So when running a tournament, there’s an inverse relationship between the sanity of the schedule and the quality of the rooms. Without rooms, you have nothing; the finest judges and the best debaters and speechies will have nowhere to go, and nothing to do. It’s one of those practical pragmatic things that I’m sure no one in forensics, other than tournament directors, has ever truly considered.

Rooms on a college campus are different than rooms in a high school. A high school building is easy to navigate; all you really need to do is bribe the custodians and avoid the room from the really picky teacher who will accuse you of moving desks two inches to the west. You know how many rooms you have, roughly; you can plan it out months ahead of time, and you can fit your tournament to your rooms as you need.

A college campus, on the other hand, is a very hostile place for a forensics tournament. First, there are far fewer classroom spaces in each building than there are in a high school. A high school is almost wholly dedicated to classroom spaces, but a college has offices, labs, student lounges and the like in much greater number. High school students spend every minute of the day in a classroom, while college students spend more minutes out of class than in; and a college student is much more likely to end up in a single room with 200 classmates, which rarely if ever happens in high school.

Second, every college inevitably is in thrall to a terrifying bureaucracy. Every building will have its own little collection of authorities and countersignatures needed to rent out their spaces. Many of the people in charge of these rooms are kind and helpful people. However, it only takes one or two Associate Deans of Obstruction to really ruin your day, or your month for that matter. The tournament is not their highest priority; rooms shift, are taken away, and disappear with little to not notice.

It’s not that these folks don’t understand how complex it is to manage an event with a thousand people; it’s that they simply don’t care. They have classes to schedule, and some bigshot professor might decide to have an impromptu seance. The average college administrator can’t be brought to notice that their debate team is bringing about a thousand of the best prospective students they’ll ever see on campus for a weekend. Students don’t rate at a research university, so prospective students rate even less. Such are the priorities at any large college; I know it too well, having worked at one for 6 years.

That was the situation the Columbians were in this time around. The LD fields were capped like last year, and the speech fields were no larger than previous years. However, Public Forum decided to double in size for no apparent reason. A smattering of rooms have acquired smart boards and the like in the last year, and were ruled off limits to the tournament. Add the two together, and you’re in trouble.

Now, the natural response to that is to make the tournament smaller, to cap it so it fits. Indeed, college tournaments take a lot of flak for giving off the impression of trying to shove all the kids they can into questionable spaces, simply to increase their registration fee haul. For the most part, that’s an unfair accusation. I’ve run 8 Yale, 6 Columbia and 2 UPenn tournaments, and in exactly 1 instance did the hosting team consciously allow the tournament to grow past their known room capacity — over my objections — in order to make more money. In that case it wasn’t even the tournament staff, but the team’s leadership, which I might add was conspicuously absent from the actual tournament that year. And I’ve never let them forget it since, either.

In Columbia’s case, what happened was that the administration would not, or could not, tell us how many rooms we had until a week and a half before the tournament. So we played a guessing game, and came up short in one column and long in the other. Sometimes it happens the other way around, like at Yale this year where suddenly we had 40 extra rooms at the high school for LD and another 30 spare rooms on campus for Speech because LD was at the high school. And Yale ran to the minute on time as a result.

At Columbia, we had debates in hallways. No one seemed to care too much, but it wasn’t a great situation. Further, I like having a room or two in reserve; that makes odd situations easy to deal with. Sometimes you just need to shove a judge and a student into a room so the poor kid who missed their oratory round can get included on the ballot; without a breakout room, that’s impossible.

The other challenge of college rooms is that the rooms on your list aren’t always the rooms that exist. They sit in buildings that lock themselves. The Irish Stepdancing Team might decide to have a practice in one of them “since they’re always free on the weekends”, or whatever else might happen. So you have to constantly police the hallways and the buildings to make sure doors are open. And that’s all on top of the usual issues that happen at any tournament; a kid got sick in the hallway, a Policy team was caught vandalizing something, etc etc.

So ultimately running a college tournament like that is like trying to build a castle on jello. Sometimes it just falls right, and sometimes it doesn’t. I do it because it’s fun and I enjoy working with most everyone I’ve run tournaments with. That wouldn’t be true if they were all dirty profiteers. I just wish I knew better how to bribe an associate dean.