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Integrity During Online Tournaments

Kim Cromer
January 2, 2021
by Kim Cromer
Executive Director at NCFCA

Online tournaments present an opportunity for all of us to hone our communication skills in a new medium. This medium also presents new opportunities for pushing the boundaries of our rules. We’ve already been asked these kinds of questions: 

“What are you going to do to prevent someone from researching online during a debate or extemp round?”

“What if someone uses a friend’s Apologetics box?” 

“What if someone manipulates their time on a timepiece?” 

“What if someone downloads my case and uses it as their own?”

The reality is that first, we must count on students to honor their agreement with the NCFCA Ethics Statement. If there is an issue, we count on students (or judges) to bring it to the attention of Tournament Administration and let the Compliance system of the league work. 

As an NCFCA competitor, I am committed to the highest standards of academic integrity and ethical behavior in all areas of competitive forensics. I will comply with all tournament policies and rules whether competing in person or online. I understand that through my participation in NCFCA, I serve as a witness of Christ and will seek to reflect this in both word and deed at all times.

The highest standards of academic integrity and ethical behavior means that you follow the rules (even when no one can see you), you give credit where credit is due (if the work isn’t yours, credit the author), and you treat one another and their work with the respect that you’d want. It also means you help one another stay accountable. If you know someone is pushing or overstepping a line during the competition, speak up. Talk to your parent or coach and then talk to that person. If it isn’t resolved, it is time to involve Tournament Administration. 

Debaters all know the first question of cross-examination is often “Can I have a copy of your case?” In person, this usually means handing over a printed copy of what was presented and the negative team making notes of specifics from that copy. At or before the end of the round, the copy is normally returned. This is done out of respect for one another’s work. The same idea applies to online tournaments. Cases or evidence are exchanged by uploading files or in chat and the same notes that could be taken at an onsite tournament are possible. Obviously the difference is that now the case or evidence can be downloaded or kept by some other electronic means. Where’s the line of integrity? Should debaters delete anything received from the other team during the round simply because they now possess a more easily accessible, accurate record of what was presented? I would submit to you that the overarching answer is no. Having a copy of what was presented in a round is simply an accurate public record. The real question is what you DO with the information you have. Using an evidence card to go research and find good refutation for the next time makes you a better debater! Thinking through the holes in logic in someone’s case makes you a better thinker! These improvements make us ALL better! My friend Jody introduced me to the phrase “Rising water floats all boats” a number of years ago and I think that idea applies perfectly here. If we are all committed to the individual hard work required to improve ourselves, the league as a whole improves - not for the sake of “being great debaters” but for the sake of growing thinking, articulate young people who can go out and be incredible ambassadors for Christ because they know how to process through the “noise” and discern truth. 

Now, where there are advantages, there are disadvantages. Cutting corners and outright abuse of academic integrity is undoubtedly made more possible in the online world. Taking someone’s case as your own is plagiarism and is grounds for disqualification. Altering time on a timepiece, researching online in a debate or extemp round, and any other number of infractions are considered cheating and will be addressed as academic integrity issues. Other situations not necessarily unique to online like adding a piece of evidence into your case from someone else’s without researching it are not rule violations, but they bring their own potential disadvantages. Using someone else’s brief or evidence card not only shortcuts your learning, it also sets you up for being responsible in a situation where the evidence was power-tagged, misinterpreted, misused, or even fabricated. Once you present it in a round, it’s YOUR evidence and you must defend and support it and accept the consequences it may bring. 

Integrity ALWAYS trumps winning. The short term gain from not getting an overtime penalty, or not being able to answer the question thoroughly, or losing the round because you don’t have a key piece of evidence with you is not worth it. As you think about goals for this season, my prayer is that you’ll prioritize the long-term gains of participating in the league. Competition is the vehicle we use to build the skills and is a means, but is in no way, the end. 

We expect this season to be an exceptional one with a number of new opportunities that help us all grow in our effectiveness as communicators. If you have rules questions outside of tournaments, please direct them to the appropriate committee email address (SpeechCommittee@NCFCA.org, DebateCommittee@NCFCA.org, MootCourtCommittee@NCFCA.org) or during a tournament by using the Contact Tournament Administration button (online) or speaking with the Compliance team (in person). 

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