Thursday, January 11, 2018

In which blood is spilled

I’m always saying that, you know, it wouldn’t kill people to read the invitation. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it is killing them. Maybe we’re leaving a trail of corpses across the country, reckless debate coaches who, seeing that a tournament is open for registration, decide to read the invitation and find out what the tournament is all about and how it is going to run. I can see them looking at their iPhone 6’s as the batteries winkle out, and then the phone drops through their rigid fingers, and they fall face-first to the ground, stone cold dead before their noses hit the pavement. It could be happening.

CP used to say that he would bury Easter Eggs in his invitations, to encourage people to read them. I’m pretty sure that he gave Get Out of Smarm Free cards to anyone who could prove that they had made it to the end. He also had a form letter he would send as a reply to any question that was, indeed, answered in the invitation. Sort of a Get Into Smarm Free sort of automated response. Don’t go into a smarm fight with CP unless you’re fully armed, and even then, don’t expect to come out a winner. Not going to happen.

Most of the college invitations are cut-and-paste jobs from the previous years, and the hosts ask me to vet them, which is hard to do, because they look right by default because they’ve been honed by the winds of time. Sometimes stuff does get through, but mostly we catch it. We certainly home in on where it matters, like keeping out the riffraff and preventing shenanigans and, occasionally, the dreaded he-nanigans. Of course, in addition to all those coaches we’ve killed by asking them to read the invite, there are also those who can’t find it. Anywhere. It’s not on tabroom, it’s not under the cushions of the comfy chair, it’s not in the custodian’s closet, the dog didn’t eat it—where can it be? Well, I guess with those folks, it’s good that they can’t find it. Otherwise they’d wake up dead the next morning. After all, everyone knows that reading the invitation can kill you. 


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

In which we go behind the scenes

Here’s some of my emails, slightly edited, from various college tournaments.

Q: Why can’t I see my registration?
A: You don’t have one.

Q: Why can’t I see my entries?
A: You didn’t put in any.

Q: Where am I on the wait list?
A: I just moved you to the very bottom as punishment for asking this question which I already told you I couldn’t answer. There are now 103 teams ahead of you.

Q: I have no judge, and I’m an independent, unchaperoned entry. What are my chances of getting into the tournament?
A: Think snowballs. Think hell.

Q: Why can’t I see my invoice?
A: Your glasses are dirty? You’re stone cold drunk? You’re Donald Trump?

Q: Could you please relate to me all the information that is in the invitation?
A: No.

Q: I signed up yesterday for your tournament next week, and I need to get plane tickets and hotel rooms. I’m obviously important because I come from far away. Why aren’t you taking me off the waitlist?
A: You're right. I’m moving you up the list, right before the snowballs/hell entry.

Q: If you don’t let in all my entries, I’m dropping my entire registration. So there!
A: That’s not a question. And I’ve got 103 teams in one division alone who will be happy not to see you.

High school tournaments aren’t quite as bad. You get the feeling that high school tournaments are attended by people who’ve attended tournaments in the past, while college tournaments somehow seem to get the runoff from the school's Tropical Fish Club venturing forth for the first time.

Makes you feel sorry for the koi.


Tuesday, January 09, 2018

In which we roll 'em, roll 'em, roll 'em

The United States should abolish the capital gains tax? That’s the PF resolution for February. I like it. First of all, it will push education of everything surrounding capital gains taxes, and then the politics of taxes, and why some things are taxed at one rate and other things at another rate, perhaps benefiting the haves over the have nots, etc., etc., etc. Much more satisfying than, say, the LD plea bargaining topic. I find that one forces debaters to go weird, rather than facing something head on. I’ve talked about it before. Given that plea bargaining is the only way the US justice system can work, abolishing it seems a bit…overwrought. I talked to Alston about it recently, and he took partial blame/credit for it being on the list. I think Vaughan also claimed partial credit. I think they’re both crazy, but that’s maybe why they’ve still got their heads way into LD and I don’t. Haven’t for a while, actually.

I wonder if we’ve learned yet how to conduct PF. The rolling topic machine forcing you to start researching the next topic before you’ve debated the last one is an interesting problem. It’s obviously solvable for students willing to go the distance—just work really, really hard—but one of the things I like about PF is the possibility that students might debate without going the distance. That is, it can be one of their activities, not their end-all, be-all. More debate to more people, in other words. But how does one keep students involved in that revolving door of resolutions? The activity probably ends up attracting and retaining students who like attacking new ideas regularly, but who have the ability to build a structural approach to debate itself that stands despite the rezzes. But at the same time, this can lead to a repetitious approach that is thin and, well, a little boring.

Not my problem anymore, of course. Me, I’m gearing up for Bigle X, although at this point, that mostly means planning dinner. All the students and judges are in place, and JV and I don’t even have to get up early on Saturday, since round 1 is at 9:00.

So civilized…


Thursday, January 04, 2018

In which we ponder what we do in the smoke-filled back rooms

There’s this great disconnect when you’re tabbing someone else’s tournament versus helping direct a tournament. With the former, you might go over things a couple of times in advance just to shore things up, but if the someone else is, say, CP or Kaz, your expectations of them not understanding how works are, shall we say, limited. On the other hand, college staffs change year to year, plus you’re running the waitlists and assigning out the judges and answering various queries. Needless to say, the latter is more time-consuming, and maybe a little more fun, although there is something to be said for stepping into a nice broken-in pair of comfy shoes like at Bigle X.

I’m a little disappointed that the per-round obligations deal at Bigle is turning out to be mostly people obligated for 6 rounds. It seems to me that last year we had a lot more occasional judges, which was sort of entertaining to balance out against the prefs. The more there is to do in tabbing, the more fun it is. Since tabroom does 95% of the work, mostly that just means making sure that the prefs are good (e.g., 2-3s instead of 1-2s) and then making sure that people show up and finish up. The pool as a whole, i.e., all judges under the sun, is getting better at it. At the point where everyone understands that the only way we have of knowing what is happening is when you press start and when you enter results, and also that it is important that we know what is happening, we’ll have achieved tournament nirvana. Needless to say, I doubt that tournament nirvana is anywhere near, at this point. Way too much bad karma to clear out first.

Tomorrow TBAs will be eliminated from Columbia. Despite my having told people weeks ago that we wouldn’t accept TBAs off the waitlist, some schools have refused to name the teams they presumably are eager to place. Go figure. Of course, I only assume about a 4 out of 5 readership of official tournament emails. This, combined with a 1 out of 5 readership of tournament invitations, leads one to wonder how in the name of all that is holy do people manage to do anything productive in the world. I could be sorry that I stick to something as antediluvian as email for tournament business, but are you recommending Snapchat? Make it an Instagram story? Think deep thoughts and hope that your ESP is working?



Wednesday, January 03, 2018

In which we tell a tale of malice and mendacity

I mentioned this on the Tournament Toolkit FB page, but I can provide the full narrative here.

At the Regis Kristmas Chlassich, I set it up so that schools could mark themselves as present when they arrived. We started doing this a while ago, to make things easy for everyone. At Byram this year, however, where I’d also set it up, it wasn’t working for some reason. Maybe I set it up wrong, maybe there was a bug. Whichever. In any case, I figured not to do it for the first Regis event, but when the Christmas Klassik rolled around, I figured, what the hey, I’d give it a go.

And it worked fine. I was sitting in my ivory tower (AKA the freezing corridor where everyone enters the building letting in the cold air and I try to keep track of them), looking at the list of schools, and lo and behold, The Pirate Academy of Punks and Punkettes was signed in. Hmmmm, says I to myself, that’s unusual. As a rule PAPP is among the last to show up, and among the least likely to have all its beans in a row.

While I was pondering this conundrum, who should appear but a parent from PAPP, asking if I was the person he should pay. Why no, I replied, telling him we’d bill the school later. And by the way, I continued, all your teams are here, and all your judgebodies? He smiled warmly and told me that yes indeed, they were all present and accounted for, and with that he bade me a fond farewell and started heading for the door.

My inner alarm went off. Good sir! I cried. Where tf do you think you’re going? Why, he responded, I’m off to spend the day as I see fit, pursuing my private business that is no concern of yours. But who is chaperoning your PAPPs? I said. If one of them falls down four flights of stairs and needs to be taken to the local barber to have his head returned to his torso, who is here to sign the necessary paperwork? Pish tosh, he replied, what do I care? Well, I said, my dander now up, you are free to leave, but you can take all your teams and judgebodies along with you, because we can’t have unchaperoned students. PAPP heads were then put together, and another parent promised within a trice. The other parent did show up, and all proceeded according to Hoyle. Disaster, and unadjudicated beheading, averted.

But still, this does point up the problem of self-entry. If we don’t see you and your adult at the table, and your adult isn’t listed as your judge, well, anything can happen. And in the world we live in today, independent, unchaperoned students essentially sneaking into tournaments and hoping they don't get caught is exceedingly likely to happen. I already have a certain reputation, having thrown a student out of Bump, during the bid round no less, because I learned that he was unchaperoned. That sort of entered into legend for a while.

Here’s the thing. If something happens to a student on the premises, and there is no school representative for that student to handle it, or at least a parent representing the school, it becomes my problem. And, no, a thousand times no, I have no intention of letting that situation arise. I coached for decades and made it through relatively unscathed. I’m not going to open myself up now to handling sick or injured students who have snuck in when I wasn’t looking. For that matter, I want nothing to do with hale, hearty and intact students who have snuck in. A few minutes ago I was letting people off various waitlists for college tournaments. I can smell the independents a mile a way, bucko. Don’t even bother.

Unfair to poor independents, or schools without coaches? Perhaps. But I've said this before: as soon as your high school tennis tournaments start accepting unchaperoned, independent entries, then we'll start thinking about doing it for debate tournaments.