We would like to issue an apology of sorts. For as many as 10 years now we have discussed Binghamton University’s speech and debate team as though they were, as the rankings we were given suggested, among the cream of the crop in collegiate policy debate.
BU is ranked fourth in the nation overall in debate, so it was only natural that we assumed that this meant we had some of the best debaters in the country, maybe even the best. Even the University published this ranking on their website and bragged about it during tours without any clarification or explanation.
But in fact, our best pair of policy debaters are probably not in the top 20 nationally, and may in fact be ranked somewhere between 20th and 40th.
We don’t want to diminish their achievement, though. This is actually one hell of an accomplishment. It means that our debate team is more successful than all but one of our sports teams, but it certainly doesn’t explain how we can be fourth overall.
The top-level debaters compete in varsity debate, but the ranking system that places Binghamton fourth also considers how teams fare in the less prestigious junior varsity and novice debate. It is in these lower divisions that Binghamton thrives. The coach of Binghamton’s debate team said that his program puts extra emphasis on students new to debate, while many of the top-tier programs — who win at varsity debate, the highest level — focus on recruiting high school debaters.
We are not disputing Binghamton’s ranking, nor dismissing their accomplishments; rather, we are saying that we have not made it clear — nor has it been made clear to us — that as far as top-tier debate schools are concerned, we are not the top dog.
As far as we understand it, the overall ranking of a school is akin to ranking a high school soccer team by totaling their freshman, JV and varsity accomplishments. And while this is important, we want to make it clear that the big guys focus their concerns on success only at the varsity level. At the varsity level, we are only at 55 in the nation — hardly the amongst the best in the nation.
Maybe it wasn’t the most egregious of mistakes, but we should have done our research to understand the full story.