An idea to make debates useful again.

On Sunday night I watched the presidential debate. It was ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I was highly entertained. But the debate failed miserably at its sole purpose: helping Americans become better-informed voters. There was so much talk about non-issues, non-answering of questions and unverified fact-spewing that all of America was dumber for having watched it. Entertained, but dumber.

When it was finally over I switched channels and watched the Sunday night football game. Taking in the final 15:00 minutes of the Packers and Giants game was like mental sorbet, cleansing my palette before I prepared to think like a human again on Monday morning.

But a funny thing happened when I woke up the next morning. I had an idea to solve the debate problem.

Let’s make debates more like football games.

One of the great things about a football game is that it follows a clearly defined set of rules. There are pre-established ways to score points. There are also consequences for breaking the rules. The debates should have the same structure.


Instead of having a moderator like, say, Lester ‘Don’t-Mind-Me’ Holt, we would have referees, like Ed Hochuli. Ed is a trial lawyer when he’s not flexing his zebra stripes.  He’s the man we need controlling the candidates.

The Perfect Agency Project’s debates look something like this:

  • Moderators are replaced by referees (didn’t I just say that?): refs put the question in motion, blow whistles to stop the talk and penalize participants for breaking the rules of the debate.
  • Penalties: The ultimate penalty in a debate is air time. If you fail to answer the question, stray off topic or introduce false information, you have to sit out questions. Debaters have to serve there ‘Time Outs’ in a hockey-style penalty box. I would have Martha Stewart design it.
  • Run over your time limit: a whistle blows and your mic is cut off. If we can humiliate Hollywood stars by cutting their mics off during an acceptance speech, surely we can do the same to long-winded presidential candidates.
  • Talk when it’s not your turn: You lose time. This is just like being offsides in football. Or encroachment. Or interference.
  • Unpresidential-like conduct: Your mic is cut off. A third-party candidate walks on stage and replaces you for the next question.
  • Answer a question: score points on a 1 to 7 scale based on the quality of your answer.
  • Don’t answer the question: no points
  • Make false claims: the referees stops the debate, sites the facts, sends you to the Martha Stewart penalty box.
  • Nachos: Let’s all eat them. Just because.

But this is just a start. Now it’s time to add your ideas to the comment box. Don’t mention any candidates by name. It’s not that kind of show. Just the football-style rules we could incorporate to make the debates fair and informative. Points will be awarded for good rules. A flag will be thrown on anything that is offsides. Ready? Set. Omaha!

Published by

Adam Albrecht

Adam Albrecht is the Founder and CEO of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. He believes the most powerful weapon on Earth is the human mind. He is the author of the book, What Does Your Fortune Cookie Say? He also authors two blogs: the Adam Albrecht Blog and Dad Says. Daughter Says., a Daddy-Daughter blog he co-writes with his 16-year old daughter Ava. Adam can be reached at

16 thoughts on “An idea to make debates useful again.”

  1. Every single time I get an email saying that The Perfect Agency Project has a new post I get so excited to read something that is funny, thoughtful and insightful-
    This one…I was cheering whilst reading (and upping my blood:caffeine ratio)
    My addition: an offsides ruling-if you do not return to designated stool/area when it’s not your turn to speak-whistle-offsides…you lose 20 seconds off of your next answer period

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can always count on The Perfect Agency Project for much needed intelligent humor and inspiration!

    Head to head targeting could result in ejection from the debate and a fine. Perhaps party helmets are in order.

    Monies collected from fines will fund debate halftime entertainment, perhaps in Carville/Matalin or Kimmel/Fallon fashion. Ken Bone could serve as referee.

    Excessive celebration may increase or decrease debate points based on an audience fan meter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think we should force them to wear numbers. That will give us insight into how they attempt to approach the debate, and also allow us to better ask questions to get the information that we need.

    A low or single-digit number means they will likely be elusive and take opportunities for quick strikes for points. They are also trying to make their opponent look silly with slick moves and lots of jukes around the intended question.

    If they choose a higher double-digit number, they will likely be slow, and possibly take up a lot of space. They will be more likely to push people around or try to inflict pain on their opponent even if it is unnecessary.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this idea!

    Would there be a “Toin Coss” at the start of the debate?

    I would also add in “ball” checks to see if they have been deflated at the start of the debate. As a note, it would perfectly acceptable to not bring your own.

    Since penalty boxes are more related to Hockey, maybe they can just be the “Water Boy” during that period of time and serve the audience cold beverages.

    No audibles should be allowed – the question must stand as-is. You can put this as a sub-bullet under your “Don’t answer the question” rule.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Idea for overtime – if it exists in this scenario: Candidates are asked a series of the same questions and the first one to bridge back to something unrelated loses. This will force them to answer the question with something new instead of drilling the same 3-4 talking points over and over and over and……

    Liked by 1 person

  6. -talking back to moderator/complaining about time allotment – personal foul – time taken away from next question
    -offending audience with a stupid/biased answer – another personal foul – VP candidate must step in for 5 min

    We haven’t even touched on substance abuse policies…


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