Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Liberty Debate – Again

Brett O’Donnell, the coach of the Liberty University debate team, was on the Colbert Report last night on Comedy Central. He actually talked about how great it was to beat Harvard and with all the talk of how Liberty is “better” than Harvard and Dartmouth and Northwestern, etc, not once did he even hint at the fact that they are #1 only because they send a lot of teams to weak regional tournaments as well as enter lots of teams in novice events. They really are playing this meaningless #1 ranking up to a ridiculous degree. The NDT is coming up the end of this month at Northwestern. I’d be happy to bet O’Donnell that his varsity team won’t get past the octofinals of the NDT.

They can talk all they want about how great it is that they’re giving opportunities to kids who didn’t debate in high school to compete at novice and JV tournaments, but that is not in any way a measure of the quality of the debate team. If the better debate programs had their kids debate novice or JV, they would almost certainly crush the Liberty team just as they do in varsity. You aren’t better than Harvard or Dartmouth or Michigan State or Emory or Berkeley or any of the other top programs just because you take a lot of kids to debate in the minor leagues at small tournaments where they don’t have to worry about facing good competition.


  1. #1 Dave S.
    March 1, 2006

    Sounds like the makings of a great debate topic!

    Resolved: The national ranking of a post-secondary school in debate is in direct proportion to the quality of that school in debate.

    Who wants the Affirmative?

  2. #2 Raging Bee
    March 1, 2006

    Any record of what topics they’ve debated successfully?

    Resolved: that all non-Christians are Devil-worshippers, regardless of evidence or witness testimony.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    March 1, 2006

    Raging Bee-

    They debate the same topic everyone else does, which this year is US policy toward China.

  4. #4 steve s
    March 1, 2006

    would it be octofinals? doesn’t octo- mean eight, where the word we need should mean eigth?

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    March 1, 2006

    steve s wrote:

    would it be octofinals? doesn’t octo- mean eight, where the word we need should mean eigth?

    That is what they call them. The NDT breaks to a double octofinals, which means the top 32 teams (16 debates, hence double eight).

  6. #6 sgent
    March 1, 2006

    Sounds like the ranking system needs to change.

    They have the RPI system in basketball, the BCS system in football, and an apparently broken system in college debate. Whatever the merits, Liberty may not be the better debate team, but they have a more insidious coach who cares more about rankings than the end of the year tournament.

    Change the ranking system to give additional credit for debating good competition, and entering major tournaments. What Liberty is doing maybe disengious — but gaming the system isn’t against the rules.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    March 1, 2006


    The difference is that nobody cares about the overall rankings in debate. It doesn’t matter how many points someone accumulates in novice and JV tournaments, it only matters whether you can win when you’re in the tournament.

  8. #8 Treban
    March 2, 2006

    So how do you really feel about Liberty’s debate team Ed?

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