Rule Changes to NCFCA Apologetics

With hardly a hint, the NCFCA has revised the rules for Apol (see here). The revision says “September 2010”, but I haven’t seen anyone discussing it. From what I can tell, “they” eliminated the FAQ reference and just combined the FAQ with the official rules (a change that most people will find more than welcome). The rules, however, still remain unnumbered –a particular frustration when you’re trying to discuss the rules in writing.

Obviously, the Judges Worksheet was also updated but the official ballot and topics are still unchanged from September ’09 and October ’04 respectively.

I combined the old rules with the new rules and generated the document below so you can see the changes for yourself:

Apol Rule Changes (September 2010)

A few observations:

-I still think saying “No outside sources may be brought into the room” in rule 8 sounds like a contradiction to the first three rules which explicitly state that a student may have “quotations” and “research” and that “All sources must be cited in the speech.” I know what they mean, but the language is confusing. This could be especially confusing to dual-enrolled NCFCA/Stoa students. The NCFCA rule reads, “No outside sources” and the Stoa rule reads, “must be…supported…from outside sources.”

Why not just say, “The only outside resources that may be used by speakers during the round are a Bible, previously prepared 4×6 cards, and blank 4×6 cards”? This seems to be Stoa’s approach, “During prep time, speakers may use Bibles, access card files and write additional notes on note cards. During the speech, however, speakers may use only note cards and not their Bibles.”

-The new rules make the 4×6 requirement more explicit. By my count, “4×6” is inserted four extra times.

-One addition that I find quite humorous (and in my opinion the most significant change in the whole document) is, “Speakers will not disclose the topics to other individuals until after the round has finished.”

Honestly, I’ve wondered about this for a while now. Here’s the situation:

1. Each Apol room only runs one category (This isn’t a secret, it’s a rule.)
2. Competitors are not allowed to listen to speeches before hand for obvious reasons (a standard rule for impromptu/extemp events)
3. This means that if a student were sitting in the hall waiting to speak and came to learn which category was being run, that would reduce the number of topics that a student would need to be concerned about by at least 69%
(Everyone knows that out of the 5 categories, Cat 1 is the biggest with 31 topics. So the percentage of eliminated topics increases with every other category. For instance, if a student learned that a room was running Cat 2 or 4, that would reduce the possible topics by 85%).

So the problem is, if a speaker comes out of an Apol room and says to a waiting speaker, “Oh my gosh, I got the stupid Marx quote!” Then the dear, waiting speaker knows several things:

1. The room is running Category 4
2. Category 4 has 15 topics
3. They can forget about the other 85 topics.
4. Their chance of drawing a SA is 46%. For drawing a Def or GQ, it’s about 26% each. Keep in mind, this is for each topic drawn. So every time a student puts their finger on a topic, there’s about a 50/50 chance that it will be either a SA or Def/GQ.
5. They will also know that the Marx quote was already used, so that reduces the SA possibilities by one bringing the chance of drawing an SA from 46% to 40%
7. The waiting speaker can then decide which sub-category they’re more comfortable with and focus on that. With a spread of at most 4-4-6 on the table, the student can choose to focus on the 8 Def/GQs or the 6 SAs waiting for her/his turn in the round.
8. Thus, a student who, two seconds earlier, was concerned about being ready for 100 topics, ended up only needing to focus on 8 or 6, whichever they prefer. And then that student will have 4 minutes to choose from the 3 drawn.

So, I think it’s a good rule. Now, how on earth you enforce that rule is a completely different issue.

By the way, Stoa’s Apol rules do not yet address this blaring loophole.

And here is some advise to all competing Apologetics students: Keep your mouth shut until after the round.

I’m glad the NCFCA finally took a swing at this. And the wording seems intentionally crafted, but I have a question about the grammar. The rule states:

“Speakers will not disclose the topics to other individuals until after the round has finished.”

“Speakers” is plural, does that mean the speakers in the round or all competing speakers? Further, shouldn’t it also include anyone who has observed the round? Doesn’t the language of this rule mean that anyone except the speaker may disclose the topics to other individuals?

Basically, as the rule is worded, I don’t think it solves the problem. By narrowing the affected parties to merely “speakers” it excludes parents, coaches, fellow club members, siblings, extended family members and anyone with a cellphone.

Consider this likely possibility: a completely innocent, non-Apol speaker decides to sit-in on a Apol round (not uncommon in our club). One of the Apol speakers gets the Marx quote. Non-Apol speaker gets bored (also not uncommon) and leaves between speakers innocently remarking to a waiting student, “Oh my gosh, she got the Marx quote!” So now we have the same scenario, but the rule was followed to the letter.

What do you think of this wording instead,

“All topics used in the round will not be disclosed outside of the room until after the round is completed.”

I think this works on several levels. By putting “topics” as the subject it makes the topics the focus of the rule. I think the problem with the wording of the current rule is that it focuses on the speakers not doing something rather than the topics being kept secret. Second, it specifically address the problem by putting a geographical restriction on the disclosure in addition to the chronological restriction. This way, the non-disclosure rule covers everyone rather than just the speakers and “individuals” (as if the speakers are the only ones who know what the topics are) Therefore, the spirit of the law becomes, “The topics for each round will be disclosed in the room during the round. Period.” which I think is what the rule is trying to say.

The only problem I can see is that “the room” implies a sort of technical definition that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the rules (plus it might give some of my peers a flash back to Josh Harris’ short story).



Clearly, these changes have a way to go still, but all in all I think it’s a step in the right direction. And I’m glad for that.

(updated 10:41am)

2 thoughts on “Rule Changes to NCFCA Apologetics

  • October 26, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Hmm. this is really interesting. I had no idea they changed them again, but I agree. I think this is a overall a good change.

    I could tell that this last year they really started cracking down on people who shared topics outside of rooms. no, not perfectly enforced, but people seemed to a fairly decent job. I think you’re right about their vague rule about this though…I think yours seemed to cover it better.

    One thing that bugs me about the rules is the requirement that people use 4×6 cards. I believe it used to be that that was the maximum size, which makes sense. but if someone uses 3×5 cards instead, why does that really matter? They even disqualified at least one person that I know of because he used 3×5 cards. Doesn’t make sense to me… any thoughts?

  • October 27, 2010 at 10:53 am

    @Lauren: What did “cracking down” looked like last year?

    As I was writing this post and then again when I read your comment, I wonder if the simplest solution to this problem is just to remove the category-per-round rule. Really, the only problem with revealing your topic is that every room is running just one category. If you eliminate the category restriction, then nobody cares because the other topics could still be any of the other 100.

    Granted, this would make for a much more involved preparation to make sure that no speaker would get the same topic twice, but it’s doable.

    I’m not sure why there’s such a crush on 4×6 cards. Obviously, 4×6 cards allow for more content (and since most students are writing platform-like speeches for each topic, it makes sense to want the room), so if you combine the obvious benefit with a strong desire for uniformity, you get a requirement.

    Plus, it’s worth noting the 4×6 requirement isn’t new, it’s just more explicate. It’s been there all along, they just added it a bunch more times –probably because of the confusion.

    It’s really unfortunate that a student would get DQ-d over something like that. (Although, almost every time I hear a Apol speech, I know the student should be DQ-d for not source citing. But that’s a different discussion.) It’s hard not to be swept away by the anecdote, but think about it: A student getting DQ-d for 3×6 cards is a martyr; every 3×6-card-using student getting DQ-d is enforcement. It’s the inconsistent enforcement that makes it an injustice, but is there really a way to know how consistently it was enforced?

    Still, I think we should do a better job of informing coaches and students about the rules and about changes to those rules.

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