Changes for the 2019 NPTE


Hello friends,

We hope that you are enjoying the start of a new academic year and a new season of debate. The NPTE board has been busy over the last few months making changes and improvements – we wanted to publish an update so you know what to expect during the year and at the 2019 NPTE in Reno.

Points formula

The NPTE has adopted a few changes to the points formula, effective this season.

First, we removed the bonus point for teams that have a .500 record but do not clear. This bonus point created a skew where tournaments with an even number of rounds were more lucrative than tournaments with an odd number of rounds (because of the extra .500 teams receiving points).

Second, the formula now awards 2 points to teams which have a winning (better than .500) record or clear to elims in the top half of the field. (This was previously 1 point, but we increased it to 2 because otherwise the new formula would award substantially fewer points than the old one which we felt was undesirable.)

Third, we now award partial points for partial elimination rounds. Under the old formula, if one partial double octafinals debate was held, every team that received a bye through doubles would get a full point. This created a perverse incentive for tournaments to stretch to hold a single partials debate (even if it doesn’t really make sense for their schedule or pool). The new formula awards a fractional point based on the number of debates held. If there is 1 double octafinals debate, each team that wins or byes in doubles would receive 1/16 points for advancing; if there are 8 double octafinals debates, each team would receive ½ of a point for advancing, and so forth.

Fourth, we have removed the tournament winner bonus and replaced it with an escalating point structure for elims. A win or bye in the first full elimination round is worth 1 point, and each subsequent elimination round win or bye is worth 0.2 points more than the previous one (so winning the second full elim gets you 1.2 points, winning the third gets you 1.4 points, etc.). When analyzing results from last season, we found that this structure creates a more even balance in the points-per-team awarded by large and small tournaments (because large tournaments can now award more points through the escalating structure, whereas previously large and small tournaments alike awarded the same tournament winner bonus). We also believe that this structure more fairly distributes points – teams that reach semis of a large tournament should be proportionally rewarded as well, rather than concentrating the points given just to the tournament winner.

Let us know if you have any questions about how the updated formula works. The results estimator on the NPTE website is also updated to reflect the new formula, if you would like to simulate some results and understand how points will be awarded.

Topic process

The NPTE has voted to reduce the number of topics to five, with no controversy areas and topics being reused in later debates. The NPTE has also voted to accelerate the topic process; we will release the five topics on January 1, and the finalized wordings on January 15. Regular season tournaments are welcome to utilize the NPTE topics if they wish to do so.

The topic selection process remains largely the same as it is today. Rather than submitting a paper about a controversy area (with six potential resolutions), students/coaches/members of the community may submit a paper about a single topic (with information about the background/importance of the topic, potential aff/neg ground, and a bibliography). NPTE member schools will then rank the topics and we will utilize the five topics with the most votes. A topic committee will workshop the five selected topics and make any necessary wording adjustments (and the community may also provide feedback on the wordings of the selected topics).

We recognize that the change from fifteen to five topics is a substantial one. There were a few compelling reasons that drove us to adopt this change:

First, it is inevitable that some of the debates teams have at the NPTE will not be about the topic. We think that the NPTE is indeed a tournament of excellence, and we want to provide an environment where students can read whatever arguments they excel at. But we understand the frustration that other teams felt when they were not able to utilize a large portion of their topic research (because they only got one shot to debate each topic). And even if every round was about the topic, you still might not get to use some of your research if you didn’t have any teams on a particular side of the topic. Topic reuse significantly improves the chances that teams will get to utilize all or nearly all of their research, which we think is good and also encourages teams to be more invested in the research process.

Second, we think that the smaller number of topics will increase the overall quality of the topics, and may increase the number of topic paper submissions. There was a high barrier to entry for people who wished to submit a topic paper: it is relatively easy to write a topic you would like to debate about, and write justifications for why it is a good topic; but it is relatively difficult to craft a controversy area with six resolutions that are sufficiently distinct from each other but also share core ground. Similarly, it is a hard ask for the community to research 30 resolutions to suggest to us which 15 we ought to select, or even for the community to provide detailed feedback on the wording of 15 resolutions. We have received a fairly low amount of community input in each of the years utilizing this process. But it is relatively easier to review a slate of five resolutions and provide good, detailed feedback about the wordings of each one. We believe that reducing the number of topics will allow us to craft five excellent topics, rather than 15 topics of varying quality.

Elimination round structure

We expect about 32 teams to qualify and attend the NPTE this year. The thresholds are the same (18 points, or 12 points for the first team from a school) but the new points formula makes it slightly harder overall to earn points. We have also eliminated “filler bids” – we will not be accepting extra teams with fewer than 18 points just to pad the tournament entry. We think that qualifying to the NPTE should be an accomplishment in itself, requiring a consistent pattern of success at the tournaments you attend during the year, and the changes we’ve made are meant to reestablish that the NPTE is indeed the premier tournament for teams that demonstrate excellence.

With a smaller, more competitive tournament, it is obviously not viable to clear 32 teams. The board has voted instead to clear the top 16 teams. If there are more than 16 teams with a 7-5 record, we will hold a single elimination runoff round to get down to 16. The double elimination structure is largely the same – the main differences are that there are only seven elimination rounds (rather than eight), and that the last undefeated team receives a bye in the two rounds before finals (rather than one).

What’s next?

There are two issues still on the NPTE’s plate for this year: topic choice in elims and MPJ.

Topic choice was a popular feature of elimination rounds throughout most of the NPTE’s history. The tournament would present two topics; one team would choose their side and the other team would choose which topic they debated. Topic choice was eliminated in 2015 in order to reduce the research burden (without topic reuse, offering two topics for each elim requires substantially more topics overall). However, with topic reuse, it would be easy to reintroduce topic choice as well. There are a few ways we could do this: the tournament could offer two of the topics for each elim (similar to the old process); or the tournament could offer three topics and the teams take turns striking them down; or the team choosing the topic could choose any of the five topics (and the other team gets to choose their side on the selected topic). Please send us any feedback you may have about whether we should reintroduce topic choice and if so what method we should use.

For MPJ, we have an ongoing public discussion thread about whether we should switch back to pure MPJ (rather than MPJ with mutuality heavily weighted, which is the status quo). We are also getting in touch with Gary Larson (who created MPJ and continues to tab tournaments for the policy debate community) to understand how policy tournaments are addressing racial and gender disparities in judge placements with MPJ. Please send us any feedback you may have on this issue as well.


Thank you for reading! It’s been a busy few months, but we are confident that these improvements will make the 2019 NPTE the best one yet. We look forward to seeing you in Reno in March!

- The NPTE board

Rebecca Sietman
Ashley Nuckels-Cuevas
Zach Schneider
Joe Blasdel
Kyle Dennis