What Ivy League? BU’s Debate team is among best in the country

Despite coming from a comparatively lesser-known school with a limited budget and modest resources, Binghamton University’s debate team still manages to override big name schools — ranking second regionally and in the national top 10.

Sarah Oren / Staff Photographer

Their most recent victory occurred on Oct. 28 at West Point Military Academy’s 39th Annual invitational tournament. The novice section made the semifinals, and the varsity team, comprised of juniors Matt Malia and Jake Gartman, won over Cornell University, earning the honorary traveling trophy — the West Point Sword. Binghamton’s name was engraved on the plaque, joining past winning universities over a 39 year span — a first for BU.

This is surprising, seeing how seemingly independent the team is in regard to other tightly run debaters at big name universities. Binghamton’s debate team is held together by only one coach and, newly added this semester, an assistant coach.

“Schatz does a great job with what he has. He definitely makes a big impact on the team,” Malia said of coach Joe Schatz, a doctoral student at BU.

Notable debate teams are generally backed with an extensive coaching faculty, which not only guides the team, but also helps provide research for arguments to be used during tournaments — something BU’s debate team members do entirely on their own.

Debate topics encompass complex Supreme Court cases such as Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Ex parte Quirin — issues with numerous details which require in-depth analysis. “We read everything from foreign policy journals to Foucault. You have to be prepared for anything,” Malia said.

For instance, Liberty University, a fundamentalist Baptist school in Virginia, is highly conservative in their viewpoints, and the team must be able to enter a tournament with that knowledge. They realize that they must understand and consider the counter-arguements in order to make a strong argument themselves.

According to Schatz, the team spends on average 15 to 20 hours per week practicing and researching and even more time on a tournament week. One practice exercise includes speaking 500 to 600 words per minute, which is, apparently, five times the speed the average human speaks.

“Ivy League schools often over-estimate themselves,” Schatz said. “We’re better at strategizing, I think, because of that. These kids are equally as smart as those from other schools.”

The policy debaters have been on the rise since 2001, a point at which the team was entirely student run. They hit the top 10 in 2004 and currently stand as second in the region — a position Schatz believes would be higher had the team competed in more than three major tournaments this semester.

However, budget issues — a limit of $20,000 per year, instead of the average $50,000 of other universities — prove to be a bit of a road block.

“We have the smallest budget out of anyone in the top 10,” Schatz said.

Confined to a $20,000 limit, the team is often faced with more humble means of transportation. This coming weekend the team will be heading to North Carolina for another tournament, and, instead of traveling by plane, they will be trekking down by bus.

“We have to plan everything on our own, from the cheapest hotels to transportation,” Malia said.

However, according to Schatz, with BU’s rising reputation, many schools have begun to reduce the registration fees for tournaments; being in the top 10 has turned them into sought after competition.

For the 2005-2006 season, Binghamton ranked among top Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Dartmouth in several national affiliated debate organizations, including the National Debate Tournament (NDT), the American Debate Association (ADA) and the Cross-Examination Debate Association (CEDA).

Out of the four tournaments this semester, BU has won three — West Point, King’s College and Cornell. The last was a complete victory, because both varsity and novice sections came in first.

The team will be heading to Wake Forest, N.C., this weekend for another tournament.