Spencer Dembner

Endless, Nameless: The Pitfalls of Placeholder Entries

Spencer Dembner
Endless, Nameless: The Pitfalls of Placeholder Entries


From November 20-22, Santa Clara University will host the Dempsey-Cronin Invitational, the biggest NorCal debate tournament of the fall; on October 14, the varsity parli pool already had 62 entries according to Tabroom. Sadly, only 15 of them are people.

The rest are marked as “names TBA” -- blank placeholder entries that allow schools to claim large numbers of slots, and only later notify the tournament which debaters will fill them. As much as this might make coaches’ jobs easier, it also has the potential to shut out smaller schools and complicate tournament registration.

Though Santa Clara isn’t the only tournament facing this problem, it provides an easy example: 62 entries, 15 named teams. The biggest four parliamentary debate schools have claimed a grand total of 35 teams, more than half the field -- all without submitting a single team name.

Thanks to all these blank entries, tournament registration has already moved to the waitlist. This is a huge loss for equity, because it means that smaller programs that have less history with tournaments like SCU, and may only be hearing about them now, are shut out entirely.

Placeholder entries also create some perverse incentives that can’t help but complicate tournament management. If a school can register 20 blank entries in advance instead of figuring out which teams are really attending a tournament, that’s a moral hazard that could discourage them from planning. Registration issues are sure to crop up just before the drop date, when big schools are forced to drop their still-unfilled entries.

Blank entries can only create trouble. In this case, the simplest solution - registering teams with names -- is the best one.

This falls partially on tournaments, who can choose not to accept blank entries through a change to Tabroom settings. But it’s also up to large schools to be conservative in the number of entries they submit.

Of course, placeholders exist for a reason. Some schools are just big, and really can send 5, 10 or 20 teams to the tournament. But if so, they should register those teams by name. No individual club has a right to send their entire team, and specific named entries should certainly have precedence over placeholders that happened to be submitted earlier.

This problem isn’t unique to parli, but then again we always have been the redheaded event. Parli is inevitably going to be different from rival events, and there’s no reason to copy bad practices from them. Register the teams you have, not the ones you might have. We should encourage new teams to get involved instead of denying them access. Let’s get this right.

Spencer Dembner debates for Los Altos High School, and serves as one of our Northern California correspondents.

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