their day, whether it was or not. Dinos are often remembered as greats and go to great lengths to preserve that reputation. In our own weird little culture of college debate, it’s cool and credible to regale present stars with stories of greatness, feats of heroism, funny anecdotes of triumph in the face of adversity. I do the same. We all do it. Everyone who debates has a part of them, large or small, that just loves talking and loves the act of being listened to. Some take this to an extreme of attention-seeking, while most are able to balance this slightly narcissistic tendency with concern for others and an equal amount of listening. We’ve all met tons of people who fall on each side of the line and keeping that line straight is one of the many challenges of being active in this activity for years on end.
This piece is getting long and I haven’t even really gotten to the tournament. I’ll admit that I’m taking some inspiration, both in tone and in approach, from Scott Harris’ incredible ballot for the 2013 NDT Final Round. Many of you debate types have probably already read that, in whole or in part, and you should go do so and return to my piece here in about a week, since that will take you on a journey down a debate rabbit hole far deeper than this probably will. NDT is one of two National Championships for the college policy circuit and this year, for the first time in history, both of them (CEDA being the other) were won by the same partnership, a team from Emporia State University in Kansas. I got an e-mail about this a few days after it happened, because one of the debaters from Emporia State is actually a Rutgers-Newark student on some sort of exchange to Emporia, one who came to New Brunswick for a public debate between Rutgers-Newark’s budding policy team and my own parliamentary Debate Union at the flagship campus. His name is Elijah Smith and he’s an immediately engaging, charming, brilliant capable individual who is very open about his views, as most debaters are. Rutgers-Newark was treating the victory like a win for Rutgers-Newark, which it is, in a way, since Smith was raised in Newark and reared on the training of Kurt Shelton, both in high school and especially college, before he left the Newark team before this season for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, but probably, unfortunately, have something to do with institutional support. As someone who has enjoyed immense institutional support at his sister school, this fills me with a sad sort of empathy and wistfulness.
The policy circuit long ago decided how they feel about spreading, a late ’60’s invention in debate, that transformed that league and several others into a race of auctioneering-level speed-talking instead of eloquent persuasion. Which is not to say that people in policy debate are never eloquent or capable of persuasion, but what passes for argumentation on that league would sound like a literal low hum to the untrained ears of those outside of it. Policy or cross-ex style debate exists on both the high school and college levels. Phillips 66, who sponsors the National Forensic League (NFL, a joke that everyone has made already), famously sent corporate representatives to watch the final round of policy debate in the late 1970’s and were appalled that they could literally not comprehend a single argument in the round because they were all being delivered too quickly. They threatened to withdraw funding unless a new form of debate were created to cater to eloquence, persuasion, public speaking poise, and the things that most people unaware of policy associate with the word “debate.”
Thus was Lincoln-Douglass born. This was a format I devoted much of five years to, being able to debate in 8th grade as a novice amongst New Mexico high schoolers and going on to compete four full varsity years thereafter. During my time on the circuit, LD was starting to experience a schism wherein some people felt it was appropriate to start spreading, or speaking more quickly, to gain an advantage, while most maintained the original goals for which the event was literally created. Since debate is judged primarily on the “flow,” or the tracking of arguments and which are rebutted and which aren’t, most debate formats engage in a struggle of whether speaking faster to get more arguments in is a legitimate strategy or an abuse of the point of debating. This battle has been lost on the LD circuit since a bit after my graduation from high school, as all but a handful of regional pockets now utilize and expect the spread (the etymology of this is “speed-reading,” but now refers to any sort of auctioneer-level fast-talking, whether reading or speaking on the fly) and former LDers collide with parliamentary circuits like APDA expecting to race in more arguments rather than implement traditional techniques of oratorical persuasion.
Policy debate, interestingly however, has also implemented another check on this and other tactics, which is enabling a literally endless amount of meta-debate. Meta-debate, as you might guess, is debating about debate, wherein the idea of what is being debated and how are, themselves, debatable issues in the round. The amount of meta-debate which is appropriate for APDA has been the subject of much discussion (meta-meta-debate) throughout my time on APDA as a competitor and a coach, with a burgeoning group of former policy debaters encouraging more of it to enforce unwritten rules that some teams increasingly are trying to bend. For example, in my day it was an absolute taboo to re-run the same case at the same tournament. When the practice of people violating this taboo regularly came to my attention, I started what proved to be a bit of a firestorm in calling this out. The range of suggestions to check this practice was from nothing at all (the practice is acceptable) to absolute rules to shaming-based norms to just asking and hoping that people would be good about it. But one suggestion was that this itself should become an issue in the round to be debated, whether it was fair or not that someone was reusing a case to gain a tactical advantage when most people would not do so.
As a result of its embracing of meta-debate, policy debate in both high school and college has experienced a revolutionary backlash to the spread and the tubs and tubs of research (probably now being replaced by computer files in eras of faster computing and baggage fees on airlines) formerly required to compete. A number of debaters, many of them minorities, have begun meta-debates that critique the expected investment of time and energy and lip-loosening that traditional research-heavy spread policy requires. They have offered that even discussing the topic prescribed is unimportant in the face of inequalities and injustices that flow from the expectations of their league and its format. And, amazingly, they are winning. The Emporia State debaters, the first ever pair to unite the NDT and CEDA titles under one banner, use precisely this tactic. They do spread a bit, especially in opening speeches, but they often use plain language that is comprehensible, and even stand to deliver it (spread speeches are often given seated, something incomprehensible as a debate tactic in my eyes). The spread was justified initially by an “anything-goes” approach to debate, that truly any tactic or approach to debate was fair game. And now it has come full circle, home to roost, where the people are seeing what “anything-goes” really means.
You can watch the NDT final round and judge for yourself here.
You can’t watch the APDA Nationals final round, though. You can watch the Nationals Finals from every year since I graduated online, except and until 2013. You can watch the 2003 Final in which I cast the last and deciding vote of the judging panel at the tournament hosted by Brandeis. You can watch every year since, cases Goved by Cornell and Harvard and Princeton and even Boston University. (Although, interestingly, I just checked and many finals that used to be up seem to have disappeared. I’m assuming this is a technical glitch and not a deliberate decision by some debaters to revoke consent to those previously available rounds.) But you won’t be able to see 2013 because nearly everyone found it to be a disgrace to the circuit and the league and, for some, even the very idea of debate. And no one wants those prospective recruits I opened with deciding how they feel about debating on the basis of that as its example.
Example. Used often in debate to illustrate a point or to magnify the impact of an argument. Nationals Finals is supposed to be an example. It’s supposed to be the emblem of the culmination of what debate means to all its participants. It’s supposed to illuminate and inspire, to take the back-bench novices who barely clawed to Nationals and show them what they could be in a few years. It’s supposed to be immediately visible to outsiders as a showcase of eloquence, persuasion, intellect, and education. It should teach someone something about themselves, about others, about what it means to be alive on this planet. It should elevate debate beyond a contest of wills and an effort to win an argument, transcending what we do weekly and reminding us why we all spend so much damn time and energy on it.
There is a thread in the internet forum for our league that argues there are no such restrictions or expectations of Nationals Finals. That it is merely another round where people are trying to win and that, in short, “anything goes.” If you want to bore people, to spread, to insult and jeer, to make a round as pedestrian as possible, then that is your right by virtue of arriving on that stage. Those who advocate for anything not nailed down being in play are ardently calling for anyone criticizing a National Final case choice to be eternally muzzled. Don’t criticize unless you’ve been there, and even then, try not to. It’s all about the W, nothing more.
It should probably not be surprising that the rise in this belief pattern comes at the same time that finance and economics have become the dominant future field for most top debaters, replacing law. A cursory glance at the history of high finance, hedge funds, big banks, and economics in general reveals that the last decade in the United States has brought an unparalleled belief in the magic of markets and the power of greed to override any other concerns. 2008 would have been the clarion call to action, regulation, temperance, and sanity in almost any other society, but in the US it was a mere speedbump en route to ever increasing salaries for the rich and ruthless. Only a handful of left-wingers gathering overnight in parks were mounted as counterspeech to this burgeoning national ethos when all prior era political scientists would’ve predicted full-blown revolution. But the US and its citizens are too comfortable for revolutions, too self-satisfied and assured to question things at a fundamental level. It is both why I find debate to be one of the only intellectually satisfying pursuits in such a society and why part of me feels deeply ashamed to spend so much time and energy on it (3,500 words and counting here to top it off!) in the face of much more basic and fundamental human suffering elsewhere. It is the grand conflict that envelops my soul and keeps me honest and self-critical on a daily basis.
Is there a parallel between the bottom line of a hedge fund and the obsession with just getting the W in a debate round? To me, it’s beyond obvious. Do whatever it takes. Lie, cheat, steal, press your advantage, do what you have to do to secure the win. And while we haven’t actually gotten to the point where people are openly stealing casebooks or stabbing the MG (Member of Government, second speaker for that team) in the midst of the round, those who justify re-running cases or spreading or boring someone out of the competition are not making justifications that I find distinct from those that would justify the more extreme advantage-seeking in kind, merely in degree. And nowhere is this becoming more clear than in the last two Nationals Finals.
In 2005, Opp was riding an absurdly long winning streak in Nationals Finals. Gov usually used the platform of reaching the final round to do what everyone did with Final rounds in those days, to discuss something important, meaningful, and moving, OR to discuss something they truly believed in with implications for everyone. The arguments were passionate and profound and the last round of the year nearly always left people feeling whole and good about what they had the opportunity to behold. There was rarely an expectation of winning, though there was often a hope. My teammates, Jordan Factor and Adam Zirkin, made Nationals Finals my sophomore year and I heard their discussion right before they went to prep their case after they’d chose to Gov. “Everyone remembers who was in Finals,” Jordan told Zirk. “I want to give this PMR. I believe it. I don’t care if we win. People will remember.” They proceeded to run that race-based affirmative-action is the best kind of affirmative action, a case considered all but falsistic in that era when socioeconomic affirmative-action was a cutting-edge case that was widely believed. The round was won by the MO (Member of Opposition, second speaker for that side), Jeremiah Gordon, an African American, giving perhaps the best speech of his life on why race should not be the deciding factor in admission. Jordan, who was also top speaker at the tournament, was all smiles after the announcement they’d lost. He got to give the PMR (closing speech) he wanted.
In 2001, a liberal Princeton team advocated that the Welfare State was the best form of government, while in 2002, a libertarian NYU team advocated that the Libertarian State was best. In 2003, in the wake of sweeping societal cases, UVa went small with a case about a dollar’s worth of loose change and whether to give it to a homeless man, widely regarded as the best final round case ever for its simple ability to cut to much larger questions of life and living. In 2004, Cornell questioned a basic principle of our justice system and whether we should ever give up on people entirely. And then we got to 2005.
In 2005, there was a three-way tie for TOTY (Team of the Year), the annual ranking of partnerships in APDA. None of those teams, all known for their innovative cases, reached the final round, but a team from Harvard, both named Alex, did. Known for pushing the boundaries of tight cases, they selected a case about Harvard, one that they felt was tight, in the wake of the scandal dismissing their own school’s president. They advocated against the departure of their own school’s president in a National Final. While I wasn’t there, several sources have said the only preparation they did before the round was speculating on whether the case would be called tight and concluding that no one would have the guts to “ruin” the Nationals Finals by making a tight-call.
The shockwaves were large. Not only did the tactic pay off, ducking a possible tight call and winning the round for Gov, but no former members of the league, none of the cadre of dinos I discussed this with, could believe that Harvard had taken the platform of the Nats Finals stage and run a case about… Harvard. This wasn’t something whose simple elegance somehow applied to everyone. It was a team running a case about their school, mostly with spec knowledge about their president on an issue only cursorily followed outside of Cambridge. It was shocking, not only in its myopia, but in its obvious statement that winning was pre-eminent, at all costs.
Lest anyone think that I’m being hypocritical as a successful debater calling out others for winning, I will remind people that I had the opportunity to choose a Finals case at a title tournament once. Not only in my daydreams, where I entered sophomore, junior, and senior Nationals with open opp-choice cases about wide societal issues discussed in an accessible way. But also in real life, when Zirk and I chose to Gov in the North American Championships Finals in the last year that one could wholesale choose their case in that tournament. We elected to run a three-way opp-choice case, allowing Opp to choose just one of the three options and setting our burden as defending why both of the other two were preferable. We placed the speaker (judge) in the position of Simon Wiesenthal during his time in a concentration camp. An SS officer was on his deathbed of natural causes and had asked Simon to his bedside through the instructions to his adjutant of “bring me a random Jew.” The officer dismissed the adjutant and asked Simon whether “he could ever forgive him for what he had done to his [Simon’s] people?” The choices we offered were to say “yes,” say “no,” or say nothing.
The round is the most cherished of my career, not only because of the case and not only because we won the round, but also because of how fairly and nobly the Opp, Columbia’s Harry Layman and the late Jeff Williams, engaged with the case. They chose forgiveness and argued passionately for it in the midst of a time when Jeff and I were bitter rivals and neither of us were choosing to be terribly forgiving. The round is a testament to his legacy and the fact that it was not recorded in audio or visual saddens me daily.
I raise this story not to get preachy or pat myself on the back, though I am proud of that moment, but to prove that I’m not just slinging mud at certain case choices without ever having been there. I’ve been there. I know the stakes and the pressure that takes over. I know the selfishness and the voice of the future you might be denying yourself by being 2nd in a title instead of first. But I also know that there are, ultimately, greater concerns than the W, greater concerns than giving yourself every chance to win.
The main reason this is true is because there is an audience. Because football is still more popular than debate, we do not have our preliminary rounds (outside of Nationals, which is quite well-attended) in front of throngs of people. Most rounds are five people in a room, with the only spectator also serving as adjudicator. As the break is announced and we proceed to elimination rounds, small crowds are visible, culminating in the final round, where a couple dozen people might attend. In my day, those numbers were much larger despite the somewhat smaller size of the circuit overall then, largely because there was an expectation that people stay for the entire tournament. As an added incentive, there was also a floor vote where each member of the audience chose to exit the room through the Gov door or Opp door at the round’s conclusion, both clearing the room for the judges to decide in peace and offering a public counter-weight to the opinions of the elite row of usually dino judges. People sometimes voted for their friends or teammates, but more often took their role as a judge seriously, flowing the round and deliberating heavily before choosing a door. Their votes were not weighted equally with the judging panel, of course – usually the entire floor vote constituted about a third of the final vote, with the panel getting two-thirds. But a close round could certainly be tipped by the proportional vote of the floor, which itself could be tipped by a handful of thoughtful individuals. It gave everyone an investment in the round and, in turn, required Govs to try to do well to impress people.
Of course, not every final was a showcase. Periodically, the teams on both sides were exhausted and short of energy and caring about what the round looked like, since all participants in the round had just qualified for Nationals by winning semifinals (this used to be the APDA standard before our current system of points accumulation for qualling). So there were some rounds that today would be called “trolling,” where people didn’t much care about the outcome as the 1st and 2nd place trophies were considered almost equally good. People would run cases about Santa Claus or the Cat in the Hat or even hold rounds where more cases were introduced each speech and the goal was to be funnier than the floor speeches that offer a break between constructives and rebuttals in a final round on APDA. Here many floor voters would express their displeasure by refusing to vote for either side, a last way the audience could exert their wishes over the tenor and quality of a final round.
These days, people don’t stay that often for final rounds at regular season tournaments. A whole team will stay to pound for their side, and sometimes people who are geographically proximate to the tournament in question. There are a wide range of reasons for this. The floor vote was removed sometime in the late 2000’s from the last few tournaments still using it, deemed as unfair for contests between large and small teams. The expectation of more teams being in the break has increased, somewhat commensurate with the size of tournaments and the league, but not entirely. My freshman year (1998-99), only one tournament broke to octos (including the title tournaments) and that was Swarthmore, which ran the gimmick of having four rounds on Friday and then breaking to octos after four rounds instead of quarters after five. They also ran this tournament during March Madness, printed the bracket, and allowed people to bet on it. It was fun, if not entirely without corruption. Nowadays, partial octos or octos are expected of almost every tournament over 60 teams. This is probably better for competitive fairness overall, with most all 4-1’s able to break, but it also fuels delays and exhaustion, and ultimately empty houses for final rounds.
But not at Nationals. At Nationals, everyone stays. Everyone. The -OTY awards (annual season-long achievement for Colleges, Teams, Speakers, and Novices) are given after Finals, the National tournament awards are given, the Distinguished Service Awards (always a surprise to their recipients) are announced, and usually someone (lately, me, though not this year) gives a speech about our fallen heroes, Chris Porcaro and Jeff Williams, before which the awards given in their honor are distributed. And, before all that, the Final is held. The National Final Round, the crowning glory of our league, the culmination of all our effort to distill the best in speaking, debating, strategizing, and thinking.
In 2006, one of the great teams of all-time, Johns Hopkins’ Jon Bateman and Michael Mayernick, wanted to contrast themselves with the previous final round, showing “what APDA can be” as Mayernick noted in his opening remarks in PMC (the opening speech). The founders of the league were in attendance, having been given some of the first DSAs. I was on the final round panel. They asked whether a redemptive or condemnatory ending was better for the Faust myth. It reminded me instantly of my NorthAms Final, the question of forgiveness, the question of what it means to do wrong in this world and how that should be dealt with. It was a weighty question with a touch of artistry, it was a beautiful case. The round itself, however, was not that pretty, as Opp chose to complain about the case, critiquing it for not being sufficiently clear in practical, everyday impacts. To my utter disbelief, Opp was rewarded for their complaining by a 2-1 margin on the very large panel, with me vehemently squirreling (to vote in the minority of the panel).
2007 saw a Princeton team with no expectation of even breaking at Nationals Gov in the Final, and they stated that every college student should be a vegetarian. A weighty moral issue that applies to everyone. In 2008, Princeton repeated their appearance and asked a question about the limits of debate itself, inquiring whether a scientist should deign to debate an advocate of intelligent design theory. In 2009, Johns Hopkins asked whether a Sunni Iraqi should join the insurgency, bringing the ethics of the ongoing war in Iraq home to roost in a profound and personal way that questioned our assumptions of what “terrorism” really means. Then, in 2010, Harvard got to Gov in Nats Finals again.
The Harvard team that Goved that Nats Finals is categorically different than most other Harvard teams that achieve at that level. R. Kyle Bean and Cormac Early had significantly more quirk and personality than the reputation of the typical Harvard debaters of their era (or most any era), with Bean especially being known for all manner of antics and flair. While I wasn’t in their huddle (I was at the round), I don’t doubt that the specter of 2005 loomed large over their decisions about what case to confront Johns Hopkins with. They didn’t want to be the Harvard team running a case about Harvard. They didn’t want to run something tight. They did, perhaps, want to demonstrate their lively demeanor in contrast to the extremely staid (but effective) team on the other bench, Vivek Suri and Sean Withall. So they ran a case about whether a religious family, given the opportunity, should give their child 18 years of the silent treatment if they would receive “magic empathy” for all other people at the conclusion of their childhood.
In retrospect, the case choice and the round were a bit of a bust. Aside from an amusing remark during PoCs where Bean told Suri “Surely even you must have felt empathy at some point, Vivek,” the round was a muddled mess and Opp won more by default than by skill. It was clear to me and to many watching that Harvard was valiantly trying to make a showcase round about weighty questions that are accessible and matter to people, but that this particular manifestation had gotten a little too weird and narrow and obscure in the translation to the spoken round. Perhaps that experience would color Vivek’s future choices as a coach of the Harvard team in the years to come.
But the next year, Vivek was coaching the Boston University team of Alex Taubes and Greg Meyer that won TOTY and were expected to triumph at Nationals. Meyer had his best career tournament, winning second speaker over the more highly regarded Taubes, and the team rolled to Finals, where they ran the case that all drugs should be legalized against an unbelievably unexpected pair of Yale sophomores. They won handily while still offering a case about something that mattered to everyone in the room, relied on accessible arguments, was spoken in a clear and comprehensible tone.
Then came 2012. In that year, last year, Harvard ran a case to challenge the limits of 2005’s capacity for obscurity, boredom, and this time, introducing a bit of spreading for good measure. This team was already developing a bit of a reputation for using the tactics of boredom and fast-talking to their advantage and had begun attempting tab-scratches and receiving at least scratches (the way debaters can avoid being judged by certain people) on me for comments I’d made about the creeping infiltration of spreading into APDA. Seeing myself as a guardian of the style, I have advocated against spreading creeping into APDA after seeing how LD was gutted by it, how Public Forum had to be created for eloquence and slower speaking just as LD was made before it. I envision an era when high school debate carries 37 debate styles, 36 of which are spread debate in various formats and the 37th of which has recently been invented to combat spreading.
Every time I’ve critiqued spreading on APDA, most people have either chided me that debate on APDA isn’t nearly fast enough to be spreading (yet) or insisted that there is something innate to the APDA format that will prevent spreading from succeeding, because too many orators can just make fun of the tactic and talk about big picture issues. Most judges still don’t adjudicate entirely on dropped points, despite the efforts of spread debaters to get them to do so, but rather on a holistic impression of the round. But the last two Final Rounds, especially 2013, have challenged the veracity of this statement in my eyes. But first, some context. As though the 6,500 words currently in this post were not context enough!
In 2012, C. and (another) Alex ran that the exclusionary rule should be replaced by a tort system. Depending on the reports, it was either the second or third case about small aspects of the exclusionary rule they’d run that tournament. The case was presented in a way that most found to be confusing, and all found to be incredibly boring. And while theoretically any of us might at some point be facing a situation wherein we’re accused of a crime and the police cheat to get us put away, I don’t think most people on APDA imagine themselves there. Most people do not find procedural justice at this minute a detail to be that vital. And almost no one found the way Harvard argued it in this round to be worthy of the interest, spark, and inspiration that we expect from a Nationals Final Round.
The round was ugly and few were at their best. The crowd was dissatisfied in the extreme and expressed it. The case made no sense to me until Vivek’s now-becoming-annual coach floor speech in which he explained a key facet of the case that had eluded sufficient background until that moment – one could practically see the lightbulbs illuminating over the heads of each in the audience. The Opp floor speech roundly excoriated Harvard for their case choice. The decision, by the slimmest margin, went to the Government. My de facto Assistant Coach that year, Dave Reiss, and I discussed the round shortly before the decision was announced and agreed, through pained and gritted teeth, that Gov had probably done just enough to win despite the desire we both would have had as judges to penalize them for ruining Nats Finals.
So, now, finally, we get to 2013. Last weekend. The day that won’t leave me alone, albeit only 100 hours or so after it was over. Again, the context is critical.
Rutgers had brought a school-record five teams to Nationals and they slowly thinned out over the course of the longest day that exists on the APDA circuit, the second day of Nats, the day when rounds 3, 4, 5, and 6 drag on almost endlessly amidst the sturdiest competition and most stressful stakes of the year. To make the cut of the top 16, the octofinals, one needs a 4-2 record with very good speaker scores – it’s usually the top half of the 4-2 field, but speaks have escalated at Nationals lately (not like they have in policy, but a fair amount), to the point where the breaking 4-2’s must average scores that would make them top ten speakers at most tournaments during the regular year. Going into round six, we had three teams still in the hunt, one on 4-1 and two on 3-2. One of the 3-2 teams (correctly) assumed they were already out of the race on speaker points, however, while the other figured (again, correctly) that they were very much in the race. All three were Gov in round six and went in with high hopes of securing a winning record and giving themselves at least a slim hope of hearing their name announced at the Banquet that night.
After Senior Speeches, in which Syracuse senior David Kopel called on the entire league to be more entertaining, gutsy, and intriguing in rounds, especially final rounds, and two of our own seniors, Chris Bergman and Bhargavi Sriram, also bid farewell to the circuit, the break was announced. While two of our three teams had won, the high-speaking 3-2 had been tanked out of the break. But the 4-1 was the other winner and they had clinched a 5-1 record and what we would later find out was the 6th seed in the octofinal draw. Euphoric, we gathered for pictures, offered condolences to non-breaking teams, and prepared for the fastest, most exciting day of debate on APDA, the Nats out-rounds.
We drew Syracuse, who was assigned to Gov by virtue of having had fewer Govs throughout preliminary rounds. Bergman, Ashley Novak, and I huddled around discussing the myriad of fun, philosophical, religious, and open-ended cases that Syracuse (Kopel and Samm Costello) were known to employ. We were excited having drawn this team, knowing that Kopel would never run something dull in light of his moralizing speech the night before, knowing how he’d come to Rutgers just this semester and won top speaker by running fascinating philosophical explorations as cases. We knew that not only would this play to our strengths, but it would make for a great showcase round, a great way to go out if indeed we did.
But something happened on the way to that Gov for Syracuse. Initially, my suspicions were that it was a strategic move, that they knew Rutgers was strong on philosophy and fun and they thought they’d zag to boring. In retrospect, I believe they were instead concerned about the panel, chaired by one V. Suri, who’d opped magical empathy with derision, who’d helped write exclusionary torts and choose it for Nats Finals just the year before. Flanked by judges who were not known for their sense of fun, the panel probably intimidated ‘Cuse out of their normal file and led them to choose obscure aspects of medical malpractice insurance. We lost on a 2-1, with both judges voting against us saying it was a narrow decision that we were winning until late in PMR.
We were of course stunned and devastated, then immediately felt conflicted. In many ways, we would normally root for Syracuse, an underdog school who runs fun cases, to at least go on and carry our banner if we could not do so ourselves. At the same time, what Syracuse team was this that had just given us something about medical malpractice when we were expecting ancient kingdoms or a clash of big ideas? Confused and bewildered, the team scattered to various quarterfinals, most choosing a Yale civil war between four highly touted seniors in what would be half of their last rounds. I was lucky enough to be judging that round, a true showcase about how individuals should donate their money.
In semifinals, I was judging the Syracuse team, who’d employed a fun philosophical opp-choice case to handily carry their quarterfinal against Brown. They were Opp against this year’s TOTY, Yale’s Robert Colonel and Ben Kornfeld, known for their penchant for cases about economics as future hedge fund employees. In a move that surprised no one, Colonel opened his speech with a discussion of economics, leading to the case that there should be a consumption tax instead of an income tax.
The round was not great. The case, despite the trappings of somewhat obscure econ, was actually slowly delivered and quite clear, relying less on jargon than on the common sense logic that is supposed to be the mainstay of argumentation in our format of debate. However, Kopel had no interest in the case, delivering an LOC that went less than seven minutes of an allotted eight-and-a-half, something unheard of for good novices, let alone varsity seniors in the National Semifinal. He looked bored, defeated, and frustrated, making relatively weak arguments against something that seemed not to interest him. Left little to fight against, Kornfeld then retorted with a highly repetitive MG, making the same somewhat jargony claims again and again to fill time and reaffirm Colonel’s statements.
Then Costello got up to deliver the MOC. And things changed in a hurry.
She made it personal, nearly yelling at the panel and the assembled audience of over a hundred. She screamed “This is my coming-out party, APDA, because I am [bleeping] poor.” She excoriated the Gov for making assumptions about the rationality of economic incentives when her family didn’t know how to spend money and just did whatever they could to try to get by. It was a moving speech and it took people out of the round and made them think about larger questions than what was being discussed right there. While I was very certain by the end of the round, after LOR was again underwhelming and PMR was rather persuasive, that Gov had won, I briefly considered casting a protest-vote for the Opp on the grounds of their bravery and the importance of calling the attention of an all too ivory-towered academic league to the issues that truly affect real people. While I’d found Gov persuasive, they had also seemed incredibly out of touch with the plight of the people they were allegedly trying to help in their case and this seemed worthy of observing. When I cast my ballot ultimately for Gov, I had no doubt that all six other panelists would do the same.
I was wrong. The decision was a 4-3 for Syracuse.
Vivek was one of the other two in our camp of three squirrels. He intoned in his trademark withering Snape voice that “I found the MO’s personal appeals uncompelling,” as the judges began their return to General Assembly to deliver the verdict. The other judges assured him they had voted less on personal appeals than the argument that Opp had most compellingly made, that rich Americans would escape a consumption tax by spending money earned in the States overseas, thus depleting already washed out American tax rolls further. I had found that to be the one argument on the flow Opp had won, but that it was ultimately marginal and insufficient to override Gov’s other benefits.
Vivek then went to huddle with his Harvard team, junior Josh and sophomore Ben, who were soon announced to have won their semifinal on a 5-2 split. I was excited to learn that the Brandeis team who’d Goved that round, Keith Barry and Russell Leibowitz, had run a case I’d originally written, a case I wanted to desperately run in a final round and eventually got to in my last final round of my regular career, at Rutgers Pro-Ams (the first RUDU APDA tournament) in 2002. The case asks how a devout religious believer ought live if their soul were reversed such that good acts would send them to hell and bad acts would send them to heaven. I’d given the case to a Brandeisian many years after my graduation, who then tweaked it and passed it on to Keith and Russell, who tweaked it further still. The case remains one of my absolute favorites for cleaving the question of motivation and reward from doing good for good’s sake. It made me proud of my Brandeis roots all over again to know that this was how one of their best teams in recent memory chose to go out.
And thus the stage was set for Nats Finals. The teams could not be much more different in background and shape. Despite their decision in octofinals against Rutgers, Syracuse carried a reputation of debating for the right reasons, of showcase cases, of bending minds and perceptions both of topics discussed and what it meant to be a small, under-funded and relatively new school on APDA. Meanwhile, Harvard represented a tradition of great success, though also of dry subjects and the fastest speaking on the circuit. Syracuse was represented by two seniors who would be in their last rounds. Harvard was represented by a junior who’d put up one of the best individual seasons on APDA ever and a totally unsung sophomore in just his sixth career APDA tournament, a fast-talking high school hero who most people still had never seen. There was no question what side people wanted the teams to have. Everyone wanted Syracuse to be Gov.
Everyone. Except perhaps Harvard.
Indeed, other than some mop-up discussions from semifinals and earlier rounds, all anyone could seem to talk about while we stood waiting around Hoff Theater for the auditorium to be prepared for Nats Finals, was who was Goving and how the round was about to be either wonderful or terrible. People whispered about Syracuse cases they’d seen, only boggling at how Platonic the case they might run in such a venue as Nats Finals would be. Meanwhile, they feared what Harvard would do with the forum, having been rewarded for boring the crowd in the previous year, having debaters with less career accomplishment in the round, which might only lead them to make a cautious move of running something extremely imbalanced to their side.
When we entered the gigantic theater, majestically laid out with glittering trophies, two tables, and a podium, people were impressed by the classiness of a Nationals that had not exactly spared every expense to impress us. But then it became clear which table each team was going to. And the lamentations began.
Harvard was Gov. The collective held their breath and wondered if the case would be a repeat of 2005 and 2012, something inaccessible, quickly delivered, unfair to the Opp, roundly unfair to the crowd.
On face, when Ben opened his remarks, after a dry thank-you to the rogue taxi driver who’d scuttled them out of Boston when it was ostensibly on lock-down, the case he offered was probably better than those in both 2005 and 2012. It was about a question that mattered more, certainly. But he also, out of nerves or that just being his style (I’ve never seen him debate before), shotgunned out details of the case in a rapid-fire way that made the case feel inaccessible to most of the audience. And certainly to Syracuse, who a bit impatiently asked him to repeat all of his remarks.
His advocacy was that the US should break up the twelve largest banks in the country, those that have been deemed “too big to fail.” In PoCs, he offered clarifications of asset quantities that were hilariously played out as hard for Syracuse to understand and contextualize. It is likely that both Harvard debaters are en route to careers in hedge funds or other similar economic pursuits, while the Syracuse pair are interested in Russian translation and medicine, respectively. The Harvard debaters look like a prep school catalog, while the Syracuse debaters often show up to tournaments in ratty T-shirts and speak their minds loudly. I won’t speculate on the total asset holdings of each of the four, but I want to contrast myself with those who have said this final round was not about class or earnings. Everything in America at this point in history is about class and earnings. The wealth disparity is beyond the limits of anything ever deemed acceptable by a free society and it is directly jeopardizing our ability to call it a free society. And if you’re not paying attention to that, or how it plays out to almost every interaction you have, I’m sorry, but you’re not paying attention.
Then Kopel asked what would happen to banks that didn’t comply. And Ben assured him this was not an option, that they would. The case had fiat power and there was no way around compliance if they wanted to do business in the United States.
Clearly uncomfortable, Costello eventually said, “Okay, I think we’re ready” and Ben proceeded to rattle off a metric ton of arguments about breaking up the banks. The delivery was so uninteresting and uncompelling that it sounded like a parody of policy debate. I whispered to my team that was in earshot “Do you want to ask Siri a question?” and many cracked up. Nationals Finals was opening with a speech that could only even begin to be interesting to the judging panel and those accustomed to the faster ranges of debate, one that could only leave the vast majority of the audience as cold as the delivery itself.
Several things occurred to me while listening to this speech. The first was what a brilliant ploy it was, in light of the semifinal round between Yale and Syracuse, to force ‘Cuse to defend the big bad banks while Harvard had reasons to break them up. It was a total reversal of perspective for this David (literally) and Goliath match-up, to foist defense of the hedge funds and those who play with other people’s money onto the small guys who were less well off and didn’t run in that crowd. I have no idea how many teams they would have run that case against from the octofinal draw, but whether deliberate or accidental, this was a clever strategic play.
The main thing I was thinking, of course, was whether this was even an event I recognized anymore. In light of the prior year’s Final, Harvard had jumped headlong into doubling down on their strategy of boring everyone out of the round, of making obscure, quick, esoteric arguments that challenged the Opp not to engage or counter but to merely understand. And after Kopel had shut down against a far slower, more accessible series of arguments for the semifinal case, I wondered what he would possibly do against this one.
I tried to place myself in his shaky shaky shoes at that moment, to try to imagine how I would try to take back this round for those who sought the entertainment he’d discussed in his own Senior Speech. To try to turn the tables so that Harvard felt as uncomfortable as he now did, trying to defend big banking’s ability to destroy lives with impunity and rule society without fear of check or repercussion. At some point, I whispered to someone that he had to counter-case, that he had to maximize clash by refusing to defend the banks and run a sweeping counter-case that bordered on socialism, a counter-proposal along the lines of nationalizing all banks or criminalizing Wall Street. I don’t doubt that the whole crowd was with me in the breathless anticipation of how Kopel, spokesperson for intellectual rigor on APDA this year, would respond.
He said this:
“I want to begin, surprisingly, with a little bit of meta-analysis. So, I think that you’re decision in this round functionally ought to be based on the fact that Nats Finals is a different kind of round from the average sort of APDA round. So we would ultimately argue that if you are lulled to sleep by Harvard, then you ought not vote for them, because we all spend a great deal of time coming out to these debate tournaments and giving up our weekends, giving up our time. And if we’re not actually really learning anything new and we’re just talking about banks the entire time, I actually think we should hold this league to a higher standard.”
He then discussed how this would affect future decisions by future debaters and how that mattered to people. And how the case was an embarrassment, something he has since retracted in all the fallout from the discussion of this round. And then he called the case tight, something never done in 32 prior APDA National Championships.
All of this was done amidst raucous cheering and “hear-hear”s, not just from fans and friends of Syracuse, but from an audience angered by a PMC with no vocal intonation or attempt at rhetorical persuasion whatsoever, tired of a reign of expectation that people put up with and laud that sort of debate, and excited to see someone risk everything they had worked for four years to earn on the bet that this was APDA’s “mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore” moment.
The round got ugly. Really ugly. Harvard called Syracuse and their decisions “anti-intellectual” and “a disgrace” and defended their decision to run the case on the basis of pointing out that this was an important topic with impacts on the world. People cheered for their side and heckled against the other. People felt uncomfortable and were drained. The round developed into the metaphorical train-wreck from which no head could turn. Harvard’s arguments defending the tight-call were poor and the responses were poor. Both sides simultaneously escalated and tried to slip out of the meta-call about the quality of the case as it became clear that the quality of the round overall was disastrous.
Mercifully, the round ended, but the arguments had only just begin. People across the crowd were listless and failed to move. They looked like they’d just watched a documentary on Somalia rather than a Nats Final. I told people I felt this was a turning point for the league and how it felt about certain cases and an approach to debate. Most replied they just felt this was a stain on the league that would hopefully be forgotten. I held some hope that people would vote Opp, but most everyone expected a 7-0 for Gov.
It was not a 7-0 for Gov. It was a 5-2 for Gov. The two dissenters were Robert Glunt of Cornell and Kate Falkenstien of Yale. These were the LOs, respectively, in the 2005 and 2012 Nats Finals against Harvard.
Among the five were Omar Qureshi and Reid Bagwell, people who relied on eloquence against careers that spanned many high speaker awards, as well as Jon Bateman, the MG in the Hopkins case in 2006 Nats Finals when he ran the case about Faust. Omar told me after the round that most of the panel was open to the case entirely being a meta-call about the nature of final rounds and Nats Finals especially, but that calling the case tight alienated much of the panel, which also included Adam Goldstein and Mike Childers, and isolated their decision to the tight call only. All seven said they adjudicated solely on the tight-call.
In retrospect, I don’t think the decision matters all that much. I could spend the rest of my space here (though you’ve noticed it’s unlimited, I’m sure) arguing why I think the seven judges all should have considered the meta-call about the nature of the case, that such is the only check the league or its members have against pressing the advantage of getting to Gov. But the problem is also that whether they considered it or not, Syracuse didn’t do it perfectly. They fell into several traps about the case, criticizing the case topic itself more than how the case was constructed and delivered. This enabled Harvard to argue, quite correctly, that the financial crisis and bank regulation actually are important topics of the day. And when this discussion exploded out into the wider forum, involving many APDA alums who were not at the Nats Finals, they overwhelmingly echoed that the case was interesting and accessible without having seen the PMC, PoCs, or the nature of the way Harvard has debated much of the last two years.
We ought give both teams some slack. Obviously, some of the harshest mudslinging on both sides has been retracted and can be chalked up to the heat of the moment. The crowd is being criticized for heckling, though I noticed very little of this so much as some of the most ardent and active clapping and cheering I’ve ever seen in a Nats Final. I maintain what I said early on, that Kopel’s LOC was the bravest speech I’ve ever seen on APDA, that crossing the threshold to a meta-call on the nature of Nationals Finals and tight-calling a case he believed was tight in that venue were incontrovertibly brave and difficult things to do for which he should be forever proud. And I can’t help but think, while I respect them both as imminently fair judges, that the memory of their own LOCs helped prompt Glunt and Kate to decide as they did.
But the larger question has been called and a team has sacrificed most everything, including, if the forum is to be believed (it shouldn’t – internet forums and APDA’s especially are notorious for unwarranted vitriol of which I myself have sometimes partaken) their reputations as people on the circuit, to call it. What sort of debate league is APDA? What do we want to see here? How do we want to discuss issues and what sort of issues, in what way, are appropriate for Nationals Finals, or any final, or even any round?
I think it is absolutely vital, as a simple conclusion to over 10,000 words of rambling historical recounting and diatribe, that we expect more of teams. Harvard doesn’t want this video to go up because they don’t want prospective debaters thinking that round is representative of APDA. But it is representative of APDA, both in their case choice and approach and in the backlash it received. This is a conflict that is breaking out all over the league. And it doesn’t have to be fought as harshly or inartfully as it was in Hoff Theater, but it does have to be discussed. Is it reasonable to escalate the speed and unpersuasiveness of argumentation to get more arguments in that one hopes to pull through in PMR for a narrow victory? Is that APDA? Is that what we want it to be?
People have always assured me that APDA rounds are judged holistically and that no one could simply spread and spec their way to a win in this league. I think that reassurance has been called into serious doubt by this final. And while I don’t think Syracuse losing is the deathknell of my perspective about this circuit, I have no doubt that Harvard and other teams who favor spreading and obscurity will proceed undeterred with this strategy as they have been rewarded. I fervently hope that I’m wrong, that enough backlash was built from the groundswell of vocal support for Syracuse, that they do draw back from the ledge and challenge themselves to be more interesting, to care about the audience, and to slow down.
I have the deepest respect for Josh and Ben. How could you not respect someone winning Nats in his sixth APDA tournament? Many people said his quarterfinal MO against top-seed Princeton deserved a 27.5, the highest score our league now offers. And Josh has impressed me with his true dedication to the league and interest in issues of equity, despite his lofty background. (I’m sorry, but where people come from does color their perspective and this is part of any cogent discussion on these issues.) I am duly impressed by Vivek Suri’s ability to be a part of four consecutive National Championship squads. I only wish he and his cohorts had challenged themselves in the last two years to not use every advantage available to them in this relentless pursuit.
Eventually, people are either going to have to voluntarily step back from the brink of escalation on spreading and speccing, or they are going to have to be dropped for failure to do so. There have been instances of such dropping. Perhaps the most famous speech of the year was Kornfeld’s 30-second LOC tight-call against Josh and C., critiquing not only the case itself but the very way that Harvard was choosing to debate at the time, and exposing its flaws. This Nats Finals felt like a moment like that, but had a different outcome. The jury, I daresay, is still out.
But I would posit that it is reasonable to consider such drops. It is reasonable for judges to consider fairness in all its aspects, and indeed the spirit of debate, when making a call about who won and who lost. I think it’s appropriate for Opp teams to raise these issues, and increasingly may be very important that they do so. This does not mean making assumptions or dropping people on face. It’s quite possible that Josh and Ben will return to the circuit next year with open, fun, rhetorically elocuted opp-choice cases and they should be rewarded and lauded if they do. Don’t assume that the school or the people will do what they have done before.
But if there’s a time when you’re gritting your teeth about a decision, when every part of you wants to drop a team for being unfair to the other, for squeezing every last second of advantage out of situation, maybe you should just drop that team. Or at least consider it. And maybe it’s up to Opp to raise that question first so you’re not intervening too much in the round, but maybe it isn’t.
Just as companies ruthlessly pursuing profit will only respond to financial penalties, my deep concern is that teams who only care about winning will not start caring about anything else until they stop winning. It is perhaps even less surprising from people who see themselves at the helm of those companies in future. But winning is a reward and it should be doled out for greatness, not merely finding some way, any way, to best the other team. Debaters of the future, let greatness be your standard, not doing just enough to win when anything goes.
Ed. note: A few of the debaters mentioned in this post asked for their last names to be removed so they could not be Googled in association with this post. While I personally prefer this to be a documentation of important events, I understand their concerns and have agreed to their request. If you are mentioned in this post and would also like your last name removed, I will do so. Just send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Given that the results of the tournament are publicly available, it probably doesn’t actually detract from the information of the post’s content.
Additionally, it seems like many of the other National Final Round videos were removed by request of the participants, so 2013 is not as much of an outlier as originally discussed.