December 11, 2013

Debate duo, coach are tops in the nation

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- At the season’s halfway point, the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Debate Team has the top-ranked team in the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence collegiate debate organization.

The duo of Ben Campbell, a senior political science major from Springfield, and Josh Rivera, a junior political science major from Chicago hold the top spot in the NPTE’s national rankings.  To get there, they’ve topped more than 500 teams, and won five out of six tournaments.  Their overall record is 60-2.

Todd Graham, director of SIU’s debate program, explained the way debate competition works.

“There are three judges in each elimination debate,” he said. “So, to win the debate, a team needs a majority of the judges -- two -- to win.  Ben and Josh attended three tournaments during which they never even lost a single ballot in any of those debates.  In other words, they beat the best teams in the country by unanimous decisions time and time again.”

This year’s success isn’t a total surprise.  Last year, both men debated for SIU but with different partners. Rivera was part of the debate duo that won both national championships for collegiate debate.  Campbell was a semi-finalist in both with his debate partner.

Some credit, though, must go to Graham himself as the head of SIU’s successful program.  In fact, this year, Graham received the Debate Coach of the Year award, as presented by the Washburn Debating Union at Washburn University.  Graham was the unanimous winner of the inaugural award. 

In addition to his collegiate debate activities, where his SIU teams have racked up several national championships, he also contributes presidential debate analysis to news source

During the holiday break, the debate team will prepare for the second half of the season leading up to the national championships.

Graham pointed out that the debate duos don’t know what they will be debating about until the tournament begins.  And the topics are not simple. 

So far this year the duo has debated the merits of such statements as: “The United States federal government should recognize the independence of the Republic of Somaliland,” and “The United States federal government should substantially restrict National Security Agency surveillance programs.” Other topics include whether the federal government should pass the “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013,” raise the national debt ceiling, and the merits of hydraulic fracturing and immigration.