You probably didn’t hear about it on SportsCenter, but last month Cornell University made it to the “Elite Eight” — not in the NCAA basketball tournament, but in the premier tournament for collegiate debaters, sponsored by the Cross Examination Debate Association. It marked the first time in more than a decade that the Cornell Policy Debate Team made it to the fourth elimination round.
The debate team sent two teams with two students each to the CEDA tournament. Craig Murray ’06 and Jeff Granillo ’04 were knocked out of the first round of elimination while Dan Klaff ’04 and Aaron Franklin ’05 beat teams from Gonzaga University, the University of Kansas and New York University before being eliminated by Emory University.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Klaff said that there are, “almost 200 teams that go from around the nation.”
Although they were underdogs coming into the tournament, the debate team ultimately defied the odds.
“We had a bunch of real good debaters, I think we were under some teams’ radars,” Franklin said.
Klaff was also ranked the ninth best speaker at the tournament. The judging at the CEDA tournament is done not by points, but primarily by the judges’ subjective sense of which team won. One judge decides non-elimination rounds while three judges decide elimination rounds.
“The judge votes for whoever they think won the argument in the debate,” said Lara Douglas, coach of the debate team.
Klaff called the judging, “far from totally objective,” and Franklin felt that Emory’s reputation gave them an unfair advantage before entering their round against the debate team.
“They’re less than a rival to us, they’re more like Duke,” Klaff said, referring to the Duke Blue Devils basketball team’s legendary success in the NCAA basketball tournament.
“[Emory is] historically always good,” Klaff added.
Franklin called the Policy Deabte Team’s third round victory against NYU, “a remarkable win.” Other members of the team stayed up the night before, “doing a whole lot of extra work,” Franklin said.
According to Franklin, NYU expected to mainly counter Klaff’s arguments, but Klaff focused instead on Franklin’s arguments. By forcing rebuttal on Franklin’s arguments, NYU was caught unprepared.
“That’s how we won the NYU round pretty easily,” Franklin said. “Dan’s the ‘A’ guy, I’m like the middle guy.”
The general topic for the CEDA tournament was Europe’s relation and reaction to United States foreign policy; individual debate topics ranged from the war on Iraq to genetically modified food to trade policy to the cancellation of Turkey’s debt.
Douglas compiles much of the evidence debaters use.
“Part of the job of the coach is to do a lot of research on the topic,” Douglas said. “I help them keep their files organized and help keep the logistics organized.”
The debate team’s win this year bodes well for their future, concerning both recruiting and their national prominence. “It makes [next years’ team] much more of a force to be reckoned with,” Douglas noted.
Although Klaff will graduate in May, and the rest of the team is “pretty young”, he hopes that the strong showing at the CEDA tournament “will help us recruit high school debaters.”
“It can only help us get more funding but that’s always an uphill battle,” he added.
The CEDA tournament took place in Louisville, K.Y. from March 19 to 22.
Archived article by Clark Merrefield
Sun Staff Writer