Counterplans are fun but often confusing for novice debaters. I hope that this article serves as a somewhat brief introduction to those that want/need it.
This article will be divided into a couple of parts
What is a CP?
Parts of a CP
What to do if you’re Affirmative
What is a CP?
A counterplan (CP) is exactly what it sounds like - it is a plan that is different from the 1AC’s course of action that the negative advocates for. CP’s are run along with Disadvantages (although not always, but for now let’s assume they are) and we’ll get to why a bit later in the article. The CP does something different than the AFF but hopes to solve the same impacts as the 1AC.
Here’s an example:
1AC -> USFG should end the death penalty
CP -> the 50 states should agree to end the death penalty.
In this case, the CP is DIFFERENT than the 1AC because it uses the 50 states, whereas the 1AC uses the USFG. This is called an Agent Counterplan, because the agent of the plan (USFG vs 50 states) is different between the plan and the counterplan.
If you’re confused, here’s a simpler way of thinking of it:
1AC -> does something (plan text)
CP -> does the same thing but through a different method (agent or action is different)
Parts of a CP
The first part of a CP is the CP Text. This is like a plan text, except it’s what the CP does. In the example above, the CP text would be:
CP Text: the 50 states should agree to end the death penalty
Competition and Net Benefits
By now you’re probably thinking to yourself - “Ok, if the CP does the same thing as the 1AC, why would we ever vote Negative?”
The CP has to therefore be competitive - it must be different from the 1AC, otherwise there’s no incentive to vote Negative.
“Competition” refers to the fact that the CP must be different from the 1AC. Whether it’s a change in agent (like above) or through a different course of action, the CP must be competitive with the 1AC.
Competitiveness can also be achieved through a “Net Benefit” -- which is usually a DA. Remember when I said CP’s are run with DA’s? The DA links to the 1AC, it does NOT link to the CP. Here’s an example below to illustrate how Net Benefits work:
1AC: USFG ends the death penalty
1NC CP: 50 states end the death penalty
1NC DA: Federalism DA, which states that federal action is bad because it overcrowds state action.
Notice that the Federalism DA links to the 1AC but does NOT link to the 1NC CP. The Federalism DA is thus a “Net Benefit” to the CP because it does not link to the CP.
The advantage of a Net Benefit is that it gives the CP offense - it’s a reason why the CP is good because the CP avoids the DA, and an independent reason why the 1AC is bad.
Another course of competition is when the CP is “Mutually Exclusive” -- which refers to the fact that the CP is DISTINCT from the AFF -- the Affirmative and the CP cannot happen at the same time. If they could, there’s no independent reason to vote for the CP/vote neg in the debate.
What to do if you’re Affirmative:
If you’re affirmative, you have to find reasons why the CP is worse than the Aff. There’s a common acronym to keep in mind when you’re affirmative.
Otherwise known as “STOP” -- these arguments should be in the 2AC if you’re Affirmative.
The first part is Solvency -- as the Affirmative, you need reasons why the CP does not solve the Affirmative. These need to be specific to the aff -- if you’re running the death penalty aff, what are reasons why the 50 states doing the plan wouldn’t solve your impact? Is there a solvency mechanism to the aff that the CP doesn’t account for? Finding solvency deficits to the CP is a great way to get offense against the CP.
The next part is Theory, which will be covered in a different article. We’ll skip it for now.
The third part is Offense, which is when the Aff finds ways that the CP is worse than the status quo and worse than the 1AC. For the Death Penalty example, you could find ways why doing the CP through the 50 states would be worse than doing it through the USFG, and is thus offense AGAINST the CP.
The last part is Permutations, which are ways that the Affirmative can advocate for the aff and the CP.
Let’s say that the 1AC is the Death Penalty aff and the CP is the 50 states CP, but there is no net benefit in the 1NC. Since there’s no distinct reason to prefer the CP, the affirmative could say “Permutation do both” in the 2AC. This means that both the aff and the CP would happen.
NOTE: “Permutation do both” should be in every 2AC - make sure you make this permutation no matter what because it serves as a baseline form of permutation advocacy in the round for the Aff.
“Permutation do both” is also a reason why the CP has to be competitive - because if it isn’t, then there’s no reason to prefer the CP over the 1AC!
Counterplans are fun but can be confusing. If you’re the aff, try to understand how the CP is different from the 1AC, and try to find reasons why the CP doesn’t solve the aff. If you’re the negative, try to find ways to make Counterplans that solve the aff and have a net benefit.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions -- I hope to write more articles about how to go for Counterplans in the 2NR in the future.
Ashwin Marathe (he/him)
Bentonville High School (‘21)