CEDA Cost Committee

Tournament Report

John Meany

Claremont Colleges


Tournament participation is the central focus of competitive debate. Stable and affordable regional and national event opportunities are essential to competitive success, educational training and skill acquisition, and student recruiting and retention. Debate program directors, however, have had an increasingly hard time providing competitive opportunities for students due to higher costs associated with tournament participation. The administrative difficulties of fundraising and financial management are compounded by inconsistencies in tournament pricing policies and some reductions in traditional, cost-saving, tournament amenities.

Many directors cope with cost increases by relying on traditional program funding support; they regularly lobby their administrations and alumni for tournament and travel budget supplements and in-kind support. Indeed, the roles of budgetary analyst and fund-raiser have become important skills for a modern debate director. The director must now also become an effective cost manager; any approach to cost-control measures quickly focuses attention on the significant expenditures of tournament participation.

Tournament directors and attendees have participated in regional and national events for so long that their involvement in the tournament is almost a casual, routine, and unreflecting action. It is now time to probe the standards and practices of tournament design and cost for the mutual benefit of tournament hosts and guests. After all, there is a rewarding, social relationship between tournament hosts and guests. Tournament hosts and guests engage in a joint action that strengthens the bonds of the debate community and offers opportunities for learning and competition. Increasing tournament costs, and subsequent limitations on student participation in competitive events, threatens the productive social relations in contemporary forensics.

This report will investigate the issues of tournament cost control with a focus on the following subject areas: information gathering, event coordination, event design, cost containment, and accounting procedures.


I Information Gathering

While there has been considerable public discussion and anecdotal information regarding the difficulties of financing a competitive debate program, more information regarding the attitudes and opinions of the CEDA membership would assist private (individual tournament) development of cost control policies. A survey of the membership might also show the willingness of members to charge the national organization with specific duties and responsibilities to reduce tournament costs.

Attached is a sample survey for the CEDA membership on the issue of tournament services and cost containment.


II Event Coordination

Each forensics program is unique, offering different forms of event competition, in regional and/or national events, for different student populations. Although each program director is obliged to serve the needs of her/his students, the singular direction of each program is superseded by the need for social organization of tournaments. In order to maintain a viable series of competitive events, tournament hosts and guests must cooperate with each other in establishing a network of relations and community standards that guide mutual self-interest.

The national organization and/or individual tournament host can assist event participants with a variety of cooperative measures to reduce tournament expenses, particularly travel and lodging costs.

Travel coordination

The national organization and/or individual tournament host can increase efforts to coordinate tournament travel. Many debate programs travel from the same local area to a tournament destination. Coordinated area travel, including van pools, charter buses, group airline rates, and other ride-sharing efforts can significantly reduce the travel costs for programs.

Housing coordination

The national organization and/or individual tournament host can increase efforts to coordinate tournament lodging. Many programs, attending a tournament, reserve hotel lodging optimally priced for four individuals, for less than four participants. Central housing administration, guaranteeing housing in a hotel room with three other occupants, could significantly reduce the lodging costs for programs.

Travel and housing coordination might be accomplished with a web site listing available travel and housing opportunities at tournaments (a virtual ride board and hostel site). Tournament administrators might also consider managing group travel and housing arrangements for any parties requesting this preference.

In addition, any discussion regarding tournament calendar coordination should consider the issue of cost. Calendar coordination, accounting for seasonal air fare discounts, the need for a balanced schedule, i.e., scheduling of events throughout the year in each region, etc., might also reduce tournament travel costs.


III Event Design

Modifications in tournament daily event scheduling, services, and awards might significantly reduce tournament costs for attendees.

Event Scheduling

Many tournaments, particularly traditional CEDA tournaments, sponsor participation in a variety of competitive forensic events, including Lincoln-Douglas debate, parliamentary debate, and individual events. Tournament attendees may participate in any of the events. Quite frequently, participating colleges register for only a single event. Tournament directors should make efforts to design an event schedule that allows for the least number of days of participation per event. In other words, tournament participants should expect to participate in an event for the same number of days that a tournament, solely devoted to that event, would require for successful completion of that event. In addition, tournament attendees should not be "held hostage" for a final awards presentation or for ballot distribution. Participants should be permitted to leave, at the formal completion of their participation in the tournament, with their awards and ballots.

Attached are sample schedules for Friday-Sunday and Saturday-Monday tournaments, featuring policy debate, parliamentary debate, and individual events. The schedules allow any interested student to participate in debate and both patterns of individual events. The schedules would limit parliamentary debate and individual events to a single day of competition, with the exception of later elimination rounds. This would decrease lodging expenses and increase program planning flexibility for discounted air fares.

IV Cost Containment


There are a number of direct actions that can be taken by tournament directors to reduce the costs of tournament guests.


Two important services, previously available at the majority of intercollegiate tournaments, are slowly disappearing from standard tournament amenities. These services are the provision of free housing ('crash' accommodation in dormitories or lounges) and free or nominally charged transportation to and from the designated tournament hotel to the tournament site. These services reduce significant lodging and rental vehicle expenses for attendees. Tournament directors should consider offering or reinstating these services.


A number of tournaments have experimented with 'alternative' awards, although the practice of presenting alternatives to traditional awards has not always been used as a technique for cost control and has sometimes increased the overall cost of awards.

Tournament directors should consider alternative awards that reduce award costs. They should also consider fee waivers or vouchers for subsequent tournament competitions as a tournament award. Tournament directors might also consider the radical notion of elimination or substitution of inexpensive awards (e.g., certificates of achievement) in a number of categories, reserving awards presentations for the top performers in a tournament (e.g., semi-finalists and finalists, top five speakers).

A less radical approach would leave the presentation of awards to the college or university that received the award. In this model, a tournament would only verify team/individual success at a tournament with a token award, perhaps with a certificate of achievement. The recipient would then have the option of selecting and paying for an award for the event. This would give award recipients the choice to reduce their tournament entry fees that otherwise subsidize awards.

This model would also bring some equity to tournament fee structures. Expenses for awards are underwritten by all tournament participants; however, awards and other amenities are not shared by all tournament attendees. A select number of participants receive a greater proportion of tournament awards and services. Successful competitors receive the lion's share of awards, receive a disproportionate share of the hired judging due to participation in later elimination rounds, and participate in final receptions, "survivor's parties", etc. New programs and inexperienced students indirectly subsidize the more established programs and skillful participants. Tournament directors might consider more equitable burden-sharing, through the use of exit fees, Gary Larson's proposal for proportional judging payment, and award purchase by recipients. This would reduce costs for many of the programs responsible for organizational growth and diversity.


V. Accounting/Reporting

The national organization, tournament hosts, and program directors should commit to budget planning, sound decision-making, and institutional growth and diversity. Financial evaluation of tournament operations provides important information to promote these goals. Detailed reporting of tournament income and expenditures would serve to establish an open dialogue on tournament practice and cost containment. Disclosure of income and expense statements would allow program directors to make responsible decisions regarding the appropriate use of their own resources. Disclosure would reduce the likelihood for fraud, waste, and inefficiencies, releasing funds necessary to promote outreach, diversity, scholarship, coach and judge training, and other important programs.

The principle of disclosure would apply the methods of basic accounting to tournament administration, namely, the recording, classifying, and summarizing, in a significant manner, the terms of all the transactions which are, at least in part, of a financial character, and offering an interpretation of the results. The methods should encompass all procedures, transactions, and records policies, incorporate creative cost-control measures, and serve as a linkage to any information network or compliance procedure. The procedures should be examined and evaluated by qualified accounting personnel.

Tournaments should prepare reports that determine all sources of income and summarize significant expenditures, including who received each payment, the total amount of each expense, the date of the payment, the address where a payment was sent, and a description of how a payment was made. The report should summarize income and expenses, offering a trend analysis for budgeting and financial forecasting, strategic planning, and data review and evaluation.

Tournament reports would provide information of service performance, comprehensive information for program budgeting, and guidelines for new tournament hosts. It should promote informed discussion on cost reduction techniques. Disclosure should establish an element of trust for tournament hosts and guests-it is an action that commits to debate's interrelations, that commits to debate's dependencies, cooperative endeavors, social interactions, and collective movements, that are important for the construction of a meaningful community. It should also eliminate or substantially curtail any practices of off-book accounting, i.e., payment of bills unrelated to the event, including employment payments made for tax avoidance or that violate college or university hiring policies.

The national organization can commit to policies of disclosure to encourage common expectations and fair practices regarding tournament fee structures; it can promote cohesion for the entire debate community. Disclosure is a recommendation for coordination of financial management. The national organization can address disclosure as a goal or can set a requirement for disclosure, i.e., financial disclosure as a condition for tournament sanctioning by the national organization.