Why It’s so Hard to Win on Negative at Nationals?? And what to do about it…By: Griffith Vertican

Greetings NCFCA Debaters and Coaches,

Some years ago I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine about the difficulties of being on the negative side in team policy and what to do about it. Reflecting on that conversation and many more since I’ve put some serious thought into why affirmative teams have such a seemingly significant advantage particularly at Nationals…

For example, one of the early out-rounds at nationals some years ago saw approximately 70+ percent of the Affirmatives win, which meant that some sizable upsets had likely taken place in which the coin toss may have played an important role. From what I found that round is not the norm, in fact, other out-rounds came to opposite conclusion (quarterfinals another year went overwhelmingly for Neg), yet it still comes as no surprise that the vast majority of teams who win the coin toss during out-rounds continue to choose Affirmative for team policy.

There is no doubt that there is a well-established premise that the affirmative team has a CLEAR advantage and 2018 is no exception. Recently, I had a phone conversation with a Matthew Shipley (a parent who often works in tabulation), who told me in tab they’ve seen a late-season trend of Affirmatives winning more often, especially compared to earlier in the year.

So after 11 years of coaching, attending nearly every national (NITOC), and giving it some more thought I am finally ready to present my top five reasons why this trend will likely continue this year and perhaps more importantly what do about it.

Let’s start with…

GV’s Top 5 Reasons Aff’s Win at Nationals:

1. Airtight Affirmative Cases – Something Shipley and I were in complete agreement on is that this is the number one reason for the Aff advantage. This late in the season many affirmative teams have had an entire SEASON of perfecting their case with rewrites, tightening plan text, finding additional evidence, preparing responses to responses and thus will be most likely ready to debate issues involving their case.

2. Try or Die (aka Bias to Action) – If there is a real problem in the status quo, especially one that raises serious concerns, like safety, money, jobs, lives, and the plan is a practical means to solve it…the appeal to “do something” is what psychologists and motivational speakers call the bias towards action. Just consider the notoriety Psychologist Jordan Peterson has gained by challenging young men to embrace this bias and for Pete sake clean up your room! In debate try or die means we should try something because the problem isn’t going to fix itself and likely the plan won’t make it worse. This means that the affirmative is appealing to community judges on the most basic of human needs… to-just-do-something. Overcoming this intrinsic desire is extremely difficult.

3. The Moral High Ground – In law school I had the privilege of being one of the four students invited on Trial Advocacy team. One of the strategies we learned was how to appeal to juries sense of justice. If done effectively the jurors are far more likely overlook other flaws in a case to uphold what they deem to be morally right. The moral right outcome can be more persuasive than counter evidence. Similarly the Affirmative often have access to a moral argument….that the waste, corruption, or complacency existing in the status quo is not only wrong, it is morally wrong and we have a duty to do something about it. Thus the ability to access a moral imperative argument gives the affirmative a clear advantage in terms of impact calculus or impact weighing.

4. No Alternative – The ability to fiat (Latin for “let it be done”) a policy that otherwise lacks political support, funding, or willpower gives a huge strategic advantage to Aff since the opposition is often left defending the status quo. For all the reasons listed above, Neg is playing against a stacked deck. Which, unless they are exceptional debaters or gifted speakers, is often too high a hill for them to climb by relying on generic briefs or mitigating arguments.

5. The Squirrel Case – Throwing the change-up in baseball can be a highly effective pitch because it often comes at a time and speed the batter is not expecting it. In the same way, busting out a brand new case at Nationals that the negative has never seen before will give the affirmative a huge predictable and evidentiary edge. An experienced Judge often knows when the Neg has been bitten by a squirrel because of the look of death that often comes across the negative team’s face speaks louder than any words could. Just think right now some kid named Jimmy (not a real person) of Smackover, Arkansas (a real town) with way too much time on his hands is plotting your team’s demise by writing his super sneaky cybernetic education case, which you will, unfortunately, hit in round 6!

So what to do, what to do?? Besides winning the coin toss, what else can be done improve your odds of winning? I’m glad you asked, below the answer await…

GV’s Top 5 Things to Do Now:

1. Diversify – One of the ways to take better use of the time advantage of the 13 to 5 negative block is to run a good mix of arguments. Professor and Coach Konrad Hack taught me years ago, the opposition triangle which places negative arguments into 3 categories Technical, Net Beneficial, and Critical arguments. In short, the more unique the story of each argument and the more they impact out to a voting issue, the more difficult it is for the 1AR. The diversified negative strategy gives you not only line-by-line dropped argument advantage (great for flow judges) but should give you more outs on the Impact Calculus and voting level. It gives more levels for the judge to consider. To employ this strategy, assess the arguments in your negative briefs (assuming you have one) and prioritize the ones that have more unique links (with stronger impacts) and/or operate in different categories. So even if you’re not winning the net benefits but you’re winning the critical or technical aspect, you have a higher probability the judge will check your box.

2. Network – By the time you read this, there will be 5 days or less left to prep for the National Championship! And as my dad once told me one while I was studying for the bar (the Attorney bar of course) “don’t just study hard… study smart.” The most efficient way to multiply your work is to team up with others. If allowed by your club, you should go outside your club (and region) to exchange briefs with others, gather flows on top-cases, and find out what the best teams are running. Set goals with your partner on the amount of evidence and briefs you want to produce or revamp from now unit nationals (one new brief a day wouldn’t be bad) the goal here is to gather intel and as many briefs as possible. As ancient Chines Proverb puts it…Chance favors the prepared mind…nowhere is that truer than in policy debate.

3. and 4. Condense and Strategize – If you have four different negative briefs on the Ending Common Core case which will take you over an hour to read, it is time to condense and synthesize. You need to do an assessment of which arguments are the best, how concise the evidence is, and what you can realistically read in your 16 minutes of constructive speeches. Then you and your partner should be on the same page ahead of time of who is running what and approximately how much time each position will take and discuss what you plan to go for in the rebuttals. The more you think this through and plan it out ahead of time, the better your odds of victory.

5. Counter plan – I know that some may read that one-word and snicker “not in my world we don’t” or “Griffith, come on man, do you kiss your mama with that mouth!?” To which I respond, “It’s not about your wold and yes, yes I do.” :] Seriously though, it makes no sense to keep losing to the same Aff with the same negative brief. I was at one tournament this year where one team had an airtight case and nearly went undefeated with it (again) even though everyone knew that was the case they were running. However, this time they were dealt a loss in prelims and what argument did they lose to?? You guess it a counterplan. I get it, I get your hesitation, judges have a wide range of feelings on this strategy and it’s risky, but if you’ve been losing to the same case using essentially the same brief all season and you really haven’t found anything new…then why not? What do you have to lose? Instead be like Doug Pederson Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, where if you want to beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, you’re going to have to take some risks…mainly don’t settle for field goals when you can score touchdowns! Now, to do the strategy effectively, have a plan text ready and run a disadvantage that they cause but you avoid while still solving the gist of their case. You should probably ask the judge ahead of time if “they have a set view on counterplans” and then adjust your strategy according to what they say (obviously if they say “counterplans are of the devil!” then I wouldn’t recommend it). The CP strategy is the great equalizer, an effective answer to the squirrel case because it allows you to bring in more evidence; and when done right it takes out Aff’s impact calculus and bias to action advantage while accessing another category of the triangle. In others, it could tip the scales in your favor.

Come to one of my NIHD Camps this Summer – OK, this is a shameless plug, but there’s really no better way to prep for the season and nationals than a super-intensive camp that includes strategy sessions, practice rounds, and in-depth discussions on the resolutions. Debate camps along with private coaching will take your skills to the next level. Come to one mine, and we will set you up to win next year (see Heather at Nationals, for a brochure for a $25 off coupon).

Now is the time to maximize your prep! Make a schedule for yourself that divides your time between researching, writing, and running practice rounds. (do them online if you have to).

Whatever you do, make a final push so that you leave nationals knowing you did your absolute best!

I wish you all the best of success,

Coach Griffith

P.S. If you’re interested in private debate coaching or if you loved this post and want more like it, let us know at nihdcamp@gmail.com

Coach Griffith is the director of the National Institute for Homeschool Debate (with 170 participants it is the largest in the nation), he is also a licensed attorney and one of the successful debate coaches in America. Students who attended his camps have won every division of debate and students he personally coached took 1st place in TP Debate (Jeffrey Pistor) and 1st, 2nd, and 6th place in LD Debate at 2018 NITOC Championships. His students have also made it to the finals three of the last six years in Parliamentary Debate (winning twice in 2013 and 2017) and in 2015 won the overall tournament champion award.