National Debate Tournament

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The National Debate Tournament is one of the national championships for collegiate policy debate, public forum debate, Lincoln-Douglas debate, and other events in the United States. The tournament is sponsored by the American Forensic Association with the Ford Motor Company Fund.

History of the NDT[edit]

The National Debate Tournament (NDT) began in 1947 at the United States Military Academy at West Point.[1] Twenty-nine schools competed at the first NDT debating: "Resolved: That labor should be given a direct share in the management of industry". It remained at West Point until 1967 when it was assumed by the American Forensic Association in part because of the Vietnam War.[2] Since then the tournament has moved to different member schools each year and only three schools have hosted it twice.[3]

In the first NDT, teams were nominated by committees from their district. This was soon replaced with district qualifying tournaments. Eight, post district tournament, "second round" at-large bids were awarded beginning in 1968 and continuing through 1970, enlarging the field to 44 teams, and two of these second round selections "cleared", or finished in the top sixteen in the preliminary rounds, in 1968, three cleared in 1969 and four of the eight post district tournament qualifiers cleared in 1970.

Prior to 1970, a school could only send one team to the NDT, but the tournament committee relented to pressure from some of the more successful programs and a total of eight schools sent two teams to the 1970 National Debate Tournament that year. The winner of that tournament, designated Kansas "B", would not have been eligible to participate if the one team per school rule had remained in force.

In 1971, the format was amended to assign seventeen at large bids prior to district qualifying tournaments followed by the selection of an additional 27 teams by the district tournaments and another eight in a second at large selection round, enlarging the field to 52 teams. Ten regular season tournaments were designated to be "qualifying tournaments", such that winning one earned that team an automatic NDT berth, and the remainder of the first at-large round teams were selected by vote of the selection committee. That format lasted for just two years.

Starting in 1973 and continuing to the present, sixteen at large bids are awarded to teams based on records prior to the district tournament selections, and additional at-large bids are awarded after the district qualifying tournaments. The field was enlarged to 62 teams in 1973 and stayed that size until 1987, when it was enlarged to include 74 teams, and it then varied in size from 72 to 78 teams over the next decade.

Since 1992, a limited number of schools, currently six, have been allowed to send a third team.

Mutual preference judging (MPJ) is a relatively recent addition to the NDT. Under MPJ, each debate team ranks the judging pool according to their preferences and judges are selected such that both teams prefer the chosen judge equally (if possible). Attempts are made to place as many mutual "1"s (the highest rating) in rounds, with preference given to the teams with the best record.

Selection of Teams[edit]

Currently, selection of the 78 teams participating at the NDT involves a three stage process.[4] First, the national committee selects 16 teams and awards them a First Round At-Large Bid. These 16 teams are generally considered to be the 16 best debate teams in the nation. The national committee then disperses 46 bids proportionally to each of the nine NDT Districts. Each district is free to decide how these bids will be awarded to teams within each district. Most, although not all, districts decide to hold a district tournament, where the top teams will receive a bid. The final and third step for qualification is the Second Round At-Large Bid. Similar to a First Round Bid, the national committee selects the top 16 teams not already qualified to fill out the field for the NDT. Although in some cases, these final 16 teams may not be the true best 16 teams not already qualified to the tournament. The NDT has a standing rule stating a school cannot qualify more than two teams to the tournament, with the exception of at most six schools per year, who are allowed to qualify a third team, if the third team in question has shown merit for selection.


  • "The Big Board": Started at the first NDT, complete results for each team are listed on the "Big Board" in the central area, horse-race style.
  • Orally announcing pairings: Started at the first NDT, the pairings for each round are read out loud to the contestants. The announcements are known for the unusual manner in which they are conveyed. For instance, the announcer might say, "The 51st National Debate Tournament, round the first." This is then followed by the "pairings" of opposing teams, judges, room numbers, and the expected start time. A poll conducted at the 2005 NDT showed strong support for continuing this tradition.
  • Cadet escorts: Cadets at the USMA escort debaters to their rounds and carry their tubs. Although this tradition was discontinued when the NDT moved from the USMA, it has reemerged at the regular season tournament hosted by the USMA.



  1. ^ "The West Point National Tournament". Retrieved 26 April 2012. 
  2. ^ Ziegelmueller, George. "Selected Personal History of the NDT". Retrieved 26 April 2012. 
  3. ^ "An Introduction to the National Debate Tournament". Retrieved 26 April 2012. 
  4. ^ Parson, Donn. "W(h)ither the NDT?". Retrieved 26 April 2012. 

External links[edit]