The National Debate Tournament began at the United States Military Academy in 1947. It was organized and conducted by the academy at West Point for its first twenty years.
Initial tournament rules were determined by the West Point Administration in consultation with such debate coaches as A. Craig Baird of the University of Iowa, G. M. Musgrave of Des Moines, Alan Nichols of USC, E. R. Nichols of the University of Redlands, and Joseph O’Brien of Pennsylvania State University.
At the first tournament in 1947, twenty-nine colleges participated in five “seeding” rounds and four elimination rounds over a three day period. Some of the features of the tournament were that no school would meet a school within five hundred miles of itself during the seeding rounds and that no coach would judge a school from his or her own district.
Many traditions were started at West Point that year, some of which still remain today: the “big board”, oral announcement of round pairings, cadet escorts for each team, teams for each debate meeting under the banner of the affirmative team, and team signs in the rooms.
In 1967, the National Debate Tournament entered a new era as the American Forensic Association, the national professional organization of forensics educators, assumed responsibility for the tournament. The NDT was moved from West Point and has been hosted by a different school every year since, although three schools (State University of West Georgia, Miami University of Ohio, the University of Utah) have hosted it twice. Control of the tournament became the responsibility of a national committee elected by those schools supporting the tournament.
As debate has developed in recent years other refinements have been added to the tournament: the ten-minute preparation time rule, elaborate procedures for assigning judges, judge qualifications and published critiques of the final debate.
Over the years, the tournament has expanded in size, with various procedures used for selecting the participants. I n the early days, teams were chosen by district nominating committees. This method was replaced by some form of qualifying tournaments in most districts. For the first twenty years of NDT competition the tournament host and previous year’s winner received automatic invitations. Post-district at-large bids were initiated in 1968 and pre-district bids in 1971. Since 1970, it has been possible for a school to qualify as many as two teams for the NDT. This year seventy-four teams participated in the NDT. Beginning in 1992, up to six schools can qualify a third team.
The National Debate Tournament is sponsored by the American Forensic Association . The NDT is also indebted to Mr. Sigurd S. Larmon (1891-1987) for donating the rotating Larmon Trophy, emblematic of the national debate championship; to Mr. and Mrs. George Walker for donating the rotating second-place Walker Memorial Trophy in memory of their son; to Mr. Robert Feldhake, top speaker in the 1976 NDT and now an attorney in Los Angeles for donating the Wayne Brockriede Top Speaker Award; to District IX for donating the rotating Top Speaker Trophy; the Copeland Family for donating the Rex Copeland First Team At Large Trophy, to Ovid R. Davis for donating the Ovid R. Davis/West Georgia College Championship Coach Award and to Lucy Keele for the funding to support the Lucy Keele Service award.