The Last Harvard: Recap

So let’s sum it all up.

Apart from some of the inherent problems with various events, which are not the tournament’s own fault, discussion of the Harvard tournament inevitably settles on its flaws and faults, not on its strengths.  The strengths are the strengths of the community; the sense of seeing a large gathering of forensicators in one place at the same time.  I didn’t actually get to see even half the folks I wanted to share a meal with going into the weekend, and yet my weekend was still relatively full.

The tournament staff itself is cut off.  I can sort of blame the tournament staff for it, even though it’s not really a failure of intent; they do try to ferret out advice and feedback.  However, they’re simply not part of our community.  The directors and staff have their own tournaments every other weekend of the year.  They go to exactly one high school tournament, and that’s their own.  No amount of soliciting feedback and advice is going to make up for that, especially since coaches and people are lazy and most won’t bother to commit their thoughts and ideas to email or paper.   Even when they do, the directors are left not really knowing whose feedback and advice to follow.

The crucial advantage to the college tournaments I help run is not so much me, as the fact that many other coaches are stupid gracious enough to help me run them.  I provide continuity and the portal in; but the posse I belong to matters most.  Each of the four college tournaments has many experienced tabbers who hail from multiple states; thus at Yale you have folks who collectively run about 150 other tab rooms during the course of a school year, and thus have access to all the lessons and experience that carries.  The college hosts have a chorus of ideas, a parliament of sorts, who can help them sort out the spurious complaints from the real, the good ideas from the failed.

The Harvard staff have one over the other colleges, in that they’re grownups, who come back year after year the way I do.  So that helps, but it’s not a total solution.  Their links to the community are weak, and so they’ve failed to adapt to a lot of best practices for simple lack of seeing them in action elsewhere, and refining them week after week the way our posse does.  And at a certain point I have to stop apologizing for people who are making a quarter million dollars off the community, and still don’t provide enough food in the judges’ lounges; our PF judge almost starved on Saturday evening as a result.

So the answer is to go elsewhere.  Since there aren’t many tournaments that weekend, I may as well put one of my own there.  UPenn has been squeezed out of a clear date in October by the calendar again.  They have to compete against someone, and I’d rather compete against another college tournament than a high school hosted affair.  Of the 130 schools that attend Yale, a good 60 or so do not go to Harvard.  Lots of folks I know stay home rather than go to a tournament at all.

So we’re going throw ourselves a nice, gentle, inexpensive affair down in Philadelphia next year on President’s Day weekend.  The money goes to Perspectives, which teaches LD debate to inner city high school students, thus keeping it in the family.  I know it’s bold, but I think we can make it work; for my PF entries, at least, attending UPenn will actually be cheaper than going to Harvard, even including hotel costs.  I wish the Harvard tournament well for what it is, and indeed hope the competition, for what it’s worth, helps them improve as well.  But next year, we head southwards.