My last Harvard tournament began with a relatively gentle Friday evening. Harvard does not have competition on Friday night, so it’s simply registration.
For those who fly to Boston and stay in hotels and thus who knew their numbers and entries months ago, registration involves sending in a check and getting an email the week of the tournament with your students’ speaker codes and information all nicely lined up. However, when you’re a local shlub like me, who registered my kids on Sunday and asked last week who’s going, you go to the hotel and register the old fashioned way.
Therefore, registering the old fashioned way is something of a Massachusetts reunion; there are several hundred high schools at the tournament, and yet I sat and lent pens to Sara S, Marc R, Jim M, and saw Dan S hanging around too.
Registration day also sets expectations. Why? Because I wrote a check for $770 to the Harvard Debate team. This represents the sum total of my kids’ outlay for the tournament, apart from a bit of gas going back and forth, meals we would have eaten anyway, and quite a bit of lost sleep. Some schools spend upwards of $30,000 to attend this tournament, once you roll in hotels, airfares, and many more students than we brought. But still, $770 is a large figure indeed for 4 extempers, 3 public forum teams, and a lonely DI.
Our expectations for the tournament are already low. I purposefully lower them due to the arbitrary nature of any large national tournament; judges have wildly different ideas of what’s good and what isn’t, especially across regions, and so you can never set any store by expectations. We also don’t have the thrill of the travel-hotel-team experience; we could just as easily not pay $770 and still hang out the weekend in Boston if we wanted to. I had a good group of talented kids there; but we also had a good group of talented kids go on vacation instead.
However, the forensics world would rather like something in return for the largest check it writes all year, both individually and collectively. The fees at Harvard are a frequent item of discussion, especially when you add in the sheer size of the tournament. You can do the math and get an idea of the floor of their revenues from the entry fees; note that these figures do not include entries who dropped after paying, or hired judging; even if they were to hire a judge for every hiring fee they took in, which is good practice, they still have their own students judge some rounds, so judging fees do not necessarily net zero profit for them. Here’s the table:
|Harvard Tournament Revenue|
Now, that is revenue, mind, not profit; they do outlay quite a bit of that money on food, trophies, staffing, paper, shuttles, and above all rooms. I can attest how difficult and expensive room rentals can be at a college campus. However, that is also a staggering sum of money, and it informs nearly every other discussion of, and criticism of, the Harvard tournament. If the forensics world is collectively laying out a princely sum, it’s not unfair to expect a princely tournament in return.
So is that what we get? That brings us to Saturday.