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Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Most of my weekends are spent at colleges up and down the east coast debating. Within the circuit, there are three parallel competitions that run throughout the year - TOTY, NOTY and SOTY (Standing for Team, Novice and Speaker Of The Year, respectively). They are, for their specific categories, considered to be the most presitigous award that an individual or pair can earn. One gets points for finishing in the top few at any given tournament, and the awards are determined by the individual or team with the highest point total at the end of a given season (more or less.) If you are from the south: think NASCAR. If you're from the north: think the PGA.

This year, something decidedly different happened. A longer account of it can be found here, as written by one of the participants, but the basic story is: with two weekends left, the top three teams found themselves in a tie for first, and agreed among themselves to quit competing and to share the title.

How storybook.

This led to a bit of controversy.

Imagine any other competitive event where three teams collude to rig a championship such that all three win. It's hard to do, since for one, there aren't very many competitive events that don't include a head-to-head determination their winners, and those remaining have contingencies for numerical ties. But in the rare case where a tie is even possible, it would be unthinkable to throw in the towell to preserve a lead.

The account linked above does a good job of trying to paint this as the sign of a particularly hard-fought battle, the end of which created a stalemate where going on would just deplete the competitors to the detriment of each. But debate is not war. There are no TOTY races of attrition. There isn't anything lost in beating someone in a round, at a tournament or in the year-end standings unless the people involved take them too seriously. In this case, I don't even think it was any of that.

As far as I can tell, the people involved didn't want to win. They wanted the recognition that comes with it, they wanted to be able to be able to say they had won. I see no other reason why this sort of agreement makes sense. Fear of losing? I guess. The people involved say they wanted to "have fun" with the end of the year. But if that's the case, would they have less fun absent an actual agreement? Somehow they acknowledge the importance of getting the title, but don't want to have to step on toes to get there. Last year, James and I were tied in second place with two other people, and decided (after a particularly crappy tournament) to take a weekend off before the National Championship. But we didn't call up the people we were tied with and ask for a cease fire. We just accepted that they might pass us.

There seems to be little to no value placed in actually being better than someone, any more. Nobody cares. They want the title. They run unfair, collapsing, semi-tight cases in an effort to "win" rounds. They openly accept corruption and favors from tournaments. Then they brag about how great they are. It's ridiculous. Nobody cares about a collegiate debate title outside of the collegiate debate circuit. It's not as if we're doing it for money, or for a shoe contract, or even for fans. It's like cheating in a game of poker played over a campfire, for marshmellows and graham crackers.

And then if, god forbid, someone isn't nice and cordial in a round, or doesn't go out of their way to be friendly, polite and "sensitive" to the delicate flowering souls of everyone else, they're blacklisted. And in a league where "winning" equals "friendships," all this leads to is an environment where the people with the potential to be actually transcendant or great are pushed out and the nice guy finishes "first." It's a nice little playtime, but why even bother?

In the end, the people who have the points should get the trophies. They were the ones who, under the rules, are the people to whom they should go. But they don't deserve the respect that the trophy has represented for past competitors. And honestly, all this means is that they all tied for third place.

cranked out at 7:42 PM | |

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