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Counterplans often provide some of the most interesting moments in debate. One Far Eastern championship almost ended in a tie as the affirmative team (Yokota High School) fought a furious battle to repel a well-thought-out counterplan from the negative (Kinnick High School). In fact the judges, unburdened by a need to declare a winner, simply gave both teams medals for high honors.

The Kanto Plains Debate Manual defines a counterplan as follows:

Counterplan: A negative approach which admits the present system must be changed, but argues that the negative team's proposal is better than the affirmative's. The counter-plan is given in the first negative constructive speech and it is demonstrated to be non-topical, competitive with affirmative plan, superior to it in the area of analytical attack by the affirmative, and also more advantageous than the affirmative. An extra-topical solution to the affirmative case presented by the negative team.

A counterplan must accept the affirmative's harms, needs, and definitions and offer a better solution for them. This cannot simply be a facile acceptance. The counterplan must really meet those harms and needs and do so in a more effective fashion than the affirmative's plan. For this reason, counterplans are often launched when either (a) most teams are coming up with very similar harms and needs or (b) the negative knows the affirmative's particular plan well enough to prepare against it.

The counterplan MUST be non-topical. Otherwise, no one would bother doing a negative and simply use their affirmatives, with no more work, as a counterplan. Often, the negative will substitute another agent of change, such as the States' governments, in place of affirmative's to make the counterplan non-topical. Then, the burden of proof is on the negative to prove that this agent of change is at least as effective as the affirmative's.

A counterplan debate is NOT the same as a comparative advantage debate. In comparative advantage debates the affirmative is arguing that its plan holds advantages over the status quo. In a counterplan, the negative is trying to prove that its plan to solve the harms offered by the affirmative is better than the affirmative's. The only similarity between the two, then, is that there is a comparison.

Once a counterplan is offered, the affirmative no longer needs to attack the status quo. Instead it must try to prove that either (a) its plan is simply better than the negative's or (b) that the negative is not meeting the definition of a status quo, either it's plan isn't non-topical or it hasn't really solved for the affirmative's harms, or (c) both. The burden of proof now rests equally with both sides.

Judging a counterplan debate can be tricky. On the one hand, the judge has the relatively simple job of simply ranking the two plans and can ignore the attack on the status quo. On the other hand, he/she must carefully judge if the negative really is offering a genuine counterplan that is genuinely non-topical and solving the affirmative's harms.