Stoa: Change the Eligibility Criteria
To the Stoa Board:
We recognize that the eligibility rules exist for a reason. In a high-school debate league, it makes perfect sense to distinguish between those fit for competition, and those unfit. Further, it becomes necessary to draw precise guidelines indicating that distinction.
Stoa has done an excellent job in training Christian home-educated youth to better communicate a Biblical worldview. Because it is a high-school and junior-high league, it should follow that eligibility deadlines best capture that intended audience.
But based on the fact that current deadlines are excluding a fraction of those in their senior year of high-school, we advocate the following change: "Competitors shall be ages 12-18 by Labor Day.”
This will go into effect starting the next 2015-16 season onward. However, there is one exception only for this upcoming season: 11 year olds who turn 12 before January 1st will be eligible to compete this year, along with those aged 18 by Labor Day. The reason for a sort of “grace year” is simple: We want to avoid immediately excluding anyone who had upcoming plans for the season, and at the same time not delay including pre-calendar seniors. After the 2015-16 season, the deadline of Labor Day will extend to the lower age bracket as well. This way we don’t prematurely exclude anyone, and give the lower age bracket a year to phase in the change.
Often, people who are 18 years old on January 1st are graduating seniors, many of which will turn 19 before they get their diploma. But because the school year begins roughly 4 months before the calendar does, and birthdates are completely random, the time at which these seniors turn 19 mid-year will fluctuate. These are what we call pre-calendar seniors: those whose birthdate happens to fall before January 1st, yet after the semester cutoff date. Unless these choose to graduate early, they will be 19 before January 1st, and also finishing their senior year.
Back in the days when there was just the NCFCA, there wasn’t this awkward situation of pre-calendar seniors. The season began in January, and so that’s where they drew the eligibility line: If you’re 19 at the beginning of the season, you’re out. But if you turned 19 mid-season, that’s okay.
Stoa split, and with the new league, the season changed as well; it now starts in fall. The current guidelines don’t make a strict ruling on 18 year old seniors or 19 year old seniors. They simply exclude all the seniors who turn 19 before the calendar year, and include all the seniors who turn 19 after the calendar year. But because the season begins before the calendar, this has made eligibility turn on a date 3/8 into the middle of the season, leaving some seniors hanging in the balance. We’d advocate that if the season starts later in the fall, the eligibility line should be drawn in the fall: and those ineligible would be those 19 at the beginning of the season. We would like to see the inclusion of pre-calendar seniors, those 18 at the beginning of the season, chiefly for two reasons.
Justification 1: A High-School League Should Match High-School Eligibility Requirements.
A. Empirically Used: Because debate is an event that runs concurrent with the school year, it would follow that its deadlines are academic, instead of calendar based. And in all 50 states, the semester cutoff date never extends past October 31st, with the average date lying in September.  High-school debate is targeted exclusively at high-school (and in this case, also junior high) students. Thus, schools use the academic deadline because it captures the academic audience.
B: The Line is Lacking: A calendar deadline fails to accurately define high-school eligibility, because it includes most 19 year old seniors (January-May comprises the largest part of the season, and anyone who turns 19 in this range is eligible) but excludes all of the seniors born shortly before the calendar. There isn't a significant difference between a senior born December 28th and one born January 3rd, but there is a clear divide between academic years. This is what the new policy accurately defines, because by setting the deadline at the start of the school year, eligibility captures those and only those that should be competing: high-schoolers. (Of course, we're not suggesting high-school alone should be the standard; obviously there must be an age cap with the deadline. We're simply advocating that that deadline be placed at the outset of the academic year instead of the calendar one, so as to not leave a fraction of pre-calendar seniors in limbo. This will be further addressed in Justification #2 and Objection #1.)
C. All Other High-School Leagues Resolve This Issue: Of the four main leagues that foster competitive high-school speech and debate, Stoa is the only one that currently has no method of including pre-calendar seniors. The NCFCA makes individual exceptions. Both the NSDA (formerly the NFL) and the NCFL use an academic deadline instead of a calendar one, in essence the same standard we propose Stoa use.
Justification 2: The Current Policy Puts Pre-Calendar Seniors in Limbo
Pre-calendar students who compete in Stoa are currently ineligible for competition. With a critical senior ahead of them, the current guidelines leave them with two options:
Option A. Leave Stoa and Join a Different League: The senior year is just as important for those born before January 1st as it is those after. Being unable to compete in Stoa, there's a heavy incentive to invest the final season elsewhere. As mentioned, leagues like the NSDA base eligibility on high-school status, opening up options for seniors that fall out of Stoa's guideline. But this is problematic in two ways: First, league-adaption is difficult on competitive and social levels. Leagues like the NSDA are secular-based, and do not respect or favor the Biblical worldview. But second, this is Stoa's loss: They miss out on the chance to foster those in their most critical year of high-school.
Keep in mind, this is not about advocating the acceptance of 19 year old competitors. 19 year olds can already compete as long as their birthday falls January 2nd or later. We're simply saying that the determination of these high-schoolers' eligibility should be high-school based, instead of based in whether their birthdate happened to fall before or after the start of the calendar year.
Option B. Take a Year Off: With debate often being actively carried through the collegiate level, annual consistency is key. Being ineligible to compete in the final season is critical, because unless they are prepared to quit debate entirely, pre-calendar seniors will have to walk into college a season dry. For those planning to bring debate with them to college, taking a year off is simply not feasible.
In summation, Stoa has nothing to lose by utilizing the academic deadline. While the current policy places the deadline a full two months into the competition season, this adjustment solves that incongruity. It adjusts the deadline to fairly allow high-school seniors eligibility, while at the same time crisply defining that status by academic year. There is no significant difference between a senior born shortly before New Years Day or shortly after. However, a difference of school year is significant, and the proposed deadline of Labor Day more accurately defines it.
Objection 1: Won't this deadline change incentivize students to stay in high-school longer, so that they can compete longer?
First, this is rare. The people who homeschool generally aren't there to prolong their stay, but to rather make education as efficient as possible. Given its flexibility, many who homeschool can graduate early. It's not as if homeschooling has ever had a reputation for holding people back: some will even leave public school for homeschooling so that they can accelerate their graduation. To suggest that a significant number of people would suddenly halt their graduation and take another year of school is a stretch, especially considering that parents are involved. They have no incentive to let their child delay moving on with the next stage of their lives. To summarize, the assumption of the problem is predicated on homeschoolers suddenly delaying their graduation, studying and staying in school for another year, while having all of this approved by their parents. The chances of that becoming a significant practice is unlikely.
But the second reason we can know that the policy won't be a problem in the future is because it's not a problem now. The hypothetical incentive already exists, and exists for the largest part of the season, because anyone born January 2nd or later can choose to take advantage of the deadline. The fact that we haven't seen an influx of 19 year olds staying longer to compete is evidence of the fact that homeschoolers don't intentionally stick around for a year to delay growing up. Remember, we aren't increasing eligibility by a year. We're only altering it four months, which again is not a significant extension of time. If we haven't seen a substantial problem with post-calendar seniors (those born January 2nd onward) taking advantage of the current deadline, we shouldn't assume that the four month switch will somehow open the floodgates for misuse.
But third, it's not a good idea to exclude legitimate seniors from competing in the hope that we can discourage others from staying in school. As said, when homeschoolers are graduating at an older age than others, (think pre-calendar seniors) it’s rarely because they just want to delay their graduation. In fact, it’s often for reasons that were outside of their control.
Take Jeri Franklin for example. She's 18, turning 19 in November. Because of her family's situation, she’s had to work a job to help support her family. Homeschooling has given her the flexibility to finish her last year of school on time, but she'll be disallowed from competing in her senior year, as she turns 19 shortly before the current deadline.
Or look at BJ Green. He’s 18, turning 19 December 13th, and getting ready to start his senior year of high-school. His family being in the military, he’s had to move three times. And with each move tightening his schedule by a couple months, he’s had no choice but to finish his senior year and graduate at 19. He enjoyed his first season of competing in Stoa last year, but would be disallowed from competing as a senior.
It's a bad idea to exclude legitimate seniors like Jeri and BJ in the interest of discouraging another senior from delaying his graduation. Pre-calendar seniors have as much to gain from their senior year as the post-calendar seniors, and we think this should be recognized.
This is not about pushing the deadline back so a few extra people can compete every year. This is about finding an accurate and reasonable measure of high-school eligibility, and a calendar deadline will invariably cut off some of the seniors born shortly before January 1st. Because Stoa wants to help train high-school students, we'd ask it to choose the proposed deadline, in part because it is the only deadline that conforms to high-school norms.
Finally, we outweigh this potential disadvantage on the count that we are including the legitimate seniors who are currently being excluded. Beyond it not creating a problem, this policy in fact solves one.
Objection 2: Won't moving the deadline to Labor Day remove some of the 11 year olds from competition? As in, an 11 year old turning 12 November 5th is eligible in the previous model, but would not turn 12 in time under the proposed policy. (Of course, this would only apply starting the 2016-17 season onward, as mentioned the 2015-16 season will not exclude anyone from the lower age bracket so as not to prematurely inconvenience those with plans.)
This is true, but not necessarily a bad thing. First, this merely postpones competition without eliminating it. These 11 year olds have the exact same amount of time to compete, their Stoa career will just start when they're 12. Second, by contrast, those in the upper age bracket do stand to lose. The 11 year olds won't have their time cut short by waiting until they're 12 (especially since they can still compete in junior varsity), but excluding pre-calendar seniors means they lose their final year of high-school competition with no way to recover it. Third, it's not necessarily a bad thing to ask 11 year olds to wait a year before competing with high-schoolers, because it's tough enough to pit them in the same competition pool as 18 year olds. The only consequence to the lower age bracket is that the ones born in the 4 month window will spend another year in junior varsity. But often, spending extra time preparing in junior varsity is a good thing and not bad.
Objection 3: Because the school year starts at different times depending on where you live, how will changing to Labor Day provide a functional deadline?
Naturally, it is impossible to create a perfect deadline. But in contrast with the current line of January 1st, Labor Day should first be chosen because it is a very close average of semester cutoffs. We don't claim that every school begins exactly on Labor Day, just that Labor Day is a median date that consistently and accurately marks when the academic year has begun. Second, September still is a far more accurate measure of high-school status than January 1st. And based on it being comparatively advantageous, we'd ask it to be preferred.